Zoom towns

Castles in the Sand

They call them “Zoom towns” because so many of the new residents are working remotely and have given up their city and suburban lifestyles for a more relaxed environment in smaller communities. It’s no secret that this massive lifestyle change evolved because of COVID-19, but even now, when the danger of serious infection is substantially reduced, Zoom towns are still popular.

A recent National Association of Realtors survey reported that buyers who purchased homes in the year that ended in June moved a median of 50 miles from their previous residences. This is the highest distance on record, going back to 2005 when the median was a consistent 15 miles. This may not seem like a lot of mileage difference, but 15 miles from Boston, for instance, is still part of the city, but when you go 50 miles, you’re in real country. In New York City and other large metropolitan areas, however, you would need to go a little further than 50 miles to really be getting away from it all.

In the same survey, smaller communities were more popular, with buyers purchasing 48% of the homes. Again, this is a record and is up from 32% a year earlier. By comparison, traditional suburban home purchases dropped to 39% from 51% the previous year and only 10% of home purchases were in urban areas, down from 13% the year before. Naturally, the increased cost of homes and now the increased cost of financing has certainly influenced buyers.

Home buyers who are getting close to retirement are another influence on the popularity of small communities. Many who have the ability to work remotely chose to relocate now rather than after their retirement date. This gave them an edge before mortgage rates and prices went up further and set them up for easing into retirement.

Confirming further the demand for homes in smaller communities, The Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Indexes came out at the end of October. It reports that the demand for homes in low-cost cities with strong local economies is, in their opinion, “robust.” This annual survey incorporates economic and lifestyle data, including real estate taxes, home appreciation, unemployment, wages and commute time in their 300 biggest metro area rankings.

This survey places the North Port, Sarasota and Bradenton region at number four in the top 10. Unfortunately, as we all know, North Port has taken a big hit from Hurricane Ian since this survey was completed, so in next year’s survey it will be interesting to see where that area is placed.

The other Emerging Housing Markets were in this order: Johnson City, Tennessee; Visalia-Porterville, California; Elkhart-Goshen, Indiana; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbia, Missouri; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Yuma, Arizona.

Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com, said, “These more affordable markets continue to offer some opportunity. It doesn’t mean that they’re not seeing a slowdown in their housing markets, but they’re better positioned generally.” In other words, they had faster home sales and lower unemployment rates than the market as a whole, which is attracting buyers in an otherwise difficult housing market. Further, according to an economist at Nationwide Insurance, the trend toward less expensive housing markets looks like it will continue even if home prices start trending down.

I guess all of Florida needs to be considered a Zoom town based on the number of people who have relocated to our state in the past two years. We’re still a state with a lot of smaller, cozy communities, access to waterfront amenities and a friendly business environment. I believe our new diverse residents will only enhance those attributes. Time to pack your laptops and zoom your way to the Sunshine State!