Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

People move for all kinds of reasons — to start a new job, to cohabitate with a partner, to live closer to family, to gain more space — but the COVID-19 pandemic has added another variable to the relocation equation. 

More and more companies are allowing their employees to work remotely, erasing the need to live within commuting distance of the office. Some urbanites are becoming disenchanted with climbing rent prices and the heightened risk of virus spread. Others who have lost their jobs are moving in with family or searching for more affordable housing.

In an effort to test whether this anecdotal evidence is translating to actual moves, rental platform Apartment List surveyed more than 3,500 renters and homeowners about their intent to relocate. 

In light of the pandemic, 17 percent said they were more likely to move by the end of the year. The top reasons given for relocating were requiring cheaper housing (32 percent), taking advantage of declining rents and home prices (31 percent), wanting more space to socially distance (29 percent), wanting to live in an area with more economic opportunities (28 percent), and planning to work remotely (19 percent).

An additional 30 percent reported that they were more likely to stay put due to the coronavirus, citing safety reasons (37 percent), wanting to stay close to family (30 percent), financial hardships (26 percent), paused job searches (19 percent) and the faltering desirability of the place they intended to move (7 percent).

Renters living in dense urban areas and recently laid-off workers were the most motivated to pack up and move. Twenty-five percent of renters, compared to just 11 percent of homeowners, said they were more likely to relocate. Of course, renters have more flexibility, but their motivations were primarily driven by the need to find cheaper housing — 58 percent said they feared being evicted if they don’t vacate their apartments by the end of the year.

Residents of densely populated urban areas, which have been hard-hit by the pandemic, have also shown a willingness to move. Nearly 30 percent indicated that they were more likely to relocate — double the rate of individuals currently residing in rural parts of the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the already gaping wealth gap between high- and low-income earners in the United States. Among city residents who can work remotely, 32 percent are weighing a move, prompted by declining rents (39 percent), the ability to telecommute from elsewhere (33 percent), and the desire to live in a lower-density environment (31 percent).

However, among low-income city residents earning less than $50,000 per year, the decision to move is propelled by the need to secure cheaper housing (40 percent) and pursue greater economic opportunities (30 percent).

Twenty-three percent of those surveyed said they lost their job as a result of coronavirus and another 28 percent have had their incomes reduced. This month, only about half of these individuals were able to pay their rent in full and on time, and 46 percent were worried about being evicted in the near future.

Among individuals who have experienced a recent lay-off, 32 percent were mulling a move, compared to just 11 percent of those whose incomes have been unaffected by the pandemic.

The authors of the report concluded that while the national conversation around moving in the wake of COVID-19 has largely centered around the proliferation of remote work, the most prevalent reason given was the need for lower-priced housing.

“If more and more Americans are looking to move into cheaper units that existing tenants are now less likely to vacate, the affordable housing market — which was already undersupplied — is likely to experience even more pressure,” reads the report.

“Meanwhile, a more permanent shift toward remote work will likely have some impact on mobility trends, but we expect that this effect will be less pronounced and will play out over a longer horizon.”

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