We’re at 2021’s halfway mark. Upwards of 150 million Americans are now vaccinated. And things are beginning to resemble a cautiously optimistic Post-Covid reality. But according to recent Gallup Research, two-thirds of remote workers say they are never coming back to the office. So what does the WFH boom mean for the multifamily real estate industry in the new normal-ish?
The shift to remote work is reshaping the map.
Once upon a time, the thought of professionals fleeing the city to telecommute from rural outposts and vacation destinations en masse might have seemed far-fetched. But in 2021, plots right out of Green Acres and Bless this Mess are becoming commonplace IRL. Small towns near ski areas like Park City, UT and Sun Valley, ID appear to be booming. Big Bear, CA and Martha’s Vineyard, MA are attracting more year-round dwellers by the month. And the trend has sparked a flood of headlines and think-pieces heralding the rise of the Zoomtown.
With Zoomtowns popping up from Maine to Oregon, there have been lively debates about what it all means for the future of work, urban planning, and the very idea of the city writ large. Although, so far in 2021, no debate around the future of work has been quite as splashy as August 2020’s dustup between Jerry Seinfeld and James Altucher, which found the comedian calling Altucher a putz in a pointed NYT Op-Ed clap back to the hedge fund manager’s now infamous “New York is Dead Forever” LinkedIn diatribe.
Seinfeld isn’t the only one on the side of the city.
In a discussion with the Urban Edge Blog of The Kinder Institute of Urban Research at Rice University, researcher Michael Rodriguez seemed to be on Team Seinfeld, saying: “The reports of the city’s death have been grossly exaggerated.” And for anxious multifamily developers, owners, and operators who have invested significantly in urban zones in the recent past, that’s good news.
Some indicators suggest that the pendulum is already swinging back to urban. In February, Boston Magazine ran a feature titled “Has Covid Mover’s Remorse Already Set In?” which reported that city expats who left to ride out Covid were already beginning to return to the Hub in droves.
More multifamily demand in more areas.
Beyond our cities, Rodriguez believes one of the most important trends of the past few decades will continue: the urbanization of the suburbs. While he doesn’t see every suburb becoming the next Manhattan, he anticipates a structural shift in consumer demand, with consumers wanting walkable areas and convenient amenities nearby. And no matter where they’re operating, multifamily marketers can feel good about Rodriguez’s key takeaway: “None of this means that downtown living goes away, it just means a lot more demand can be met in more areas.”
It’s too soon to tell what the multifamily map will look like when we close the books on 2021. In the meantime, property marketers with a story to tell about wide open spaces, fresh air, and the pleasures of living the simpler life had better get to telling it. Or, as the farmer’s proverb goes: Make hay while the sun is shining.
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