Now that the first COVID-19 vaccines are being delivered across the U.S., it seems like the end of this surreal stay-6-feet-apart, shelter-in-place existence is—finally!—in sight. And yet, some of the adaptations we've made this year are likely to stick around. First-run movies streamed to your TV? Sure. Gourmet meals available for delivery? Heck, why not?
The same goes for house hunting, buying, and life at home in general. The pandemic has accelerated a shift to technological tools that make life easier for everyone involved in real estate transactions. For home buyers, a lot of features have gone from the "nice to have" to the "essential" column. In our coverage this year at realtor.com, we've seen it all unfold.
Here are all the changes that came to real estate in 2020 that are likely here to stay.
Big-city living loses its cool—and suburbs will never be the same
This year completely changed the way we viewed our homes and what we wanted from them.
It turns out that sheltering in place is a great way to find out if you really, really love your home—and being able to work remotely means there are more options if you don't. The biggest wake-up call this year was for city dwellers who'd long justified the high expense of their tiny apartments with the many perks of urban life—until those suddenly became unavailable.
It's always been the case that, as young people get older and start families, they're more likely to move to the suburbs. But as realtor.com®'s chief economist, Danielle Hale, put it, "COVID-19 accelerated this trend. People are looking for space and affordability, and [the suburbs are] where they can find it."
In the nation's largest metropolitan areas, shoppers were spending more time checking out suburban listings than homes near the city center, according to realtor.com research. Asking prices also shot up faster in the burbs, boosted by the surge in demand.
And as the transplants settle in to their new surroundings, they're likely to make their mark on the suburbs, as well. After all, why can't they have their single-family home with a yard and more options for dining and entertainment?
As our econ data team points out, if employers continue allowing eligible employees to work remotely, this suburban shift is here to stay. And judging from the number of people who've already made the leap and bought a home in a more remote location, we're guessing it will.
Technology is making house hunting and buying more convenient
House hunting in the time of the coronavirus means relying on technology more than ever. Cruising for home listings on sites such as realtor.com has been a basic first step for years. But this year, with orders declaring real estate work essential in some areas, and inessential for others for weeks at a time, folks were forced to move their home searches primarily online. Some folks ended up buying a home they'd never even seen in person!
And after all, why waste days driving around with a real estate agent, viewing house after house, when you can eliminate many options while sitting on your couch, at a time that works for you? The catch: There are some things that are harder to perceive in a video tour—so you need to know what signs to look for.
Other aspects of the home-buying process are now commonly facilitated by technology. There's no need to sit in a mortgage broker's office to discuss loan options, or sign piles of paperwork in a room at a title company. Remote mortgage pre-approvals, inspections, appraisals, and even closings are becoming the norm.
Buyers expect more from their homes
Hopefully, we'll all soon be able to go back to our gyms, send kids to school, and even, if we want, do our work on an ergonomic desk. But the lesson of 2020 is that you need to be prepared if those things aren't possible—and that means buyers are paying close attention to homes with plenty of space for work, school, exercise, and enjoying the fresh air.
Millennials, many with young children, are now the largest group of home buyers, and their preferences will shape home buying for years to come.
That means savvy home sellers will have to get their homes in shape for a new generation's expectations. These days, homes with a home office sell faster, and for more money, than homes without one.
Sanitary features have come into focus lately, too. Smart, touchless options for faucets, lights, and locks are not only convenient, they also cut down on the transfer of germs. (The cold and flu aren't going anywhere, for now.)
Also, 2020 brought us more than a global pandemic! For buyers and homeowners in the West, choking wildfire smoke highlighted how climate change is likely to affect our air quality in coming years. It's also helpful for those with allergies or pets to get up to speed with air purifiers and filters.
Homeowners are going to be more self-reliant
DIY projects used to seem like something fun to do in your free time, but when you want to reduce exposure to additional people, making simple upgrades and performing basic home maintenance yourself is a necessity. And once you've developed those skills, you're less likely to reach for the phone when you have something that needs fixing.
Plus, homeowners have always known that doing things yourself is great for the bottom line, especially when you target projects that offer a good return on investment.
"Self-reliant" doesn't just mean keeping everything running, either. Many people discovered tending victory gardens this year as a way to enjoy fresh air and manage stress while ensuring a supply of fresh produce. As everyone knows, homegrown just tastes better—and once you've had it, it's hard to go back.