Dispelling ‘trendy pandemic narratives’: A new report triggers a wave of housing news stories

Recent Zillow 2020 Urban-Suburban Market Report sparks headlines and analysis among major media outlets

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suburban neighborhood

There’s a lot of talk in the news and social media about a so-called “urban exodus” – a flight from city cores to the suburbs happening as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It sounds plausible, but is it true? Is there really such an exodus underway? 

Zillow’s economic research team crunched the data and discovered that, with a couple of exceptions, the story is more “story” than fact — at least for now. A detailed analysis of the exodus idea is part of Zillow’s 2020 Urban-Suburban Market Report, released earlier this month. Here are some coverage highlights:

Debunking the myth 

The Wall Street Journal described the Zillow report as challenging “prevailing wisdom” that city folks are buying suburban homes with more outdoor space and home offices. The money quote from Zillow economist Jeff Tucker was part of the conversation on Twitter:

screenshot of tweet about WSJ article

Tucker told HousingWire, “When you step back and look at the bigger picture, it seems that those writing off urban real estate have done so prematurely.” Forbes reported the Zillow market report disputes “trendy pandemic narratives,” which it says “do not seem to have a solid basis in data.”   

Urban economist Richard Florida agreed, writing on a Twitter thread that “doomtastic predictions of the end of cities are NOT supported by the data.”

 The surprising exceptions to the trend

BusinessInsider focused on a big outlier in the analysis– San Francisco. It republished Zillow’s chart that shows “how the number of houses for sale … has rocketed past other cities during the pandemic.” 

British tabloid the Daily Mail took the doomsday angle on the report, with a story focused on San Francisco and New York City, the two urban markets that are not keeping pace with the suburbs. The headline: “Property prices fall and rentals lie empty as pandemic restrictions wreck both cities and buyers head for the exits.”

Renters in the spotlight

Zillow’s 2020 Urban-Suburban Market Report also covered what’s happening with rental prices (they’re going down). CNET took the stat and told readers falling rents could mean an opportunity to relocate to a place that’s more affordable if you can’t pay for your current home.  

Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Zillow’s Jeff Tucker saying, “there really is a crisis under way in the rental market,” now that the four-month federal eviction moratorium has expired and Congress is deadlocked over how to renew it.

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