Are the Suburbs Actually Trending? Not Yet, Zillow Data Shows

May 26, 2020
homes in suburbs
By ivan_sabo

During the height of the pandemic, real estate experts speculated that cooped up Millennials and health-conscious families would spark an exodus from the cities to the suburbs. So far, however, all has been quiet on that front. Though suburbs had the most page views altogether on Zillow in April, the real estate listing company reports that there has been no major wave of urbanites clamoring for a quiet, socially distanced suburban home. Instead, the suburbs actually saw a decline in their total share of page views despite a year-over-year increase as urban and rural properties shares grew.

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked questions about the future of cities: Will a new fear of density cause people to flee urban cores for more spread-out suburbs or rural areas? So far, Zillow data suggest the answer is “No.”

Zillow compared web traffic to for-sale listings on Zillow in ZIP codes considered urban, suburban or rural in April 2019 and April 2020. In both 2019 and 2020, suburban listings garnered the majority of page views from Zillow users, but there has been no suburban surge this year in the wake of the pandemic. Total page views on suburban homes is up year-over year, but their share of all views to urban, suburban and/or rural areas is down: Suburban home listings nationwide saw their share of the pie shrink slightly this April compared to a year ago, from 65.7% of all page views to 64.2%. The suburbs’ loss has been other regions’ gain: rural listings rose from 23.4% to 24.3% of all traffic, and urban listings grew from 10.8% to 11.6% of all traffic.

It’s unclear what’s driving these small differences in monthly shares of web traffic, and it may simply reflect random variation over time. But the data do not provide any early evidence for an overall shift in search behavior away from urban cores, even as survey data point to shifting attitudes. A recent Zillow survey found that a majority of people who recently began working from home would consider moving, particularly to find a home with a dedicated home office or generally more space — features traditionally found more easily in the suburbs. But if these stated preferences are or will soon lead to real-world moves, we haven’t seen it in the data yet.

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