Quiet neighborhoods, outdoor spaces and newer kitchens shine during coronavirus
- Consumers value quiet neighborhoods, outdoor spaces and proximity to grocery stores during pandemic
- Reflecting constraints of quarantines, consumers struggle with confinement, separation from family and friends, and elevated stress
- More space, updated kitchens and home gyms top list of desired changes for current homes
- Having more personal and family time ranks as top benefit of sheltering at home
- Wish list for next homes: bigger houses, more outdoor spaces and updated kitchens
- While at home, 32 percent of consumers are cleaning closets and garages, gardening, and painting walls
The United States has passed the one-month mark into the current coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases has surpassed 825,000, and Americans across most states remain confined in their homes.
During the first two weeks of April, realtor.com asked a nationally-representative sample of 1,300 consumers searching for a home how sheltering in-place has changed their preferences for the current living conditions, as well as for a potential next home. The insights reveal shifting preferences, predicated on prolonged home stays, remote work challenges, managing families and social networks, and technology.
The majority of respondents reflected the national housing composition, reporting a single-family home as their primary residence. Living conditions also reflected demographic splits, with younger consumers more likely to live in a multifamily condo or apartment. Also reflecting changing attitudes, more women reported living in single-family homes than men.
Consumers Value Quiet Neighborhoods, Outdoor Spaces and Proximity to Grocery Stores During Pandemic
Being confined at home highlights peoples’ need and desire to access the outdoors, as well as make life more comfortable. When asked about the features that have gained importance during the pandemic, those related to quality of life rose to the top. A quiet neighborhood or property took the number one spot, accounting for 13.4 percent of responses, followed by outdoor space, such as a patio or yard, with 13.2 percent of answers. Proximity to grocery stores and pharmacies was a close third, garnering 12.8 percent of responses, followed by the availability of a nice kitchen and appliances for cooking more at home (10.1 percent). With much of the daily routines revolving around the home, consumers are clearly looking for more space, flexibility and options to work remotely, exercise and find a quiet corner.
The desirability of certain features displayed slight variations across gender, age groups and parenting status. Women favored outdoor spaces, kitchens/appliances, and natural light at slightly higher rates than men. Meanwhile, renters—likely reflecting more urban environments—favored a quiet neighborhood, storage and a spare bedroom compared with homeowners. Younger consumers were less concerned than older generations about a quiet neighborhood, outdoor space or proximity to amenities than older ones. However, they placed a higher premium on a kitchen, natural light, a home gym or workout space and smart home technology. Parenting status also showed a few nuances, with consumers with minor children valuing flexible spaces—craft area, game room, a home office, gym or workout space and smart home technology at slightly higher rates compared with non-parents. The availability of an in-law suite or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) also ranked higher for parents.
Reflecting Constraints of Quarantines, Consumers Struggle with Confinement, Separation from Family and Friends, and Elevated Stress
We asked consumers what were the primary difficulties they encountered while sheltering at home. Overall, feeling trapped and unable to leave ranked as the number one challenge, accounting for 16.0 percent of responses. Separation from extended family and friends ranked second (14.8 percent), followed by the difficulty in finding ways to relax and de-stress, cited by 12.3 percent of respondents. The other challenges consumers faced were lack of fresh air and outdoor time, being out of work, and the reminder of existing home-improvement projects.
When viewed across gender, ownership, age demographics and parenting status, the top challenges were fairly constant, but results highlighted stage-of-life nuances. Men found work-life boundaries, a lack of dedicated work space, and sharing living space with extended family or visitors more challenging compared with women. Meanwhile, women found the reminder of existing home-improvement projects more difficult.
For renters, the lack of fresh air and outdoor time, as well as being unemployed or furloughed were ranked higher than for those who own their home. Conversely, for homeowners, the reminder of around-the-house projects and homeschooling/entertaining children outranked renters’ difficulties.
Across age groups, younger consumers (18-34 year old) struggled at higher rates with work-life boundaries, lack of comfortable/dedicated work space and lack of privacy. For respondents in the 35-54 age category, being out of work or furloughed and homeschooling children were ranked higher as challenges, compared with younger or older ones. And for Americans aged 55 or over, the separation from extended family and friends ranked at the top by a noticeable margin, with home-improvement reminders also ranking comparatively higher.
For parents, the quarantine orders highlighted similar challenges. However, a higher share of respondents with minor children reported difficulties with homeschooling or entertaining children, and spending too much time confined with family, compared with non-parents.
More Space, Updated Kitchen and Home Gym Top List of Desired Changes for Consumers’ Current Homes
During the coronavirus-induced quarantine, consumers are spending more time in their homes and finding that they would change various aspects to boost livability. Topping the list of desired changes is the need for more space, which accounted for close to one-in-five responses. An updated kitchen ranked second on the list (13.0 percent), followed by a home gym (11.3 percent). Consumers would also like an updated style or aesthetics, more natural light and a yard or patio.
The top desired changes were similar by gender, but there were a few differences. A larger share of men wanted more space than women—21.5 percent vs 16.7 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, a larger percentage of women would update the kitchen than men—15.3 percent vs 10.5 percent, respectively. Women also would change the home style at higher rates than men.
For renters, the desire for more space outpaced homeowners’—23.2 percent vs 16.5 percent, respectively—even as the category ranked at the top. While a slightly larger share of homeowners would add a home gym, the desire for more natural light was ranked higher by more renters. More renters also wanted a patio or yard and an additional bedroom. Meanwhile, a higher percentage of homeowners wanted an additional bathroom and to update their home’s style.
Filtering the results through the prism of age cohorts mirrors broader trends, while yielding a few differences. The desire for more space is primary for all age groups, but more so for a larger share of consumers aged 35-54. Reflecting stage-of-life conditions, younger consumers (18-34) ranked a home gym, more natural light and a yard or patio at higher rates than older peers. For consumers in the 35-54 age group, in addition to more space, another bathroom and bedroom rank comparatively higher. For consumers aged 55 and over, updates to the kitchen, house style and more space were ranked higher.
Having More Personal and Family Time Rank as Top Benefits of Sheltering at Home
We asked consumers what were the best things about sheltering at home during the pandemic. More time with family topped the list, followed by having extra down time or being able to catch up on TV shows, with 17.9 percent and 15.7 percent of responses, respectively. Time was a clear benefit, as 12.8 percent of respondents ranked “no commute” near the top, close to not having to shower and get dressed for work (13.9 percent). Having time for a new hobby or new pursuit garnered 12.1 percent of responses, while 8.0 percent of consumers highlighted more free time due to reduced work schedules as a benefit.
When analyzed by gender, down time ranked at the top for both men and women. For women, not having a commute and not having to get dressed for work outranked the same benefits compared with men. Keeping up with friends and family virtually was also ranked higher by women compared with men. Meanwhile, a higher share of men valued having time for a new hobby or pursuit, as well as extra time with family.
Both renter and homeowners ranked down time at the top of benefits during this period. Comparing the two groups yielded additional nuances. Not having to shower and dress for work ranked higher for homeowners, as did more time with family. Meanwhile, a larger share of renters indicated that the lack of commute, time for a new hobby or pursuit and going out for walks or runs were benefits of the current period.
The results were broadly consistent across age demographics, but with a few differences. For younger consumers (18-34 years old), extra down time to catch up on TV shows, lack of a commute, and time for walking/running ranked comparably higher. For the 35-54 age group, more time with family and not having to dress up for work were rated higher compared with the other groups. Consumers in the 55+ age cohort found time for a new hobby or pursuit, more free time from a reduced work schedule, and time for exercising at home as higher benefits versus younger groups.
Parenting status also offered insights into how the current environment yields differences in perceived benefits. A larger share of parents with minor children ranked extra down time for TV shows, as well as time for walking or running as benefits, compared with non-parents. Conversely, for consumers without children under 18 at home, the lack of a commute, time for a new hobby or pursuit, and time for friends and family were ranked comparably higher.
For their Next Homes, Consumers Want a Bigger House, More Outdoor Space and an Updated Kitchen
The limitations inherent in the stay-at-home orders across the U.S. are reflected in consumers’ shifting home feature desires. When asked about their preference in regard to renting a home, 15.7 percent of survey respondents ranked “more space in the house” as a must-have for their next home, the top choice. The second must-have feature was “more and better outdoor space,” selected by 13.6 percent of respondents, followed closely by an updated kitchen (13.3 percent). With the prevalence of work-at-home, consumers also wanted more or better technology (faster WiFi, smart home features) in their next home. Separation from neighbors along with additional rooms and bathrooms were also important consumer features.
The results were mostly similar across gender, with a few differences. Both men and women valued a bigger house at the top of their lists. And they both wanted an updated kitchen in the next house. However, a larger share of men wanted more separation from neighbors, better insulation and soundproofing, and better technology in the home. In comparison, a larger percentage of women ranked more/better outdoor space as a desirable feature for a new home.
Renters and owners were on the same page about wanting a larger house for their next home. And both groups ranked an updated kitchen near the top. However, more renters than owners are looking for additional space from neighbors, along with more and better outdoors space. On the other side, homeowners are looking for better technology in their next homes.
The responses were close when analyzed by age group. Younger consumers (18-34) want more rooms in their next home than older ones, as well as better insulation and soundproofing. Reflecting higher concentrations in multifamily living, more young consumers also want more outdoor space. For consumers in the 35-54 age group, separation from neighbors, more bathrooms, and better technology ranked comparably higher. The 55+ age group was the most likely to be happy with current homes, while still valuing a bigger house, an updated kitchen and better technology in a new home.
Parenting status offered a few differences in consumer preferences. More parents ranked a bigger house, more outdoor space and an updated kitchen as the top features for their next home. They also indicated stronger preference for more rooms, bathrooms, and additional space from neighbors. For consumers without minor children, their current home was more likely to fit their needs.
While Sheltering at Home, 32 Percent of Consumers Have Undertaken Home Improvement Projects
We asked consumers if they decided to undertake home improvement projects while sheltering at home during the pandemic. Overall, 31.8 percent answered in the affirmative, while 53.3 percent indicated that they did not. The remainder answered that they were planning to engage in house projects but had not started.
The figures were consistent across gender, with a little over a third of both men and women answering that they had engaged in home improvement projects. More homeowners were likely to work on their homes than renters—36.1 percent vs 26.0 percent, respectively. Age also played a factor, with younger consumers (18-34) more likely to roll up their sleeves and work on their homes. And when looking at the data by parenting status, the presence of children under 18 at home leads to a much smaller share of home improvement projects.
Top Home Projects: Cleaning Closets and Garages, Gardening, and Painting Walls
While most consumers have not embraced home improvement during this period, of those who have or plan to, cleaning out a closet or garage ranks at the top of the list. Gardening and planting, along with painting walls, and redecorating were also ranked by noticeable shares of respondents.
The results were similar across gender, even as a larger share of women favored redecorating and adding artwork. For men, a larger share engaged in adding an office or workspace and a home gym or workout space. While renters focused on cleaning out closets, gardening and rearranging furniture, more homeowners were likely to paint walls, clean closets and garden.
When viewed through the lens of age groups, younger consumers (18-34) were more likely than older groups to redecorate a room, add a workspace and home gym, as well as add décor/artwork and rearrange furniture. For the 35-54 age group, cleaning closets, gardening and painting ranked high. Meanwhile, the 55+ cohort ranked painting, cleaning out closets/garages, and gardening comparably higher.
Parenting status made a difference for home-improvement projects. Parents of minor children were more likely to redecorate a room, add an office or workspace, as well as a gym/workout space. On the other hand, more consumers without children under 18 at home engaged in cleaning out closets/garages and gardening/planting.
Housing Implications for the Future
The severity and length of the coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to the U.S. economy and real estate markets. With widespread shelter-in-place orders, Americans have been spending weeks after weeks working, studying, socializing and caring for family at home. With the re-opening of the economy scheduled to be cautious, the impact on consumer preferences will likely shift buying behavior.
As the results indicate, consumers are already looking for larger homes, bigger yards, access to the outdoors and more separation from neighbors. As we move into the recovery stage, these preferences will play an important role in the type of homes consumers will want to buy. They will also play a role in the coming discussions on zoning and urban planning. While higher density has been a hallmark of urban development over the past decade, the pandemic may lead to a re-thinking of space allocation.
The main challenge for the real estate markets over the short-to-medium term remains the shortage of available inventory. We started the year with under-construction of about 3.8 million new homes, compounding a steeply declining inventory of existing homes. During the last few weeks, we have experienced continued declines in the supply of homes as sellers are pulling homes off the market, and builders are suspending projects to protect employees. With the ranks of unemployed continuing to swell and financing contracting, even as mortgage rates remain low, we are looking at a challenging next few months. However, on the other side of this crisis, consumers will look at housing with a whole new set of eyes, bringing opportunities for the industry.