COVID-19 caused endless disruptions to daily life in 2020, and the real estate industry was no exception. As a home inspector, you may be wondering how 2020 moving trends will affect your line of work going forward.
Are fewer people moving after COVID-19—or more? Will there be as much of a demand for home inspections in the future? And what kinds of virtual alternatives to common parts of the home-buying process are people looking for during this time of increased fear of contact?
In this post, we’ll take a look at what the data revealed about moving in 2020, what that indicates about the future of the home-buying process, and what moving trends mean for home inspectors.
Why people are moving
As it turns out, more people than average moved last year. According to a Pew Research study published in July, 22% of adults either moved in 2020, had someone else move into their home, or knew someone who moved in that year.
From February through July 2020, there were 3.92% more mail forwarding requests than the previous year, according to a MyMove study. While the most significant increase in movers has been a temporary move, permanent movers have also increased by almost 2%.
The moving trend appears to be away from big cities and into the suburbs and less crowded areas—in fact, an annual study by United Van Lines showed that Americans accelerated the growing pattern of migrating west and south. Idaho saw the greatest inbound moves, while New Jersey lost the most residents.
People might have moved for one of several reasons:
- To get away from large urban centers. COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air, which means that the more densely populated an area is, the greater the risk of infection. It’s easy to understand why relocations would have spiked during the pandemic; in places with higher infection rates (such as New York City), residents were motivated to get out of harm’s way by relocating to a less infected area.
- To be with family. Due to the increased availability of remote work (and the generalized anxiety and fear for loved ones’ safety during such an unprecedented time), many residents took the opportunity to be with family at the beginning of the pandemic.
- To take advantage of remote work and school. Those living in expensive areas who are now able to work or study from home might have moved to areas with lower costs of living.
- Financial reasons. The U.S. lost 9.47 million jobs in 2020 (the worst year for job loss since 1939), meaning many individuals could no longer afford to stay where they were living. Others made the decision to move in with friends or family to consolidate expenses and ride out the lean financial year.
- To get to areas with less strict safety rules. Some places, like New York City, implemented strict lockdowns during the worst of the pandemic. Those with the ability to do so might have wanted to move to other parts of the country where they could have a bit more freedom.
- To take advantage of low interest rates. During the pandemic, interest rates on mortgages plummeted, making homes more affordable and increasing the value of the investment.
What COVID-19 has changed about the home-buying process
People didn’t stop moving in 2020, even during the worst of the pandemic—but that doesn’t mean they didn’t adapt to changed circumstances. Many elements of the home-buying process have been altered, thanks to public awareness and changing regulations due to Coronavirus.
1. Buyers mean business
Buying a house was rarely done on a whim for most Americans, but thanks to COVID-19, the real estate transaction process has become something different in kind.
Buyers are getting pre-qualified by lenders before they approach their real estate agents. They’re saving valuable time by cutting right to the heart of the matter — which makes the whole process move faster.
Also, there’s far less milling about in open houses. People don’t want to spend time in a stranger’s home with dozens of other strangers wandering around (and sellers don’t want to open their home endlessly to strangers, either). With shelter-in-place and other restrictions, real estate professionals have taken safety measures, including greatly reducing the number of open houses held across the country.
2. Home buying has gone virtual
Once the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force, buyers wanted to be able to browse listings remotely. In fact, 93% of home buyers now use online listings when searching for a new property. The following elements, which had been slowly increasing in popularity, spiked dramatically in use:
- Detailed online listings
- Drone footage of property exteriors
- Video tours
- Remote open houses
- 3D virtual tours
Some agents are even embracing Matterport tours, an innovative technology that allows prospective buyers to take a 3D virtual tour—complete with the ability to walk through rooms and measure spaces, all from the comfort of their own home.
Visiting listings isn’t the only step in the process that has gone remote; at least 27 states in the U.S. are now allowing remote notaries to make the buying process move more smoothly with minimal in-person contact.
4. In-person aspects have, predictably, become more cautious
Many buyers still want to physically visit their prospective homes. Those that do are now embracing extra precautions, like driving separately from their agent when they visit listings. Everyone involved may also be wearing a mask.
Some real estate agents are even requesting that their clients not touch anything when they’re inside a property.
5. Real estate professionals are turning to online networking
The home sales process is starting online, as well. Buyers find their agents and other real estate professionals by exposure and networking on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok.
Real estate professionals who know how to leverage their social media presence to establish relationships with potential clients are likely to be the most successful going forward.
6. Changes to the home inspection process
Home inspectors are getting creative, too. While in the past, inspectors have encouraged buyers and their agents to be present at the inspection, many inspectors are changing up the process by:
- Completing the inspection alone. This option is the most common. Many inspectors simply take pictures and videos as usual, and then go over their findings with the clients via inspection report and video conference after the inspection.
- Including virtual conferencing during the inspection. Some innovative inspectors also conduct real-time video conferences with their clients as they walk through the home, to give them the space to ask questions and see the inspection with their own eyes.
- Asking the seller or seller’s agent to be their eyes. For some pre-listing inspections or situations where the seller is amenable, the inspector may ask the seller or their agent to do the walk-through themselves. The inspector can give instructions over a live video conference about where to look and how to direct the camera so that the inspector can check out the home without being there in person.
- Conducting “desk inspections.” While not advisable in many situations, some inspectors can pull all documents in the public record relating to the home and pair that analysis with an inspection of the home’s exterior.
Job outlook for home inspectors in 2021
The home inspection industry was a growing one before the pandemic, and it’s still likely to continue that trend in years to come. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inspector employment is projected to grow at a 3% rate from 2019 to 2029.
Demand for home inspectors comes from “public interest in safety and the desire to improve the quality of construction,” meaning that as long as people are moving, there will be demand for home inspections.
If COVID-19 caused a spike in moving in 2020, does that mean fewer people will move in 2021?
It is unlikely that a disruption in the real estate market would negatively impact inspectors going forward, or at least for the long term.
As noted above, many movers relocated temporarily due to the pandemic, while others needed to move for financial reasons such as job loss. Those who moved in with friends or family clearly didn’t need to enlist the services of a home inspector (because they weren’t buying a new house), so while they contributed to the data, they aren’t necessarily relevant to the home inspection industry.
The real estate market experiences booms and lulls, but home inspections are always in demand. People will always be buying and selling homes—and an inspection is an essential component of the home-buying process (if not a contractual requirement).
Long story short? People will still need to buy homes in 2021 and beyond. Their leases will end, or they’ll find new jobs in new cities. Others will need to downsize due to loss of income. The concerns of everyday life will go on.
What moving trends mean for home inspectors
According to 2020 data, many Americans moved last year due to the Coronavirus. They may have moved for reasons like getting out of cities or being with family, or they may have moved due to job changes, family growth, or because their lease was up. And while it’s unfortunate, hard economic times also means more foreclosures and repossessions, as well—which means that those homes need to be sold.
While the home-buying industry is remaining relatively stable, some aspects will change. Home buyers are now preferring less densely-populated areas over urban centers (which means that if you’re a home inspector, you may be just as likely to find a lot of work in the suburbs than you would usually find in the cities.
Real estate professionals are adapting to the times by introducing health and safety measures and introducing technological solutions to keep as much of the process as remote as possible. The real estate industry seems to have bounded back after a brief dip due to these unprecedented times. People will always need a place to live—and that means they’ll need an inspection, too.