What the post-pandemic housing market might look like, according to the CEO of Century 21
This article is part of Fortune’s quarterly investment guide for Q3 2020.
From working to working-out-from-home, the coronavirus is changing the way we live—and it might change where we live, too.
That’s what Mike Miedler, the president and CEO of real estate behemoth Century 21, sees as a possibility moving forward.
“It’s now where you’re schooling your kids and working from. And it’s now your home gym—it’s everything to you,” he tells Fortune. Miedler, who has sat atop the realty empire since last year, is hearing reports from his agents all across the country that the housing market is still booming. But he’s seeing some notable trends coming out of the woodwork that just may be solidified in a post-pandemic housing market.
Expect a rush into the market with ‘generationally’ low interest rates
The Federal Reserve has been working overtime to quell the pain in financial markets as the coronavirus crisis plunged the nation into a recession—including cutting interest rates to near zero, likely until 2022.
For the housing market, that’s meant 30-year fixed mortgage rates are at historic lows. Miedler thinks we’re seeing a surge in homebuying with the “generational opportunity with interest rates,” he says. That might make homes more affordable in high-priced markets like Washington, D.C., or New York City. “A couple percentage points will put thousands and thousands of dollars of home purchase power in your pocket, especially for the first-time home buyer,” Miedler notes. “That’s the big story right now, that we have so much pent-up demand.”
The exodus to the suburbs may stick
There’s mounting evidence of an exodus from cities to the suburbs, and Miedler sees that as a trend that could stick.
“A hundred days ago, I would give this speech on how I see a lot of millennials moving into city-type areas like Brooklyn, like Queens, like Hoboken, because they want that walking, they want the experience, they want to be able to get out of their building and go to the Whole Foods. And now that’s completely turned upside down on its head,” says Miedler. “We’re seeing people look at how they flee the cities and get into more suburban-type areas…And I do think we’re going to see a spreading out of the American population.”
For many of us now, working from home might be the new normal, while cities with their bars and restaurants (and dense populations) may be losing their luster amid shutdowns.
“My house and my basement [have] become my new office, and I think that folks are saying, ‘Hey, look, I might be willing to move to Westchester, to Long Island, or even D.C. if I can jump on the train to be up there a few days a week and deal with a three- or four-hour commute versus having to be in the office every single day,” says Miedler. “I absolutely think we’re going to continue to see that as we rethink the way that we work and school and conduct our lives.”
We may already be seeing early evidence of this flight to the suburbs: Searches for houses with zip codes in the suburbs rose 13% in May, according to Realtor.com, CNBC reported. Meanwhile, builder confidence for new homes has shot up to pre-pandemic levels, according to the July National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. And where new homes are being built is telling: “New home demand is improving in lower density markets, including small metro areas, rural markets and large metro exurbs, as people seek out larger homes and anticipate more flexibility for telework in the years ahead,” NAHB chief economist Robert Dietz said in the report. “Flight to the suburbs is real.”
Prices will keep rising across the country—but perhaps not in cities
But will prices drop? Yes and no.
The housing market, perhaps surprisingly, has held up pretty well during the crisis, and prices keep ticking up across the country. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, the median existing-home price has ticked up for 99 consecutive months, while inventory remains low. (It’s currently at 4.8 months of supply, according to the NAR.) Miedler sees a four-month supply of inventory as “the new norm” (read: lots of competition), and he believes “those prices will continue to creep up across the country. But in those markets where people are fleeing, you’re definitely going to see prices go down,” he says.
Indeed, early reports suggest prices in some cities like infamously expensive New York City may be getting ready to decline, as residential buildings empty out in the city. And it’s true that house prices have fallen in New York City in recent months: In June, the median rental price in the hub of Manhattan fell nearly 5%, according to a report by Douglas Elliman. But given the shutdowns and restrictions, the data will no doubt be in flux as the housing market reopens.
Yet as would-be homeowners continue to reevaluate their needs and new way of life, Miedler says he “can bet those numbers will start coming down.”
On a more sentimental note, he adds: “I do think housing, your home, has become more important than it’s probably ever been in our lifetimes.”
More from Fortune’s Q3 investment guide:
- A comprehensive guide for first time homebuyers
- The best and worst places in the U.S. to invest in real estate during the pandemic
- To buy or to rent? Residential real estate calculus in the time of COVID-19
- Where are housing prices heading? Gain, then pain
- Are people really fleeing cities because of COVID? Here’s what the data shows
- This is what every generation thinks of real estate—and what each has spent on it
- How to hedge your home