Homebuyer Interest in Single-Family Homes Jumps to Four-Year High

Web searches for single-family homes have popped as the coronavirus pandemic has turned privacy into a hot commodity.

Online searches for single-family homes rose to the highest level in four years last month. This comes as the coronavirus pandemic drives buyers to seek out larger houses located farther away from dense urban areas.

In May, 36% of saved searches created by Redfin.com users filtered exclusively for single-family homes. That’s up from 33% in February—before the coronavirus was known to be widespread in the U.S.—and represents the largest share since March 2016. It also marks an increase from 28% in May 2019.

Meanwhile, the share of searches for other types of homes, such as condos, townhouses and multifamily listings, has declined. Last month, 7.5% saved searches on Redfin.com excluded single-family homes—the lowest level in three years.

“One of the biggest benefits of living in a condo or an apartment is sharing the cost of rooftops, pools and gyms, but many of these communal amenities have been roped off due to the pandemic,” said Redfin lead economist Taylor Marr. “People who were previously willing to share space with strangers in exchange for a nice view and a quick commute now want their own yards and home offices. Flexible work-from-home policies have made this dream achievable for many house hunters.”

During the first quarter of this year, the median size of new single-family homes climbed to 2,291 square feet from 2,252 in the prior quarter, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—and the National Association of Home Builders said it expects further gains in the future. 

Irma Jalifi, a Redfin agent in Houston, recently sold a single-family home to a couple who had moved to Texas due to the pandemic in order to escape their cramped apartment in New York City. In Houston, they were able to buy a house with his and hers offices and space for a gym.

Another one of Jalifi’s clients is in the process of moving to Texas from San Francisco, and is under contract to buy a house that’s much larger than their current home.

“Coming from San Francisco, they couldn’t get over the spaciousness of what, in my opinion, is a very average size home in Houston,” Jalifi said. “Everything’s bigger and better in Texas.”

Results by Metro

We also broke down our saved-search data by location to identify the areas that experienced the highest growth in web searches for single-family homes. Of the 28 metros in this analysis, Tampa saw the biggest uptick, with 44% of saved searches filtering for single-family houses in May—up about 10 percentage points from February. Las Vegas, Boston, Seattle and San Jose rounded out the top five, all around 6 percentage points higher. That compares with growth of 2.8 percentage points on a national level.

Seattle Redfin agent Shoshana Godwin said her clients are starting to expand their searches to neighborhoods they wouldn’t have considered in the past, as proximity to the workplace becomes less important. Specifically, she has seen a spike in interest in West Seattle—a neighborhood that has relatively low housing costs but was previously overlooked by many buyers due to the long commute and the closure of a key bridge to the city center. Now, that’s less of a factor, she said.

Before the pandemic, buyers wanted to be walking distance from the park, but now they want their own private outdoor space so they don’t have to go to the park. I’m even getting more questions about whether homes have enough space for hot tubs,” Godwin said. “We’re seeing this shift from, `Let’s settle for a two-bedroom home and buy something bigger later’ to `Let’s get a three-bedroom house because we both need an office.’”

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