We may be in the middle of a pandemic, but on the bright side, the real estate market might be in your favor.

By Kelsey Mulvey
September 01, 2020
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If 2020 has taught us anything—besides how to make a delicious batch of banana bread—it’s how to adapt. Over the past few months, we’ve learned how to turn our homes into functioning home offices, how to work alongside our significant others, and how to practice social distancing.

Now, several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are embracing change once again by packing up their belongings and moving somewhere new. It’s the real estate phenomenon that’s sweeping the country: According to The New York Times, New York City had more than 67,300 vacant apartments back in July, the most since at least 2010. On the west coast, Financial Times is predicting a mass exodus from San Francisco, and headlines from large cities around the country refer to similar shifts. Even in smaller cities and towns, moving is on the rise: A survey in June found that some 26 percent of Americans are considering relocating permanently.

All this might have you wondering if you should follow suit.

Whether you’re considering leaving a large city or a smaller community or going somewhere permanently or just for a year or two, there are a lot of factors that weigh into your decision. You’ll want to consider your commute, moving costs, and how your current rent compares to the rest of your area’s current listings. One thing you might not have to worry about: The real estate market could be in your favor.

“When I get this question from clients, my response is that this is an active market and the time is right,” says F. Ron Smith, founding partner of Smith & Berg Partners at Compass, based in Los Angeles. “There are many reasons for people to want to move right now: Some just want more space, some are now exclusively working from home and want to relocate to their dream neighborhood, the list goes on. If the time is right, there is no reason to let the pandemic stand in your way.”

But just because you’ve decided to move doesn’t mean you have it all figured out. Where can you get the best deal? Should you rent or buy? And how are you supposed to look for a new home during a global pandemic?

To help answer some of these common concerns, we have advice on relocating right now from three real estate experts. While it’s ultimately your decision, the guidance below can help you navigate this turbulent time and finally decide if moving day is just around the corner.

Should you buy or rent?

Just because many cities are becoming a renter’s market doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set down some permanent roots.

“Real estate continues to be one of the smartest investments a person can make in their lifetime, especially now, with the financial market seeing record-breaking ups and downs,” Smith says. “Investing money in real estate has the potential to start you on a path to wealth-building and a successful financial future.”

But since buying property is a long-term play, it’s important to think about whether or not you want to settle down.

“If you’re looking to ‘put down roots’ and plan on being in a home for at least five years, purchasing right now with historically low interest rates is a good idea,” says Josh Tucker of HM Properties in North Carolina. “You will be able to ride out the market ups and downs and come out in good shape. If you’re unsure of your future plans and only looking for housing for one to two years, renting could be a better option right now as values are high and selling that soon could result in a loss.”

Think about where you see your life in the next few years. Do you want to move in with your significant other? Are you thinking about starting or expanding your family? Do you hope to stay at your current job? Nobody knows what the future holds, but answering these questions can help you figure out if you want to find your permanent (or years-long) home or something for just a couple of years.

Where should you look?

For some, bustling metropolises are losing their luster.

“It’s of little surprise that locations with higher population density have been more dramatically affected by shelter-in-place regulations during the height of the pandemic,” says Eric Balog, CEO of Leverage Global Partners, an affiliation of 6,000 independent real estate agents and teams in more than 130 markets. “As people prepare for a possible second wave, many wish to be in a location with access to open space and opportunity to move about in a manner they believe to be responsible.”

As more people flock to the suburbs, many city landlords are decreasing their rents in an effort to incentivize tenants to stay put. If you aren’t sold on the suburbs, now might be a great time to score an awesome apartment. But Balog say cities with warmer climates are becoming hot commodities—pun intended.

“While much is still unknown as to how far along we are in returning to something resembling pre-pandemic life as well as [what] actions local governments might take, the general belief [is] that areas that experience colder temperatures during the autumn and winter could face [second waves of COVID-19],” he says. “For those interested in remaining in or close to urban environments, demand in warmer climates has been stronger than that for colder environments.”

What to consider when moving

So you’ve decided to move somewhere new. Now what? Like any move, you should think seriously about what life will be like in your new digs. To help, Balog has four things to consider before signing on the dotted line.

1

“Be clear about exactly why you are moving and what you hope to gain,” he says. “This serves as a useful check-in every step of the process, to ensure that needs will be met by the new location and new home. Identification of a narrow set of priorities that you can be sure will meet your needs will help a person maintain sanity when so much is beyond any one person's control.”

2

“Think about how they align with your personal beliefs and comfort levels,” Balog says. “These actions can affect business closures, school attendance, and the balance between personal liberties and responsibility to society as a whole.”

3

Be wary of anyone who claims to know what the world will look like in six months—and acknowledge that each of us can get attached to the idea that what we believe will happen will actually happen, Balog says.

In other words, don’t take anything as a guarantee, and do what you can to guard yourself against the changes that are sure to come.

4

“While we don’t know how much longer the world will be affected by COVID, you can control whether or not you move to an area with a park or other open space nearby to ensure you have easy access to the outdoors,” Balog says.

How to tour a new place safely

Of course, we can’t talk about moving somewhere new without acknowledging the country current health crisis. As COVID-19 continues to sweep through our country, touring an unfamiliar home or apartment can be completely nerve-racking. Tucker says following the CDC guidelines for preventative actions can go a long way.

“Wear a mask in other people’s homes, wear gloves when touching surfaces, and social distance as much as possible,” he says. “Virtual showings are great for additional family members or friends that want to see the home.” (And you can make the most of virtual showings and tours, too.)

If you have any hesitations about touring a new place during a global pandemic, ask the listing agent about the precautions there are taking. Will there be hand sanitizer and disinfecting supplies on hand? How much time is there between appointments? Ultimately, your comfort is priority, and having a clear line of communication will help give you some peace of mind.