Looking for a Safe Haven

Looking for a Safe Haven

People leaving New York City in flight to safety.

Flight to Safety in U.S. Housing emerged this summer as a favored catchphrase to describe the swell of urban dwellers decamping to suburbs, small towns and rural areas. Initially, the incentive was protection from the COVID pandemic. Plus, after sequestering in cramped apartments, a desire for more space inside and outside emerged as another compelling factor.

When the America at Home Study, developed by three women leaders in the homebuilding industry, asked Americans what home meant as a result of COVID, three characteristics emerged as most important: safe place (91%); comfort (85%); and family (84%). This wide-ranging survey was conducted online in late April to assess changing attitudes regarding home. Until then, most observations regarding COVID’s effect on attitudes regarding homes were based on opinion and conjecture rather than research.

Flight to Safety North Carolina
Small town North Carolina.

This summer and fall, safety morphed into an overarching concern, taking on a much broader, more nuanced meaning to include everything from crime and urban unrest to taxes and the cost of living. According to the Manhattan Institute for Policy, a nonprofit focused on domestic policy and urban affairs, more than 44 percent of those earning $100,000 and up in New York City considered relocating in the last five months. The cost of living was cited by 69 percent, while 47 percent pointed to crime as a reason to leave the city. Concern over Coronavirus was also cited by 34 percent.

Nationally, while robberies, rapes and property crimes decreased significantly in the first six months of 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased by 14.8 percent, aggravated assault offenses were up by 4.6 percent, according to FBI preliminary data.

"I think one of the reasons people are moving out further is the perception that is it safer," says Mary Cook, owner of an eponymous commercial design firm in Chicago. "There’s a new mindset about safety," she says. "There’s the reality of the materials and the systems. And then there’s the mindset of ‘how do I feel safe?’"

Flight to Safety Massachusetts
Small town Massachusetts.

Real estate agents agree safety is an underlying concern, but they say prospective buyers don’t necessarily use the word safety even though it’s a prime incentive to relocate. "We kiddingly say there is a COVID bump that is being driven by a whole host of different things. Is safety one of them? Sure. Do they used the word safety? Maybe not," says Robert Kinlin, founding partner of Robert Paul Properties in Osterville, Massachusetts, who has several offices along the coast and also in Boston’s back bay neighborhood. Still, he says, "They are concerned with the density issues of living in the city, and they want green grass and open spaces."

Ave Maria, Florida
Small town Florida.

In South Florida, James Torrance with Keller Williams says newcomers used to tell him they were moving to Florida because of the state’s tax policies. "Often, they would also so say they had always wanted to live in Florida." Now, he says, "it’s taxes and safety, and more safety than taxes." Another flip is the number looking for primary, rather than second homes.

The pandemic promises to have left a long-lasting, if nor permanent, imprint on consumer desires, and safety will continue to be a greater consideration.

Click here to view the America At Home Study Infographic PDF.