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Parts Of America See Housing Boom During The COVID-19 Pandemic


America may be seeing high unemployment and mounting bankruptcies, but the housing market is booming. And there's a new kind of boomtown, actually - Zoom towns. Greg Rosalsky of NPR's Planet Money has the story.

GREG ROSALSKY, BYLINE: Truckee, Calif. is a mountain town just northwest of Lake Tahoe. It's got great mountain biking and skiing. It's an easy sell for realtors like Jeff Brown, the owner of Tahoe Mountain Realty.

JEFF BROWN: Summer's here are absolutely magical and we've got some of the greatest ski resorts in the entire country.

ROSALSKY: Still, the market has seen some ups and downs.

BROWN: In the 2008 recession, we were devastated.

ROSALSKY: Which is why when the pandemic recession began in March, he braced for the worst. But pretty soon after California went into lockdown, he noticed a surge of people on his website.

BROWN: And so, it was almost immediately once the quarantine restrictions were eased, that people started coming here in droves.

ROSALSKY: The Truckee housing market is now soaring. According to Redfin, a real estate brokerage, its home prices are up over 23% since last year. Realtors are calling it a Zoom town, a housing market that's booming as remote work takes off. Think Aspen, Cape Cod or the Hamptons. Brown says his Tahoe clients are mostly tech types from the Bay Area. I heard a similar story from realtor Ken Bednar, who has clients like a 25-year-old Facebook employee and a business owner in his 50s.

KENNETH BEDNAR: And now, all of his employees are working remotely. He gets to live his dream, still run a company but run it out of Lake Tahoe.

ROSALSKY: It's not just vacation wonderland seeing home prices surging. Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin says the boom is happening pretty much everywhere except New York City and San Francisco. Their data shows that national home prices are up about 8% since this time last year. But she says, some places are seeing bigger increases than others.

DARYL FAIRWEATHER: When you look at where people are buying homes right now, it does tend to be in more rural and suburban areas.

ROSALSKY: Part of the reason is remote workers looking for more space. But another reason for the price increase is that there is simply less supply out there. Jeff Tucker, an economist at Zillow, says there's about 29% fewer homes actively listed than this time last year.

JEFF TUCKER: There's a tremendous shortage of homes on the market.

ROSALSKY: One reason he suggests is that home sellers tend to be older and they might not want to risk moving during a pandemic and expose themselves to the virus. Plus, a lot of those older homeowners are suddenly seeing their extra bedrooms unexpectedly full again.

TUCKER: Millions of young people have moved back in with their parents.

ROSALSKY: Over half of all young adults aged 18 to 29 are now living with their folks. Others hit hard by the recession are doubling up or living in vans or tents. It's affecting the rental market.

TUCKER: On the rental side, that's where we really see the shortfall in demand that you would expect in a recession.

ROSALSKY: And so it's a housing market for two Americas - renters hit hard by the recession, living on the brink of eviction, relying on family or the government for help, and homebuyers bidding up prices, some literally headed for the hills, destination Zoom town. Broadcasting from my mom's house in Sonoma, Calif., I'm Greg Rosalsky, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Rosalsky
Since 2018, Greg Rosalsky has been a writer and reporter at NPR's Planet Money.