The move toward the smaller urban condo or trendy townhouse has been slowly taking place over the last decade — blogs like McMansion Hell, which pointed out the architectural failures of 20-bedroom estates, went viral and report after report found that millennials were increasingly paying more for homes that were smaller, more urban and easier to maintain. Suburban estates of over 5,000 square feet that were considered the epitome of wealth since the 1980s and until the housing crash of 2008 were sitting on the market for longer and even selling at a discount up until the end of 2019.
“For the last number of years, the trend has been for people to buy things on the smaller scale, things that are much more manageable for their lifestyles,” Dana Koch, a broker with Corcoran Group Palm Beach, told Inman. “After the pandemic, it’s just the polar opposite. People are trending toward larger and larger pieces of property. They want tennis courts, they want larger pools, they want more bedrooms, they want multiple offices and they want an area for their kids.”
As first reported by Realtor.com, the coronavirus outbreak has shifted buyers’ priorities away from a stylish design and back toward more space. When the virus first spread to the United States in March, being outside a dense city became a major advantage — as did having a spare room or two when the schools and offices closed. Families and homeowners with kids, in particular, were spending a lot of money on homes where they could spend long periods of time at home as comfortably as possible.
“As a result of COVID-19, many people are looking for more space they can use for various needs,” Freddy Rodriguez, the owner of RE/MAX Top Realty in Houston, told Inman. He has had one client purchase gym equipment to work out from home and then decided to move after finding that having multiple exercise machines in a townhome was too crowded. Another client of his works for a company that gave its employees permission to work from home indefinitely and, as a result, started looking for a larger home where she can have more office space.
That doesn’t mean that modern design trends went out the window — open-floor design, indoor-outdoor layouts that make use of natural light and minimalist décor are still what luxury buyers are after. But as the pandemic drags on for longer than many had anticipated and states including California close up their economies for a second time, having more space takes precedence over almost any other desire and is what affluent buyers are putting their money toward. It makes, as many agents pointed out, the difference between fighting with family constantly and being able to go into separate rooms and do efficient work.
“COVID-19 has given us all a wake-up call that we weren’t expecting, and we’ve had no choice but to acknowledge it,” Rodriguez said, adding that many are also adapting to situations in which adult children or grandparents are moving back in with family. “Now, we must adapt to it and make the necessary changes that are in our own best interests such as buying and moving into a home that serves your needs.”
Nancy Almodovar, president of Christie’s International Realty-affiliated Nan & Company Properties in Houston, said that outdoor space is another major consideration. Decks, patios, pools, terraces and gardens give residents a chance to vary up their activities and feel as though they are on vacation instead of stuck at home — and many of these amenities are not possible in a home under a certain size.
“I do think the stay-at-home orders made people focus more on what their home can offer to their family,” Almodovar told Inman. “When you are limited in where you can go and travel, you want your home to have spaces that allow you to relax and retreat from everyday stress.”
Upkeep and maintenance costs remain a concern, particularly among younger buyers, and large urban apartments are still a major commodity drawing in top dollar. But just as with the coronavirus, the trend toward wanting more space is not likely to go away any time soon. As Koch pointed out, a trendy urban condo is becoming a luxury and a nice-to-have as more and more clients think long-term and look for spaces where they can shelter for long periods of time if the need arises.
“People are already thinking about next steps,” Koch said. “If there’s another shelter-in-place or quarantine situation, they want to be prepared and ready to go into an area that they feel more comfortable in.”