Recent Research Shows Changing Homebuying Trends, Including New Priorities, Interests, Fostered By Pandemic

Editor’s Note: The following study was published by Point2Homes.  The data for New York City was requested, and received, and the following important differences were found.  Here are some of the most important findings, provided by their writer, about the similarities and differences between New York City and the rest of the nation. 

  • If the phrase “tiny home for sale” increased by 82% at a national level, NYC saw a much bigger jump in searches for this type of housing. In 2020, the number of searches for tiny homes went up by 122% in the city.
  • Nationwide, it was the phrase “affordable homes for sale” that saw the biggest jump in the number of searches during the first year of the pandemic. However, given that NYC is one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, affordability doesn’t come into play. A house with pool, on the other hand, was very in demand: Searches for this phrase jumped 177% in 2020.
  • The phrase movers near me gained more traction in New York compared to interest at a national level: after a 50% increase during the first year of the pandemic, searches for this phrase intensified in 2021, increasing by 175%.
  • Although interest in “home office design” dominated at a national level, searches for mortgage refinancing increased the most in NYC. But although searches for mortgage refinancing jumped 90% in 2020, they went down 54% the following year.
  • For renters, two previously unknown and little researched terms simply exploded both in NYC and at a national level during the first year of the pandemic: “eviction moratorium” and “rent relief” was on every renter’s mind in 2020.

Most likely, your home first takes shape not in the real world, but online. Whether you’re a prospective homebuyer, a renter looking to get a better deal, or a homeowner attempting the best kitchen renovation, Google is typically the first place people go to for tips and inspiration.

As such, Google has become the ultimate mirror, reflecting our collective location preferences and home decor desires, as well as expectations about price and space

Therefore, when an event as momentous as a global pandemic occurs, it puts a serious dent in these preferences and expectations. And, in analyzing Google searches, it becomes obvious that renters, buyers and owners alike have changed their online behavior to better match their offline needs. Specifically, in the past two years, searches and questions about mortgage refinancing, movers availability, home office design, and home renovations have soared compared to pre-pandemic times.

To that end, Point2 analysts looked at search terms like “affordable homes for sale,” “apartment with balcony,” “movers near me,” “rent assistance,” and even “how to paint kitchen cabinets” to see how the pandemic and the restrictions that followed affected interest in these aspects of housing.

This is what they discovered:

  • For homebuyers, some of the terms with the biggest spikes in the number of monthly searches were “affordable homes for sale” (up 108% in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic times), followed by search phrases such as “first-time homebuyer” and “tiny home for sale” — but also “luxury condos” which was up 50% compared to 2019.
  • For renters, certain search phrases appeared in 2020 and 2021 that, prior to the pandemic, few — if any — people knew about or were interested in: For example, “rent relief” went from 90 searches per month in 2019 to 9,900 in 2020 and 49,500 in 2021. Meanwhile, “eviction moratorium” was searched only 40 times per month in 2019, but came up a staggering 40,500 times in 202, as well as 201,000 times in 2021.
  • For homeowners, it was all about “mortgage refinancing” — which was up 124% in 2020 compared to 2019 — as well as improving what they already had. In particular, the key phrase “home office design” jumped 125% from 2019 to 2020, staying high in 2021 as well. It was followed by the search phrase “buying a second home,” which jumped 53% in 2020 compared to 2019.

First-Time & Repeat Homebuyers Interested in Foreclosures, FSBOs & Tiny Homes, But Also Luxury Condos

Supporting the theory that the pandemic generated a K-shaped response, searches by prospective homebuyers revealed two diverging homebuying paths: Home-seekers were either interested in “affordable homes for sale” (up 108% in 2020 compared to 2019, and increasing a further 30% in 2021 compared to 2020) and “tiny home for sale” (for which the number of monthly searches went up by 82% in 2020 compared to the previous year) or they were looking for “luxury homes” and “penthouse for sale” (monthly searches for both key phrases jumped 50% in 2020).

Post-Pandemic Renters Paid More Attention to “Rent Relief” & “Eviction Moratorium,” Searches for “Renter-Friendly Renovations” Also Increased

Aside from “rent relief,” “rent assistance” and “eviction moratorium” — which exploded on the rental scene as a direct result of the massive, pandemic-induced changes in lifestyle — a few other keywords also started taking up more real estate in renters’ minds, as well.

For instance, in the context of renters being forced to steer clear of big cities, many probably had to consider the option of subleasing when moving to another area. As a result, that could be the reason why monthly searches for the keyword “subleasing” increased 22% during the most uncertain months of the most uncertain year, 2020.

And, just like the more affluent segment of homebuyers, those who rent by choice also started looking for better living conditions — and likely more living space. Consequently, searches for “luxury home for rent” and “luxury condo for rent” went up by about 50% in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Pandemic Made Homeowners Focus on “House Renovations” & Creating a Great “Home Office”

During a year when our homes became our everything, it was only natural that everyone tried to do their best to improve and beautify their living and working space. Both renters and homeowners upped their green game, with many people also opting to get a pet. And owners, more so than renters, had the freedom to bring in as many plants and pets as possible to cheer up their pandemic life. As a result, searches for “apartment plants” increased by 53% during the first year of the pandemic, remaining high despite a slight dip in 2021.

Similarly, searches for “home office design” also went up in 2020 — more than doubling compared to the previous year, when working from home was a working arrangement that only freelancers embraced.

What else was on homeowners’ minds after the pandemic forced everyone inside? Renovations. Searches about “how to paint a wall,” “how to paint furniture,” and “how to paint kitchen cabinets” along with “renovation plan” all increased by at least 50% in 2020, compared to the more carefree, less DIY-ready 2019.

Home to virtually all of the world’s information, Google is the ultimate repository of homebuying trends, the evolution of home prices, rental availability, neighborhood walkability, renovation costs, and everything and anything else related to our homes.

Thus, it makes sense that an event as influential as the Covid-19 pandemic would influence people’s interests. Likewise, the searches that buyers, owners, and renters are making online speak volumes to their new and changing housing preferences and needs.

Methodology

  • For this study, we chose some of the most used and frequently occurring real estate terms in 2020 and 2021 and compared their average number of monthly searches during 2020 and 2021 to the year before the pandemic started, 2019.
  • We compared the number of average monthly searches in 2019 to searches in 2020 and 2021 to see the extent to which the pandemic might have influenced homebuyers’ and renters’ behavior, as well as homeowners’ preferences.
  • We split the keywords into three categories (homebuyers, renters, and homeowners), but some keywords may be indicative of more than one persona. For example, “apartment with balcony” may be of interest to renters and also for homebuyers.
  • Definition of interest in Google Trends: Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term. Also, a higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count.

The above article first appeared on Point2Homes.  The New York City data, presented above, was not included in their original article. 

Banner Image: Buying A Home You Love. Image Credit – Kindel Media

Andra Hopulele

With a passion for all things real estate and home design, Andra covers the impact of housing issues on our everyday lives. She writes about the financial implications of the new generations entering the housing market and about the challenges of homeownership. Andra can be reached at [email protected].com

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