Where to Live?

December 22, 2020

The roll out of COVID-19 vaccinations gives hope that the pandemic can be beaten back. Already people are beginning to speculate about which of the recently enforced changes in our lives will remain in a post-pandemic world. Will we continue to work in attire more suited to the bedroom than the boardroom? Will working from home remain a major part of working life for those fortunate enough to have the option? Will new working flexibility enable us to live where we want, and, if so, where will people choose to live?

Decisions taken on choosing a place to live would seem to pose the most risk for the future health of big cities on the coasts like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. New York has probably struggled more than any other US city during the pandemic. Not only was New York hit early and hard by the pandemic, the lockdown measures inevitably took away most of the reasons to live there. Without the energy generated by the nightlife, restaurants, entertainment and culture, New York feels like a much less attractive option.

As a result, some commentators suggest a further migration away from major cities is inevitable, especially those places where high taxes add to the cost of living. Others, noting that places like New York have seen falls in property prices for going on three years, believe that the big cities could make a comeback.

The pandemic prompted both home buyers and renters to place comfort and affordability much higher on their list of considerations when choosing a place to live. The beneficiaries of this approach seem to have been smaller, livable cities and towns in locations with warmer climates, or with access to the great outdoors. Of course, the key issue for the future will be whether the move to remote working becomes the norm, or simply a short-term function of the pandemic.

The National Association of Realtors has identified a list of 10 markets it expects to thrive post- pandemic. The large southern cites of Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix are included, which is no surprise given they are all on a long-established growth trend. The list also sees some less likely names. The area around Charleston, SC, makes the top ten, no doubt helped by the prospect of a warm climate and some southern charm. The Midwest has some notable entries covering Indianapolis, IN; Madison, WI; and Des Moines, IA. I just hope anybody choosing one of those places is ready for the cold of winter. The final group, Boise City, ID; Provo, UT; and Spokane, WA, fit more in the category of the “great outdoors.”

For most of us, the pandemic is not going to prompt a move. Our focus has been the simpler option of making our current homes more comfortable, and adopting a lifestyle which is more efficient and less stressful. Maybe the pandemic has helped many of us reflect more on what is important in our lives.

Richard Rushton