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Pandemic’s Impact on Where People Live and Work is “Overstated”

National  + Weekender  | 

The high frequency data is telling us that the economy is very much on the mend,” write Cushman & Wakefield’s researchers in a new report. “If cases remain low as the vaccine rollout continues, on-the-ground activity should continue to improve, serving as a boon to office, retail and hospitality activity.”

But didn’t the pandemic upend much of what owners and investors had come to expect prior to early 2020? Not as much as you might think. Although the “new normal” represents a set of opportunities for investors and occupiers—discussed in the report—the old normal isn’t as far in the rear-view mirror as it seems.

Looking at the migration of both residents and businesses, Cushman & Wakefield says the numbers don’t back anecdotal perceptions of upheaval. “There was a 1% increase in the number of moves in 2020 compared to the prior two years,” according to the report.

Within that overall percentage, two million people moved to a new county versus the two-year average of 1.8 million. Although there was an 118% increase in out-of-state moves, the total was still under 300,000 households, and the relocations most often entailed moves to neighboring states.

Up substantially were temporary interstate moves. 2020 saw a 45% increase in such relocations, “indicating many people left just until the pandemic subsides.” 

Nor does the perception that big-city office markets were permanently wounded the pandemic hold much water. Although leasing volume was down generally in 2020, gateway cities maintained roughly the same share—approximately 40%–as they have historically.

The slight decline in CBDs’ share of leasing volume last year “can largely be explained by the fact that the CBDs were more deeply impacted by the pandemic versus the suburbs,” the report states. “The current range of 39.3% remains well within historical norms. In Q1 2018, for example, the share of CBD leasing was a very similar 39.5%. 

Even the much-vaunted headquarters exodus may be less significant than it seems. It is true that between 2019 and Q1 2021, 78 large corporates announced headquarters moves, of which 68 are interstate. More than half of these announcements are leaving California, and the most common destination is Texas. 

However, Cushman & Wakefield notes, “Some of these moves will mean more for corporate governance than they will be related to a large-scale shift of jobs. Most companies are moving to markets where they already have a presence and are planning to expand or build to fit the new HQ requirements.

Early 2021 data show that office leasing activity increased the most in gateway and gateway-adjacent markets, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Longer-term, “gateway markets are expected to see annual job growth double this decade (from 0.6% in the 2010s to 1.2% in the 2020s). This will drive demand for housing, offices and e- commerce warehouse space to support population and job growth in and around these large cities.” 

The bottom line, says Cushman & Wakefield: “All of this discussion about the pandemic creating large permanent shifts in terms of where people will live and work post- pandemic is overstated or at least premature.” 


Inside The Story

Cushman & Wakefield

About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

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