Years ago, I had a friend from town visit our farm with her family. As she watched our kids play together in the pond, she kept telling me how lucky I was to live on a farm.
I remember thinking it wasn’t so much luck as a choice. After all, the mortgage on our first piece of ground and rustic farmhouse was probably less than the mortgage on her postage-stamp lot and well-maintained split-level Colonial. I think she changed her mind about my good luck when her kids came out of my pond with leeches on their ankles — but that’s beside the point.
Those of us who live in rural areas are indeed fortunate in many ways, whether we consciously chose a rural lifestyle or just settled in a rural area by chance. Judging by the proportion of people who live in urban areas, those places must have benefits as well, although I can’t think of too many offhand. And now COVID-19 has curtailed urban advantages anyway.
Home-buying trends move outward
Over the last several years, home-buying trends have shown a gradual shift toward the outer fringe of urban areas, according to real estate industry statistics. However, the virus crisis seems to be accelerating that trend. Earlier this spring, market analysts from realtor.com, an online real estate listing service, saw an overall increase in the amount of time that homes were staying on the market due to the pandemic.
But by May, sales were bouncing back, and interest in rural and suburban properties was much stronger than interest in urban properties. Compared to last year, online views per property were up an average of 16% for homes in rural ZIP codes, up 13% for suburban properties and up just 7% for urban homes.
Of course, some of those increases can be attributed to bored people entertaining themselves by snooping around other people’s houses. However, rural and suburban properties are spending considerably less time on the market than urban homes, which also points toward stronger demand outside urban areas.
Pros, cons to rising rural property values
That might be good news for someone who wants to sell rural land or houses. But demand-driven property value increases aren’t necessarily good for farmers who are competing for scarce crop ground. Adding more homes in rural areas can also make farming more difficult because of increased traffic on rural roads and potential conflicts with nonfarm neighbors. According to the American Farmland Trust, Ohio and other Midwest states were seeing an increase in low-density residential development even before the COVID-19 crisis. This type of development is not as obvious as construction of subdivisions, but it’s concerning because it opens the door to additional loss of farmland.
It’s still early in our adjustment to life after COVID-19, so maybe most of those property-viewing urbanites will decide to stay put after all. On the other hand, the virus has made remote work more mainstream, so commute times are less of a factor in choosing a home location. People have also become more comfortable with online shopping, telemedicine and home cooking, so some people might decide they no longer need to live close to retail stores, health centers or restaurants — especially if COVID-19 social distancing restrictions continue.
Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.