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Pandemic Has Homebuyers Looking To Small Cities, Rural Areas

A home listed for sale in Ashland.
Kevin Doss
Full Circle Real Estate
A home listed for sale in Ashland.

Real estate agents say the coronavirus pandemic may have homebuyers turning their attention to smaller cities and rural areas.

The question of whether people will start moving out of denser cities often follows major catastrophes like 9/11 or violent protest, according to Ashland-based Realtor Colin Mullane of Full Circle Real Estate. But the coronavirus pandemic seems to be different.

“This is the first time in the 20 years that I’ve been doing this where the meaning of the word ‘home’ has taken on a whole new meaning because people have been spending a lot more time at home,” Mullane says.

After weeks of quarantine, the idea of a bigger house with a backyard is more appealing now than ever. And that option is more realistic for employees who have transitioned into working from home indefinitely.

“If you're in a tech job — let’s just say in the Bay Area — and all of a sudden your employer says, ‘We're going to pay you the same where you can work from home because we found you to be just as productive,’” Mullane says. “You start to look around and go, ‘Y’know, this lockdown thing wasn't ideal, and if that happened again or if this is a part of our lives to a degree going forward, where do I want to live?”

This could also give people the option of purchasing their first home in an area where they can afford one. Preliminary website search data shows more first-time homebuyers are looking in smaller cities and rural areas, according to economist John Levine with the California Association of Realtors.

“People still want to own homes, that’s pretty much still synonymous with the American dream, even among younger Californias,” Levine says. “The problem is that they mostly can’t afford to purchase a home in the area where either job is located.”

Still, real estate agents say it’s too soon to make predictions about how the pandemic will impact the housing market in the long run.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.