“I don’t have enough space.”
“Now we can hear the neighbors’ every word.”
“I need a home office now.”
In the wake of being confined to their homes for months, real estate agents’ clients suddenly can’t stand to look at the same four walls anymore.
Melissa Steele, co-founder of Team Steele San Diego Homes, said she has buyers coming out of the woodwork, desperate for a new space to work and live in. Not in a month — now!
“‘I need to get out of my space,’ ‘I need a home office,’ ‘I’m going insane,'” Steele said buyers have been telling her.
“Overall, it’s something that we weren’t really expecting to see,” Steele said of this emerging demographic of buyers. “We’ve had people reach out with the sentiment that, ‘My house is too small.'”
Steele said the need has been especially prevalent among renters in apartment complexes that contain shared community spaces like communal elevators, or lack outdoor space. With the shift to working from home in many industries, she’s also had several buyers who are seeking out homes that could accommodate a designated work space.
“Work-from-home orders are becoming semi-permanent,” Steele said. “And [buyers] don’t have a comfortable work space. I think the shift to a more permanent lifestyle where someone has a home office or a little space in their living room to work from home is [impending].”
Darlene Streit, a broker at Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has seen a huge surge in demand from out-of-state buyers looking to move to larger homes with more open spaces.
“[In] Santa Fe … you can get more house for the money,” Streit said. “You can still shelter-in-place, but still go hiking, go out and go biking … it’s becoming very appealing for people.”
The biggest change RE/MAX Real Estate Connections agent Zahid Abbasi has seen in Fairfax, Virginia, is a desire for more space outside of the city.
“They’re definitely looking for more space and trying to stay away from the city and trying to move into suburbs,” said Abbasi, who also goes by Zach. “[They] definitely [want to] have a yard and prefer single families, or condos or townhouses. It’s definitely a huge change compared to previous years.”
Abbasi said clients have always been interested in homes with updated kitchens and bathrooms, but now as a result of the pandemic, they’re prioritizing a bigger yard or having an office or library on the main level.
Rick Sadle, principle broker of Sadle Home Selling Team with Keller Williams Professionals in Portland, Oregon, said he’s working with several buyers who are moving now because of space issues that have resulted from spending more time at home.
“We have one [buyer] where their house is on a very small lot,” Sadle said. “So they’re pretty close to their neighbors, which was all fine until everyone was pretty much home all the time. And now they’re hearing everything their neighbors are saying … It’s all been a little overwhelming for them. So they’re actually getting out of town and building a home on acreage.”
Another of Sadle’s buyers who has kids currently lives in a smaller home on a city street, which wasn’t a problem when the family could take advantage of the city’s parks.
“[But] now, that doesn’t work for them,” Sadle said. “I think they just decided that they just didn’t have enough space for their whole family at home all together all the time.”
The family is planning to move out of their 1,700-square-foot home into a home of about 2,500 square feet that contains an extra room for use as an office or recreation space.
On the whole, agents are also noticing a dramatic rise in buyer urgency.
Before the pandemic, Steele said she and her team were accustomed to working with buyers who might be looking to buy a home within the next several months to a year or so.
“Now, it’s more like … ‘How do I get approved for a loan now?'” Steele said.
Some buyers are so desperate they’ve considered recruiting family members to co-sign on a home loan, or dipping into their retirement accounts to make a down payment.
Streit’s also been feeling the urgency from her buyers who are trying to condense the homebuying process into as short of a time as possible.
“I have people who are in San Francisco, and are just having to stay in their apartment or house, and they are really anxious,” Streit said. “And they’re moving up their time lines … [before the pandemic] it was ‘In a year or two, no rush,’ and now, they’re like, ‘As soon as we can come in — we want to move now.'”
Sadle said the majority of his buyers are also incentivized to move more quickly now than ever — perhaps none more so than the couple he’s working with who, over the course of the pandemic, have decided to divorce and are now shopping for separate homes with Sadle’s help.
“I get the impression that staying at home all the time during COVID-19 kind of drove the nail into the coffin,” Sadle said. “They are motivated.”
Compass CEO Robert Reffkin probably best summed up the current homebuyer sentiment recently in an appearance on CNBC.
“Buyers right now are saying to themselves, I’ve been locked in my space for three months, and they’re evaluating, do they have enough space inside and outside, do they have enough light, do they have the right home office,” Reffkin said. “Buyers have never been so intimately aware of the inadequacies of their home.”