What Is the Great American Move?

For the past few decades, major metropolitans have experienced substantial real estate growth thanks to exciting nightlife, walkability, and strong job opportunity. But as COVID-19 continues longer than most would have expected, real estate pundits are noticing a shift trending toward lower-density, suburban areas and away from high-density locations. This change of heart and action by the market is being dubbed the ‘Great American Move’.

The pandemic is not the only driving factor behind the spike in migration to suburbs and smaller metropolitan cities. Before COVID-19, suburban locations were already attractive alternatives to major cities thanks to quality school systems, lower-cost housing for more space, and a stronger sense of community. In addition, thriving suburban areas have expanded to offer more desirable entertainment and nightlife options historically only found in metropolitan areas.

According to the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Emerging Trends Report, young, Millennial professionals starting families are major proponents in driving the ‘Great American Move’. The population in family formation years (aged 30-49) is expected to grow by 8.4 million people in the next decade. The report projects “this family segment to be a boon to the nearly 80 percent share of household growth that we expect will be captured by the suburbs in the years to come.”

COVID-19 has only accelerated the market’s shift in demand toward lower-density locations.  Trends like working from home (WFH) have provided residents unprecedented flexibility when deciding where to live. As a result, residents are capitalizing on the lack of a commute while their dollar goes further in terms of living space. An important trend to note as many real estate professionals expect the majority of businesses/companies to permanently implement at least partial WFH policies in the future.


Click here for the ULI Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 report

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Gathering Accurate Submarket Data

When property managers are analyzing the performance of their communities and the surrounding competition, it is absolutely vital to collect accurate data. But the value of submarket data varies from metric to metric. So, how do you know what information to value the most?

Metro market reports provided by industry leaders in research offers undeniable value in terms of summarizing how a market is performing. But any manager relying on submarket information provided by such reports would be acting as a major disservice to the property they manage. Ultimately,  the surefire way of understanding how your property is performing in its specific submarket is to analyze the performance of the competing properties in the immediate surrounding areas. And the only way to understand how your competition is performing is by conducting market surveys.

Metro reports are great for providing a snapshot summary of the overall economic and housing trend in any given market. This is great information for managers when making strategic, market-wide decisions, predicting where/when certain locations might become more desirable in the future, and how to position in order to capitalize on unexpected opportunities. However, the most indicative information comes from strong submarket analysis and knowing what to do or how to apply the information in a productive manner.

The reason metro market reports are not a good source of submarket data is due to how the surveys are produced and conducted. For the most part, only a handful of properties are directly contacted by the researchers. The amount of time, money, and effort it would take for researchers to contact every property in a certain state would be immense and overwhelming. So the picture of a market’s performance has to be painted with a broader brush. Consequently, the submarket data suffers and the information can become misleading.

So, if metro reports are only good for a more general snapshot of a market’s performance, how does one understand performance on a submarket level? In the end, market surveys are the most effective way of gaining specific information about a submarket and how a manager’s property compares.

However, market surveys come with their own hurdles while gathering pertinent information. Onsite employees are often already stretched too thin to obtain accurate information or they are not always trained in knowing what to look or ask for. Other property managers can refuse to provide metrics on their community’s performance or might even give false information.

One way to combat uncooperative operators is simply building a relationship on a personal level. Property managers in the same submarket working together can result in a better product for all through healthy competition, so sometimes a rising tide raises all ships.

Another effective method is using a secret shopper. Sending someone to shop apartments at a competing complex who knows what questions to ask and what information to look for can provide invaluable data that can be difficult to accurately obtain using other methods. While an operator might resist providing occupancy numbers or upcoming amenities to a competing manager, they could be much more likely to divulge that information to a prospective tenant.


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Emerging Opportunities During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues longer than any of us may have predicted, the real estate landscape continues to shift. Some housing trends increase in prominence and some come to a grinding halt, all while new, emerging opportunities for growth present themselves. One door opens as others close, so to speak.  For example, the millennial-led migration from cities to suburbs has only gained momentum. Conversely, multifamily developers and managers have shifted strategies to attract new residents by promoting health and wellness movements rather than property amenities.

“Times of great change always present significant opportunities,” said Urban Land Institute (ULI) Global CEO W. Ed Walter during the recent ULI virtual fall conference. “In the near term, our suburbs will benefit from new growth spurred by shifting demographics and changes to living and working patterns resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Earlier this month ULI published its Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 report, referencing insight from over 1,500 leaders in the real estate industry. Some of the following trends are on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Smaller office footprints
    • Online meeting services such as Zoom and GoToMeeting have made working from home (WFH) easier and more efficient than ever. Businesses are realizing they can cut costs by reducing their office footprint with employees working remotely. According to the report, over 90 percent of real estate professionals expect companies to adopt at least a part-time WFH policy.
  2. Suburban migration
    • As previously mentioned, suburban migration, especially among Millennials, was a popular trend before the pandemic. Now, the desire for low-density living is higher than ever. As a result, the south has seen a large influx of growth from movers longing for the greater housing affordability the region has to offer.
  3. Retail vacancy
    • Over 80 percent of ULI survey respondents believe the pandemic has only accelerated a shift in the retail sector that was already emerging due to online competition. For example, large department stores like Macy’s experienced disastrous sales in March after closing stores for almost two weeks and reportedly losing the “majority” of its sales.
  4. State/local fiscal issues
    • The loss of revenue across the board is expected to cause a wake of fiscal challenges for state and local communities over the next few years. Real taxes, the main source of revenue for local governments, will likely fall due to a drop as hotels and retail centers lose value. Furthermore, pandemic concerns create a snowball effect by encouraging consumers to shop online even more while actively avoiding spending money in-person at retail stores, restaurants, or other local businesses.
  5. Safety and sanitation concerns
    • If anything positive has resulted from COVID-19 it is health, safety, and sanitation practices. Businesses around the world are (re)enforcing sanitation practices by requiring customers to wear facemasks, providing free hand sanitizer at common contact locations in-store, limiting maximum occupancy, and implementing social distancing efforts where a line or queue may form.

Click here for the ULI Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 report

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Uncertain Trends During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic maintains momentum, the real estate landscape continues to shift. Some housing trends accelerate and some become a thing of the past, all while new opportunities for growth present themselves. For example, the millennial-led migration from cities to suburbs has only accelerated. Conversely, multifamily developers and managers have shifted strategies to attract new residents by promoting health and wellness movements rather than property amenities.

“Times of great change always present significant opportunities,” said Urban Land Institute (ULI) Global CEO W. Ed Walter during the recent ULI virtual fall conference. “In the near term, our suburbs will benefit from new growth spurred by shifting demographics and changes to living and working patterns resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Earlier this month ULI published its Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 report, referencing insight from over 1,500 leaders in the real estate industry. Some of the following trends are decelerating during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Working in-office
    • As COVID-19 regulations forced many businesses to implement work from home (WFH) policies, managers and employees are started to realize the benefits of working remotely. Thanks to technological progress in teleconference tools and advanced information technology systems, effective communication and collaboration is easier than ever from remote locations. Programs like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other online meeting services have seen a massive spike in users as businesses realize they can productively communicate in an online medium.
  2. Leisure travel/tourism
    • Coronavirus rates are all over the map both literally and figuratively, so travel restrictions widely vary on a case-by-case basis. Some countries have minimal restrictions like simply requiring a mask to board a plane. Other countries are more restrictive by only allowing travel to and from specific locations. As a result, many travelers have elected to stay put until the uncertainty surrounding tourism clears.
  3. student housing
    • Similar to the travel and tourism industries, student housing and university pandemic safety measures vary from school to school. Many schools and universities have shifted to online classes by utilizing online meeting services resulting in a downward trend for economic activity and housing occupancy in university towns/cities.
  4. live entertainment
    • Only a few countries have been successful in fighting COVID-19 enough to safely resume usual live entertainment practices such as concerts, sporting events, and festivals. We’ve seen a slow climb in fan attendance at sporting events around the world as restrictions lighten, but still only a small percentage of the full capacities.
  5. mass transit use
    • As safety and wellness becomes the main focus of the masses, many have aired on the side of caution by avoiding public transit. Cities have implemented extensive sanitization measures to prevent possible contamination and ensure confidence in the cleanliness of public transit.

Click here for the ULI Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 report

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