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Americans Seeking More Rural Lifestyles In Response To COVID-19 Pandemic

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll across the globe, many Americans are not only practicing social distancing but also reconsidering their lifestyle. Heavily populated urban centers in the United States have borne the brunt of the pandemic. As a result, many Americans are looking to trade the comforts of city life for a more laid-back day to day lifestyle in the country.

According to Jim Mulleady, a broker for Coldwell Banker in northern Wisconsin, “Sales in April and May were very poor because of COVID. Really, we were selling homes, but not yet closing on them, and then, June, July and August have been just unbelievable.”

Mullready says his real estate company sold 236 homes in August, breaking a previous one-month record of 215 homes sold in July 2007 before the housing market crashed. Now, properties that were once considered seasonal homes are being sold to families looking to escape crowded urban areas.

Justin Szews, principal of Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua, Wisconsin, says that enrollment has increased this past year. “We did see a slight increase of enrollment at a time when typically semi-rural places like us are kind of in a downturn in enrollment over the last 15 to 20 years,” he says.

Many families, who have vacationed in rural areas in the past, have made the decision to permanently relocate to areas where they have spent summers. A Harris poll conducted in April found that 39 percent of adults were considering moving from cities to less-crowded rural areas due to the COVID-19 crisis. The trend, however, began before the pandemic struck.

Rural sociologist Ben Winchester with the University of Minnesota-Extension says, “There has been a regular influx of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s moving into just about every rural county in the country.” Many people are looking for a simpler life, safety, affordable homes and recreation.

In addition, many rural areas have been steadily growing in population size in the last decade. Being able to work remotely makes changing an urban setting for the peace and quiet of a rural community relatively easy and in most cases is more affordable. Given that many workers have begun working remotely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has made this option even more enticing.

A study by Harvard Business School found that 1 in 6 workers will continue to work remotely after the pandemic, according to surveys of 1,770 small business leaders and 70 business economists. Remote work is more common in sectors with workers who have attained higher education and have better paying jobs.

Also, a study released by Zillow found that although there hasn’t been widespread migration from urban areas to the suburbs during the pandemic, there has been an increase in people leaving expensive coastal cities like New York and San Francisco. In addition, a more recent Zillow study found the freedom to work remotely could result in more than two million renters in the United States buying homes in more affordable rural locations.

In the past, access to the internet made remote work in rural areas difficult, but improved broadband across the country has removed that obstacle. In light of the pandemic, many large companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Square have announced plans to allow workers to continue working remotely indefinitely.

Lisa Johnson, an accredited land consultant with Horsepower Real Estate in Junction City, Oregon, believes that the demand for rural properties will continue to grow, though now inventory is limited. “We’re still seeing a lot of people calling from the larger metro areas… that, whether its 5 acres or 100 acres, they just want somewhere to go.”

Drew Ary, ALC, with Ary Land Co in Coweta, Oklahoma, has also observed a similar trend in land sales with “an increase in anything outside of 45 minutes of a major metropolitan area, adding that “we’ll continue to see an incredible increase in demand for these types of properties.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only factor pushing people to seek out more rural areas. As younger generations begin to start families, many are unable to afford living in large cities. The average cost of a home in New York City exceeds $680,000, while in Los Angeles, the median home cost is roughly $690,000. Few families can afford that mortgage expense and rural areas are seen as cost-saving alternatives that offer more room and outdoor recreation possibilities.

Rural communities afford many the opportunity to purchase larger homes, access to better public education, and avoid higher rates of crime. In addition, rural lifestyle can significantly reduce stress and contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Finally, if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t put a price on space, especially when it comes to safeguarding your families from current or future infectious diseases.

By Mark Lugris