Will there be a housing inventory boost as pandemic subsides?

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the housing market, opening up new opportunities for many, pushing some to move back home and causing others to reevaluate how they want their home to look. With vaccines being widely distributed, new Zillow® surveys reveal what’s likely to change concerning housing inventory and what’s expected to remain when the pandemic ends. 

“As the pandemic subsides and the economy begins to recover, lowered health risks and renewed homeowner financial confidence should bring more sellers to the market,” said Zillow economist Arpita Chakravorty. “That increased housing inventory would ease buyer competition that has driven prices higher during the pandemic, but expect a steady pace of home value growth to persist into the near future. Mortgage rates have risen some but are still low by historical standards, adding to people’s purchasing power and helping to keep competition for homes revved up.”

Telework is here to stay, which should continue to boost home buying demand…
An overwhelming majority (95%) of economists and real estate experts surveyed by Zillow as part of the Zillow Home Price Expectations (ZHPE) survey say an increased preference to work remotely, at least part time, is a permanent shift and may boost housing inventory. According to Zillow’s Ideal Home Survey, which asked adults to describe their ideal living situation, remote workers are more likely to consider moving because of the pandemic. Of employed people who work remotely at least one day a week, 23% said they are more likely to consider moving because of the pandemic – only 13% of employed people who always work at their employer’s location said the same.

With widespread teleworking expected to continue when the pandemic ends, boosted home buying demand thanks to the added flexibility offered by remote work is likely to persist – Zillow economists expect 17.2% more home sales this year than in 2020. 

…but housing location and size preferences may return to pre-pandemic norms
Experts surveyed by Zillow were split on whether housing preference shifts during the pandemic will last. When asked about Americans’ preference for living in the suburbs over urban areas, the same share of ZHPE panelists said the shift was permanent as said the shift was temporary (46%) – 8% said there has been no shift at all. The results were similar when asked whether consumer preference has changed in favor of proximity to smaller cities over larger cities, or larger homes in favor of smaller homes. 

Zillow’s Ideal Home Survey results show no change in the size of Americans’ ideal home since last year. According to the survey, Americans prefer a 2,000-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms – the same as when surveyed a year ago.

More homes will come onto the market to help meet demand
In today’s frenzied housing market, buyers are often plucking homes off the market just days after they are listed, thanks in part to technology that’s making home buying and selling faster and easier. The speed at which homes are selling is one factor contributing to low inventory, which has steadily declined during the pandemic and now sits 30% lower than a year ago. 

A majority of ZHPE panelists (53%) expect inventory will begin to grow again this year, likely during the second half of 2021. An increase in existing homes being listed for sale is expected to be the biggest factor in the reversal, with 38% of panelists saying that is the most likely catalyst for inventory growth. 

Previous Zillow research supports this belief. Homeowners representing eight million households say they’re more likely to move and sell their home as a result of the pandemic, and widespread coronavirus vaccine distribution will make homeowners in 14 million households feel comfortable moving who don’t necessarily feel that way now. 

“As the economy continues to recover, more potential sellers will enter the market as they gain confidence in their employment,” said Samer Kuraishi, president and founder at The ONE Street Company in Washington, D.C. “It’s been tough on homeowners who want to sell but might have lost their job, or cannot work remotely. Increased employment stability will only raise confidence and push people off the sidelines. While we have optimism about April and the summer, our work with clients will remain the same: arm, educate, and empower them to learn the market and understand the road ahead.”

Home prices will continue their climb
Strong competition for available homes pushed up prices last year — the typical home appreciated by more than $20,000 in 2020. Even with an expectation for more inventory to help meet buyer demand, ZHPE panelists on average expect home prices to grow 6.2% in 2021 — a full two percentage points higher than when they were surveyed in Q4 2020 — and several panelists call for double-digit price growth this year. 

“This is the most bullish near-term outlook for home prices we’ve seen from our experts since the early stages of the post-bust recovery, and the panel’s five-year average annual home price forecast has never been more optimistic,” said Terry Loebs, founder of Pulsenomics. “In the wake of last year’s heady home equity gains, these new projections indicate that the aggregate value of homes across the country will increase by another $2 trillion in 2021. This is great news for existing homeowners, but even with a robust economic rebound in the coming months affordability will likely remain a challenge for many aspirational renters looking to move into homeownership this year.”

Buyers will continue to want digital tools that make home shopping easier
“Zillow Surfing” has surged during the pandemic as home shoppers and daydreamers use Zillow as a new form of escapism. Real estate technology, like Zillow’s 3D Home tours, are making home shopping easier and faster and can give home shoppers an experience similar to an in-person tour from their couch hundreds or thousands of miles away. Nearly 60% of millennials say they would be at least somewhat comfortable making an offer on a home without touring in person if they’ve viewed a virtual tour, and almost 40% even say they would be comfortable buying a home online.

Demand for these tools is expected to continue once the pandemic ends. And, listing agents should consider using it when even when housing inventory climbs. One in three respondents to a Zillow survey say they would prefer taking a virtual or video home tour instead of touring a home in person after the pandemic, a departure from traditional shopping behavior. And 79% of Americans say they’d like to view a 3D virtual tour while shopping for a home. 

The results achieved from listings using these technologies support the preferences stated by consumers in the survey. From March 2020 through February 2021, for-sale listings or housing inventory on Zillow with a Zillow 3D Home tour were viewed 65% more and favorited (saved) 75% more than for-sale home listings inventory without a Zillow 3D Home tour. Listings with a Zillow 3D Home tour sold, on average, 10% faster than listings without.

Buyers gravitate toward waterfront living
Zillow’s Ideal Home Survey found a notable increase in people who say their dream location is near the water. More people say their ideal home would be on or near a beach (21%, up from 17% in 2020) or a lake (16%, up from 12%) than last year. Perhaps new housing inventory will be available in those locations.

The kitchen cements itself as the most important room in a home
A large kitchen is the home feature the most people say they couldn’t live without, according to Zillow’s Ideal Home Survey. Seventy percent of those surveyed said a large kitchen is extremely or very important, edging out a large ensuite bathroom (68%), walk-in closet (63%) and a patio or deck (62%) as the must-have feature in their ideal home. 

It’s even more indispensable for those who say they’re more likely to move because of the pandemic – 78% of them say a large kitchen is extremely or very important, more than those who are less likely to move.

Buyers are often willing to pay a premium for the kitchen of their dreams. Among the 10 features most often mentioned in listings that sold for more than expected during the pandemic in 2020, six are kitchen-related. Steam ovens were the most-coveted feature of the year, associated with a 4.9% sale premium. 

Only 25% said a pool is extremely or very important in their ideal home – perhaps because they’re dreaming of swims in the ocean or lake instead.