Many have been searching for their new ‘normal’ since the coronavirus outbreak. And while social distancing, masks, and working from home have been hot topics across social media platforms and publications, there is one piece of this new reality that isn’t getting as much attention—the urban escape.
In the years leading up to 2020, the urban escape, also commonly called urban flight, has been deemed a growing trend as there has been an increase in people leaving behind city living to relocate to the suburbs. For New York City in particular—the largest net loser of any U.S. metropolitan area, according to Bloomberg—the decision to move out of The Greatest City in the World is often influenced by the high cost of living, unfavorable taxes, and lack of green space. However, the pandemic has further propelled urban flight, with many seeking asylum from the congestion the city to better protect themselves and their families from the virus. So while most businesses have slowed down or ground to a halt since lockdown, that hasn’t been the case for moving companies. Professional movers were deemed an essential service from the beginning of the outbreak and they are not only busier than ever, but they are also witnessing the growing trend of urban flight firsthand.
“We are up about 30% for outbound moves over last year and quote requests are coming in non-stop,” says Nancy Zafrani, general manager of New York moving company Oz Moving. “There is also usually a slowdown in September with kids going back to school, but that is not the case this year either. We have seen surges for outbound moves in the past after major devastating events like Hurricane Sandy and 9/11, but not nearly as high. Normally our two strongest markets are Florida and California, but we are now seeing Texas becoming a very popular destination. Those that are staying locally are going to New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut.” And movers aren’t the only ones noticing this change. The Hartford Courant reported that from March to June, more than 16,000 New Yorkers changed their address to Connecticut.
On top of those fleeing to the suburbs, city dwellers with summer homes or secondary residents elsewhere are opting not to move back to New York City for the winter—despite the number of coronavirus cases in the area on the decline .“Normally in August, we have a lot of customers moving out of storage, and right now we are not seeing that trend,” says Zafrani. “We are also not seeing the return moves from the Hamptons to the city.”
One more change that is happening with moves is how fast they are happening. While in the ‘before times’ a lot of moves could be planned out well in advance, that is no longer the case for many. Instead, relocators are rushing to leave the city and leaving their belongings behind until they can finalize where they are moving or they feel it is safe enough to return. This has led to an increase in storage demand, particularly for clients that need SIT (Storage in Transit) until they finalize where they are moving to.
“Storage demand is very high, double the norm,” says Zafrani. “We’ve had to bring in about 250,000 square feet of storage over the past few months to keep up with demand.” Another likely reason for the influx of storage demand is people not being able to book movers. Oz Moving has been booked to capacity for this year earlier than any other of their previous 27 years of operation, while other moving companies are also reporting a soaring demand for moves.
America’s unemployment rate, which is sitting at 10.2% as of July 2020, is also a driving factor of outbound moves. Pair unemployment with stalled stimulus checks and the high cost of living that comes with big cities and you get others fleeing the city not necessarily to safeguard their health, but because they can no longer afford the steep cost. According to a report by Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman, there is currently an unprecedented 13,000 vacant units in New York. While this may eventually drive housing costs down, many that have left the city have no plans of returning.
While urban flight may not be a new phenomenon, the pandemic has been the final straw for many New Yorkers. As we continue to search for our new normal in this worldwide crisis, it is clear that for some, that will no longer include city living.