New research shows how COVID-19 altered Americans intentions to move: Study reveals pandemics impact on individuals decisions to relocate

Divorce. Changing jobs. Natural disasters. A change in financial resources. Going away to college. Wanting to be nearer to family members. Those are just a handful of traditional reasons Americans choose to pack up and move.

One non-traditional reason for moving was the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact on every aspect of Americans’ lives starting in March 2020. With this fact in mind, Xialu Liu, professor of management information systems (MIS) at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University and Lei Lei, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, analyzed data gathered from Google Trends to assess how the pandemic may have altered Americans’ decisions to change residences.

Thoughts of Escaping Pandemic Lockdowns Were High

To measure the intentions of those people considering a move, the researchers accessed Google Trends to identify internet searches using keywords or phrases associated with changes in residence (such as “real estate agent,” “house for rent” or “moving company”) or a temporary relocation (such as a trip to Florida or Hawaii) between January 2011 to February 2021.

They noted that Americans’ thoughts about temporarily relocating surged during the early months of the pandemic lockdown in March through April of 2020. But while the number of Americans thinking about a short-term move may have spiked over 40%, the number of people seeking real estate purchases and housing rentals dropped 20 — 30% during the same period.

Eventually, The Panic Dies Down

“The lack of knowledge, feelings of uncertainty and fear of the disease may have caused some level of widespread panic, prompting those in high-density areas to escape what they perceived as increased exposure to COVID and societal restrictions,” said Liu. “But these feelings soon subsided as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were implemented in most states. Additionally, the risk of infection inhibited the home search process in the early months of the pandemic, causing real estate sales and rentals to decline during that same period.”

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