Pandemic changing how Americans buy and sell homes

For city dwellers cooped up in tiny apartments for weeks on end, suburban sprawl suddenly seems a viable alternative.

“People who live in the city might be looking to move back to suburbia,” says Alan Rosenbaum, chief executive of GuardHill Financial, a mortgage company based in Manhattan.

New York City has a population density of nearly 28,000 people per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making it the nation’s most crowded city. In the pre-pandemic boom, New York’s teeming masses were a selling point. Now, that demographic reality has pivoted from an asset to a liability.

“If you’re in a downtown high-rise, it’s hard to socially distance on the elevator, where somebody might cough or sneeze,” says housing economist Brad Hunter, managing director at RCLCO Real Estate Advisors. “On the other hand, in the suburbs, you can pull into your driveway and go straight into your house, and it’s easier to socially distance.”

A move toward telecommuting would play into that trend. If workers keep toiling from home, as they’ve been doing during the pandemic, rather than commuting to downtown offices, living in the suburbs makes more sense.

• You might be renting for a while.

With paychecks shrinking and lenders making it harder to qualify for mortgages, more Americans might find home ownership has drifted out of reach.

A weak economy tends to lower home ownership rates as potential buyers opt to rent rather than take on the hefty financial commitment that accompanies buying a house.

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