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Outside the Box: COVID still weighs heavily on home buyers. Here’s where more Americans are choosing to live now.

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence the life decisions of many home buyers and how people think about their homes. For starters, many want their homes with adequate office areas that can be equipped for remote work. Yet it’s also surprising to note some of the ways the pandemic has affected home-purchase decisions and ultimately migration and demographic patterns.

1. Fewer people are moving

Migration is the lifeblood of the U.S. Americans have always relocated to new areas for work, education, retirement and more. The impact of this migration is profound across all aspects of life, from real estate to transportation to community health.

But 2021 was a year of stasis. Fewer Americans moved in 2021 than in any year since 1948, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Here are the numbers: 27.1 million Americans, about 8% of the population, had a different address than in the previous year. That’s down around 9% from 2020 and 13% from 2019. The decline in migration was felt across all types of communities, including urban, suburban and rural.

Many people chose to shelter-in-place and not risk their health. Also, home prices surged in 2021 and it became less affordable to buy a home. In addition, people decided to stay closer to families. Of those who did move, some 32% did so because they preferred living closer to relatives.

2. The urban exodus is slowing

At the onset of the pandemic, in the months after March 2020, there was a dramatic increase in people wanting to leave urban areas. In short, people wanted the sanctuary of space. They wanted to social distance.

This exodus has slowed. Online searches for urban properties have surged by 62% in 2021 versus the year prior. Additionally, change-of-address data reveals that the migration from urban centers has gradually decreased. One recent study found that while many moved out of the New York and San Francisco areas because of the pandemic, such migration was less-pronounced for other urban centers. What’s more, many moved out of cities temporarily and have started to return.

3. Moving south and west

One of the most pronounced demographic trends in the U.S. is the continuing shift away from the Northeast and Midwest and toward the South and West. The pandemic highlighted and accelerated these migration patterns. For years, Americans have been opting to move to places that are warmer, more economical, and where they could have more space.

According to a recent survey, the U.S. states with largest number of outbound migrations were New Jersey, Illinois, New York and Connecticut. States with the largest inbound migrations were Florida, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Vermont.

The pandemic will still influence homeowner decisions, even subtly. And these decisions will have enormous implications regarding migration, demographics, and the composition of communities across America.

Sanjiv Das was the CEO of CitiMortgage and Caliber Home Loans.

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