Interest in Rural Areas and Small Towns Spikes During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Pageviews are way up away from the cities, but so far sales are still falling from a year ago.

Small towns and rural areas may be set to boom in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). Homebuyer interest in these less-populous areas surged in March as the coronavirus became a national emergency.

As of March 23, the seven-day average year-over-year change in pageviews of homes in rural areas and small towns were up 115% and 88% respectively. Pageviews for homes in urban metro areas with populations of 1 million or more decreased 10% over the same period.

“America’s urban cities have boomed over the last few decades for their density of amenities, entertainment, innovation, and jobs,” said Redfin lead economist Taylor Marr. “But this pandemic has forced us to close down those benefits and has shined a bright light on one of the historic downsides of density—the possibility for spread of disease. It will remain to be seen if this shift in demand away from urban metros lasts or is temporary.”

In a recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast, host Stephen J. Dubner interviewed Edward Glaeser, author of the book Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, and asked whether Glaeser is concerned that the spread of COVID-19 will “turn the tide against your beloved cities.” Glaeser’s response? “Of course. Even worse, I’m worried that it should turn the tide against my beloved cities, right?”

The spike in interest in rural areas has not yet translated into an increase in actual sales, but the decline in pending sales has been less dramatic in rural areas and small towns (down 20% and 11%, respectively) than in large urban areas (down 26%).

Year-Over-Year Change in Pending Home Sales - Rural & Urban

Based on what we’re seeing in the data so far, it looks like the housing market in rural areas and small towns will weather the storm through coronavirus shutdowns better than the big cities. We may also see an increase in home sales in these less densely populated areas in the long term as well, as homebuyers look to get away from the cities or just purchase a second home that they can retreat to when times in the city get rough.

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