City Dwellers Headed to the Suburbs After Pandemic? Maybe?
CHICAGO – Since the first week in March, when I started writing nonstop about the coronavirus, not a day goes by that I don't look outside my home office window and thank my lucky stars I live in the suburbs.
You're likely thinking that as well, right?
We may be lumped in with Chicago and Cook County as far as the governor's four-region/five-stage plan for reopening the state is concerned. But all you have to do is review the data that gets cited so frequently to realize we are doing a lot better out here (per capita and otherwise) against COVID-19 than the more densely populated zip codes of the region.
And that could be good news for property values in the area. I don't own a crystal ball and have no expertise in real estate. (Although I did work my butt off to learn all that math in order to get my Realtor's license a thousand years ago.) I am, however, going to rely on common sense to suggest city dwellers may just start looking toward the suburbs, with more open space, bigger lawns and room to stretch out in the wake of this pandemic that's propelled social distancing and sheltering-in-place into a virtual tie for 2020 phrase of the year.
New York City is already seeing it, according to a recent article in the New York Times that featured one man moving from Manhattan to Long Island because "the balance of nature in the city has become so different."
Seriously. It just makes sense. The more dense an area, the harder it is to stay away from that highly-contagious new virus that has driven us out of jobs, into our houses and behind those homemade masks.
In addition to the safety issue, there's the new work-from-home phenomena that's only picked up steam the last three months. Companies are already noting productivity levels have not slipped as employees shelter in place. So there's likely to be more freedom from the boss to skip the commute and work from the kitchen table or attic office even after rules have been lifted and we can start moving about freely again.
And there's no question some of the charm of city-living - the hustle and bustle, quaint shops and cozy but crowded restaurants - could be dramatically reduced in the post-pandemic new world.
Kathy Brothers, whose Aurora Keller Williams office spent Thursday driving around to area grocery and hardware stores, lauding their front-line workers and passing out food to them, is a big fan of the suburbs since she moved to the Fox Valley more than 20 years ago.
"I wouldn't live anywhere else," she proclaimed proudly. And she's trying to convince those die-hard city folks to give this community a try, as well, by purchasing ads in the city touting local properties.
Density and new rules because of the coronavirus, she agreed, "could cause a transformation."
As president of Realtor Association of the Fox Valley, Paul Kempa was even more emphatic. "Without a doubt this will help us in the suburbs," said the broker with Realty One Group Excel.
While a lot of sellers are cautious, postponing putting their houses on the market and waiting to see if a second wave is coming, "there's no doubt interest in growing in Kane County," he said.
"We are starting to see it happen. People see this as having their own sanctuary, their own office, a nice yard," Kempa said. "We are just putting together a marketing piece and are already getting a ton of phone calls because of it."
Long-time Fox Valley Realtor Linda Pilmer also confirmed "it's been on our radar."
One thing city dwellers thinking about purchasing in the suburbs may have, however, "is sticker shock" from the property taxes that are three times higher here. Still, housing prices are certainly cheaper. And even before COVID-19, people have started to see the advantage of Aurora and the Fox Valley, which is 45-60 minutes from major airports and other city amenities, she noted, while also offering a less hectic pace of life that might be even more alluring now.
One attorney she works with had his adult children, all apartment dwellers, move back home with him after the governor's shelter-in-place order, Pilmer told me, and all have developed renewed appreciation for the open space and friendliness of suburban living.
Whether or not that brings the grown kids home permanently remains to be seen. "If Chicago people lease, they might start looking out here when their leases are up," she said. "People don't move every year so we may be seeing the effect in the next five years."
When I checked in with commercial real estate broker Brian Dolan to ask about my theory, he'd just gotten off a Zoom meeting with a group of brokers. And "the subject of a resurgence," he said, "definitely came up."
There's been "a trend going this way anyway … with less officer workers," Dolan pointed out. "From a logistical standpoint alone, the 'burbs make more sense" after the pandemic. "Buildings in Chicago are 30-40-50 stories tall … how are you going to deal with elevators? Have two people get on at a time?"
Kempa, too, is seeing signs of a rebound.
Home showings are back up to normal compared to April when "everyone was huddled up," he said. "The last couple of weeks people seem to be saying, 'Let's get on with our lives.'"
Copyright © 2020, The Beacon News, Denise Crosby. All rights reserved.