The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on the U.S. real estate market. When cases first started exploding in March, they were mostly concentrated in the New York City area. Not surprisingly, Manhattan residents staged a mass exodus, abandoning their cramped apartments in favor of open spaces in nearby suburban communities.
But then the outbreak spread, and city life became less desirable and all the more dangerous on a national level. It also, for many people, has become largely unnecessary.
Many people routinely decide to live in cities due to proximity to their jobs. But with so many employees working remotely now (and making plans to do so for the foreseeable future), cities are beginning to hold a lot less appeal. Throw in the fact nightlife is largely shut down in much of the country, and the idea of paying a premium for a tiny apartment suddenly seems laughable.
It's not surprising, then, to learn that cities all over the country are being abandoned in droves.
Since the pandemic, New York City has lost roughly 111,000 people. Chicago has lost over 31,000, and Los Angeles has lost over 26,000.
Leaving cities gives renters and buyers alike an opportunity to get more for their money -- increased square footage and outdoor space, as well as the opportunity to park a car without stress. It also, for parents, could mean better school districts.
But the anti-city sentiment that's abounded for months is clearly driven by the fact we're in the midst of a pandemic and life is by no means normal. It therefore begs the question: Once vaccines become widely available, will cities suddenly see an influx of people? Or are major cities done for good?
City life most likely isn't dead
Right now, there's not much to be gained by living in a city. But that could change once a vaccine is distributed to the general public.
If enough people agree to take a vaccine, it could be the first step in bringing this dreadful pandemic to an end. Once that happens, city life is apt to become a lot more appealing. Restaurants and bars will open back up to full capacity. Sporting events will start happening. Concerts will be back, and live theater will be in the mix. All of these amenities are what drive people to cities in the first place, and when they're a factor again, cities are apt to see a revival.
The shift from remote work back to in-person work will also have an influence. Though some employers are making plans to keep workers remote long term, many will seek to get back to their former setups once it's safe to do so. As such, the desire to avoid a miserable commute could bring some newly minted suburbanites back to cities, whether they want to return or not.
But to be clear, all of this won't happen anytime soon. Health experts agree that vaccines won't be deployed on a wide scale level until April at the earliest, and from there, there are apt to be distribution issues and pushback. Cities may therefore not return to their former glory until well into 2022. By then, many people who left may be too settled in their new homes to contemplate a move. As such, while cities can indeed be saved, it may take time for that to happen.
The good news, however, is that there are opportunities now to buy up city real estate on the cheap. Investors who jump in the near term could profit substantially once the pandemic comes to an end and renters and buyers alike flock to the cities they once knew and loved.