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This Small Southern City Has Some of the Hottest Suburbs

With the novel coronavirus trapping most Americans in their homes for months on end, many folks have had plenty of time to reevaluate their lives, their communities—and their lack of space.

The suburbs are poised to become some of the nation’s hottest markets in the wake of the onset of COVID-19. Many city dwellers crammed into tiny apartments are suddenly seeing the appeal of a well-priced big house and their own yard. Others are chasing more space for less money by moving even farther out into the burbs as they realize they can do their job entirely or mostly remotely.

More than half, 54 to be precise, of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas are seeing an uptick in interest in their suburbs from home shoppers, according to a recent realtor.com® analysis.

Three months into the pandemic, the number of suburban home listings on realtor.com got more views than they had before COVID-19, with views per property in suburban ZIP codes shooting up 13%.

Eight of the 10 metropolitan areas with the hottest suburbs in May were in the South, while seven boasted more affordable housing prices, according to the analysis. Topping the list were the surrounding communities of Columbia, SC.

The monthly ranking measured the metropolitan areas with the suburbs growing the most in hotness year over year. It was based on where buyers are clicking on the most home listings on realtor.com and where homes are selling the fastest, with the fewest number of days on the market.

“Part of why some of these Southern metros are topping the list is because they haven’t been impacted by COVID-19 as some other areas had,” says realtor.com’s chief economist, Danielle Hale. “There were fewer impediments to conducting real estate business.”

Most were also in parts of the country with lower costs of living and taxes, and median home list prices well under the national median of $330,000 as of May. Some were also popular destinations for retirees.

That could help to explain why the Columbia metro area ranked No. 1 on the list. Real estate was considered an essential business during shutdown, so home showings and transactions were allowed to continue.

Plus, the capital city, which is home to the University of South Carolina and its roughly 35,000 students and is just outside of the Fort Jackson military installation, is affordable. The median list price was just $240,550 in the metro—about a third less than the national median.

Sales “slowed down a little bit. But we’ve not seen any kind of drastic drop at all,” says Columbia-based real estate agent Kathy Garrick, who also serves as the president of the Central Carolina Realtors@ Association. She works at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Midlands Real Estate.

Listing views of about half of the city’s suburban ZIP codes experienced a 42% rise. Homes sat on the market for a median 55 days before selling, a decrease of two days from last year.

Many of her clients prefer to move to newly constructed, three- to four-bedroom, single-family homes with 2.5 bathrooms, stainless-steel appliances, and small backyards. Developers are putting up these new subdivisions in suburbs such as Blythewood and Lexington, which often have a communal pool and clubhouse. The best part? These homes sell for the low- to mid-$200,000s.

“There is a lot of new construction,” says Garrick, whose clients range from locals to retirees and families from other parts of the country. “We get a good many people who want to retire here come from the North for the good weather.”

Whether the popularity of suburbs will last once the pandemic has passed is anyone’s guess. But they’re enjoying a moment at the present.

“People will still choose to live in cities. But right now there’s not as much interest in cities as there was before,” says Hale. “Following the last recession, a lot of people said the suburbs were dead. As millennials get older and have families and after people have been stuck inside, sheltering in place, the suburbs are newly attractive. It’s easier to find extra space in the suburbs.”

Top Metros With Suburbs Seeing the Largest Gains in Hotness

Rank Metro area Median Listing Price Median Listing Price Change Y/Y
1 Columbia, SC 240,550 2.60%
2 Little Rock, AR 185,050 8.50%
3 Greensboro, NC 252,755 -1.50%
4 Tulsa, OK 219,950 7.80%
5 Cape Coral, FL 272,500 6.00%
6 Charleston, SC 504,750 3.80%
7 Phoenix, AZ 390,050 6.00%
8 Virginia Beach, VA 360,050 2.60%
9 Knoxville, TN 287,550 3.80%
10 New Haven, CT 256,050 3.60%

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