Coronavirus will make the suburbs cool again?

A friend has a beautiful house, decorated to a museum standard, here in our boring suburb of Boston (Zillow). I thought that it would be snapped up by an eager buyer, but it has been on the market for a while.

I’m wondering if coronaplague will push a rich Back Bay condo dweller to say “If we’re going to have lockdowns every few years, I want to live in 6,000+ square feet on 2+ acres.”

“The End of New York: Will the pandemic push America’s greatest city over the edge?” (Tablet):

Cities like New York pay a price for being both dense and cosmopolitan. As a new study from Heartland Forward reveals, the prime determinants of high rates of infection include such things as density, percentage of foreign residents, age, presence of global supply chains, and reliance on tourism and hospitality. Globally, the vast majority of cases occur in places that are both densely populated and connected to the global economy. Half of all COVID-19 cases in Spain, for example, have occurred in Madrid, while the Lombardy region in Italy, which includes the city of Milan, accounts for roughly half of all cases in the country and over 60% of the deaths.

In the long run, the extraordinary concentration of COVID-19 cases in New York threatens an economy and a social fabric that were already unraveling before the outbreak began. The city’s job growth rate has slowed and was slated to decline further, noted the New York City Independent Budget Office. Critically, New York’s performance in such high wage fields as business services, finance, and tech was weakening compared to other American metros. Half of all the city’s condos built since 2015 lie unsold as oligarchs, drug lords, celebrities, and others lose interest in luxury real estate now that cash, much of it from China, is drying up.

What happens when folks who say that the deplore inequality all get together in one big city?

Today the top 1% in New York are taking in over 40% of the city’s income—about double the top 1-percenter income share nationally in the United States—while much of the city’s population find themselves left behind. Even the epicenter of gentrification, Brooklyn, actually got poorer in the first decade of the new millennium.

This reflected in large part a precipitous fall in middle income jobs—those that pay between 80% and 200% of the median income. Over the past 20 years, such jobs barely grew in New York, while such employment soared 10 times as quickly in Texas cities and throughout much of the South and Intermountain West. Of the estimated 175,000 net new private sector jobs created in the city since 2017, fewer than 20% are paying middle-class salaries. Amid enormous wealth, some 40% of working families now basically live at or near the poverty line.

(Let’s hope AOC will reverse this trend!)

Readers: Is it possible that virtual socialization tools and habits honed during the coronaplague will make the suburbs cool (again?)? My pet idea would be a video wall in every home that would let a family’s best friends visit virtually (similar to my pet idea for a video wall that can show a life-sized co-worker). At a minimum, will coronaplague help the suburban real estate market? (At least here in the Boston area, downtown real estate has performed much better in recent years.)

15 thoughts on “Coronavirus will make the suburbs cool again?

  1. It could happen. On March 17th, MIT Technology Review warned us that “We’re not going back to normal” and that we’re looking at “…impos[ing] more extreme social distancing measures every time admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) start to spike, and relax them each time admissions fall.” And we can’t just build out the hospital ICU capacity to avoid it, at least according to MIT.

    The longer that goes on, rationally it would seem that the suburbs would look better and better. Once the oligarchs, drug lords and celebrities start taking the lead in buying up suburban real estate, it’s a done deal. I wonder how closely they’ll be tracked? Oligarchs, drug lords and celebrities are, after all, people who value their privacy, freedom of movement, self-protection and liberty quite highly. That’s why they’re so successful!

    • Of course, combating suburban sprawl in favor of densely packed Smart City urban environments where everyone is monitored and constantly surveilled is a key milestone in combating global warming, so it’s going to be difficult for little people to go against that grain. No matter. Millenials are the poorest generation ever: they’ll live where they’re told. The oligarchs, drug lords and celebrities will be able to choose, though. And they’ll be able to turn the telescreen off when they want to.

    • Sorry for the extra post, but I couldn’t resist highlighting another of the predictions from the MIT article:

      “The intrusive surveillance will be considered a small price to pay for the basic freedom to be with other people.”

      Read that over a few times and let it sink in. That’s the forecast from the best and brightest in the land, as of a month ago.

  2. I would think backyards and garages will be more appreciated than ever.

    r/sf for years has been ruled by young healthy rich entitled tech workers with no SF homes literally demanding that every single family home in SF be replaced with 50 story condos, and the streets be shorn of all cars except ubers, because all one needs is an uber or a scooter or the bus.

    They’ve apparently never been married, had kids, elderly parents, or known anyone disabled.

    I’ve wondered how they have shopped during shelter in place, but facebook and work slack tells me they are waiting in hour long lines multiple times a week walking their two bags home, or renting cars and driving out of town to go shopping. Of course, most of their meals are still probably delivered by some underpaid, undertipped, no benefits, easy to lay off gig worker taking their CV19 risks for them.

  3. My feeling is that the future for high tax states like NY will depend on whether the elimination of the state and local tax deduction sticks. If the virus is a one off event like 9/11 people will forget and the effect will be transitory — remember that right after 9/11 there was similar talk and for a while space on high floors in NYC rented for less than lower floors. The elimination of the state and local deduction has already led to the departure of wealthy people including the President to Florida. On the other hand the House has twice along party lines voted to repeal the legislation eliminating the deduction in the name of fairness — i.e. that low tax states subsidize the profligacy of high tax states. If the Dems were to take over government you can be sure that this would be number one on their wish list since in the world we live in it is hard to see how NYC will maintain a competitive advantage over low tax states like Texas and Florida. The miserable public services that those high taxes purchase is another issue and probably has something to do with NYC’s high death rates as compared to other similarly dense cities like HK and Sing.

    • He would be virtually stoned to death on Facebook! An infidel!

      I just updated my big tracking post:

      4/17 comment: Sweden at 613/130; Denmark at 321/12; Massachusetts at 2,221/159. It is getting tougher to argue that the Danish shutdown was ineffective (but maybe Denmark will suffer its infections starting in a few weeks; kids in Denmark went back to school on Wednesday). And it is getting tougher to argue that the Massachusetts shutdown was effective (but maybe we won’t have a second wave since we were so incompetent at slowing down the first wave?). Sweden has had 1,333 total deaths without shutting down. Massachusetts shut down and has had 1,404 deaths (1.5X the rate).

    • Well… Probably one of the ten most renowned experts in the world.
      No one – especially in the US (sorry Mr Greenspung!) likes to hear this: The sciences concerning epidomology is not an A-subject for Americans (anymore).
      MIT can do the maths, but there is no medical expertice… Why?

      Reagan, and his views on HIV/AIDS, (which severly haltered science and its reseach), has not yet been (Obama tried) compensated – therefore others, including small nations like Sweden, are the ones that have the knowledge…
      And I must say, concerning knowledge, that the country with the third less capable leader seems to be the crackpot in EVERY matter in the Whitehouse. How many times has he changed his stands on the virus/dealing with the problem?
      Third, Trump?
      Yes, there are two worse. The Turkmenistan leader, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has forbidden the word “Corona”.
      Belorussias leader Lukasjenko, has declared that going to saunas, riding tractors and drinking vodka is a cure…
      And that, folks, is NOT fake news!

  4. “the prime determinants of high rates of infection include such things as density, percentage of foreign residents”
    How dare they notice that last part. Unless you are homesteading a house in the burbs still has you at the mercy of a functioning society. Are lower suburban rates of infection due to the types of people living in the suburbs or the structure of place?
    I wonder if the vacation home market is going to go up, place to run to. Or down since running to your second home was ‘outlawed’ in some jurisdictions.

  5. City life was always about getting out of the apartment and doing things in other places in your free time, suburban life was about spending your free time at home, so yes if people wind up permanently confined to their homes the suburbs and their larger lots look like a better bet.

  6. Relevant question for this blog: how is coronaplague + lock down + job loss affecting alimony payments?

    • man: I think now is a good time to invest in private prison companies. Child support and alimony orders that were made in the pre-plague good-old-days have to be followed by the unsuccessful defendants or they will be imprisoned. In theory, these defendants are entitled to a modification of the order to reflect their new reduced income. But in practice it could take years and a huge amount of money in legal fees to get the court order reset. Courts are mostly shut down right now, so it will take yet longer. Per the real solution to this is prison. Even if not that many child support and alimony defenders are put into private prisons, there should be an aggregate increase in demand for imprisonment.

  7. Why would society change its behavior once the lock-down is over? And why do we think society will accept another lock-down down the road?

    9/11 or wars didn’t change our behavior, nor the constant severe hurricanes or tornadoes or mass shooting.

    Before we know it, we will be back where we were before this lock-down started.

    • George: You raise a good point, but most people who didn’t live in prominent cities didn’t fear Islamic jihad after 9/11 (though of course, jihad was ultimately waged in some lesser-known places, e.g., and and ).

      People might have thought that they could escape being killed via jihad by moving to a part of the country that has a small Muslim population.

      With coronavirus, though, there is no escape anywhere on the planet, except maybe China (if they would be unwise enough to let an American in!). So I think it is reasonable to expect that people would make some kind of adjustment if they can. People do adjust to weather risk, don’t they? Like the Three Little Pigs, after a hurricane blows down a wood house, don’t people tend to build a concrete one?

  8. You called it. Or at least, the beginning of it. In the Wall Street Journal, today. A second wave and/or continued lockdowns could be the “tipping point” for many more.

    “If we didn’t go with this house, who knows when we’d find the next house,” Mr. Usherenko said. “We might have been stuck until much later. We went $25,000 over asking.”

    “They’ve been confined to a small space the last 45 days and want out,” he said. “There’s a sense of urgency.”

    Here’s the Suburban Jungle group:

    And here is Snake Plisskin:

Comments are closed.