Study: Summer Unrest Impacted Real Estate, Made 30% of People Want to Move

By Jemima McEvoy Thursday, November 26, 2020

Months of civil unrest starting in late May directly impacted the real estate market, according to the results of a recent survey by Redfin. Redfin, a technology-powered real estate brokerage interviewed 3,000 of Americans across the country about how protests impacted their feelings about their homes and communities. The results shed new light on an outcome of sometimes violent unrest that was previously just a target of speculation.

The survey found that while nearly half of all respondents (47%) said that protests had no impact on their feelings about where they live, a significant portion — just under 30% — said protests in major cities made them want to move from where they lived or change where they wanted to move to. A less sizable number (23%) said protests actually made them like where they live more than before.

The results did vary depending on a number of factors, including political leaning. Supporters of President Trump were much more likely to report negative feelings on where they live because of the protests, with 39% of those who indicated they planned to vote for Trump saying protests made them want to move. On the other hand, less than a quarter (23%) of those who said they wanted to vote for Joe Biden signaled the same.

Another factor that dictated results was whether respondents lived in urban or rural areas. Probably due to the fact that protests were much more likely to take place in their vicinity, respondents living in urban areas were the most likely to say that unrest made them want to live somewhere else. In numbers: more than a third (34%) of participants in urban areas indicated that protesters made them want to move from their community vs. 26% of participants in suburban areas. Residents in urban areas were the least likely to say that protests made them like where they lived more. Around 20% of those in urban areas reported this, compared to 24% of participants living in suburban areas and 28% living in rural areas.

At the peak of protests in their states, many questioned how the housing market would survive. This was a particular concern due to the fact that civil unrest was unfolding at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic, which already had a profound impact on the real estate market: pushing people away from hyper-populated metropolitan areas to more rural locations. Newspapers in cities and states where unrest was centralized — Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; New York — all speculated on what protests could mean for real estate.

New York, which housed some of the country’s largest demonstrations, reported in June that the number of real estate listings had fallen by 85% compared to the year prior (though it’s unclear what role civil unrest may have played in this). “A few people were trying to get real estate for cheap,” Francis Leung, the vice president of real estate firm Okada & Company, told ABC News, “but the protests have created a halt. There was a small window of optimism that just closed.”

Downtown Portland, which before this year was emerging as one of the country’s coolest up-and-coming spots, is also projected to take a hit in interest due to still ongoing nightly demonstrations. "For a lot of the condo and apartment [dwellers], this is extremely disruptive," said Gerard Mildner, a real estate finance professor at Portland State University. "To be a resident of downtown is quite challenging, given the noise and the violence.”

Redfin pointed to the examples of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Seattle, Washington, in its report. Redfin Seattle-based real estate agent Forrest Moody said that anti-police protesters occupying a six-block radius in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood near the beginning of protests drove down interest in the real estate, causing the condo market to suffer. "Seattle's condo market has really struggled in general during the pandemic, but the units that are closest to CHOP have typically been selling even more slowly than other condos in Capitol Hill," said Moody.

In Wisconsin, the impacts were felt for just a few weeks, according to real estate agent Melissa Killham. “I heard about a couple of buyers a month ago who realized they wanted to get out of downtown Kenosha because of the unrest.” Killham said that this was a temporary impact because “now things have died down and you just don’t hear about it as much anymore.”

Though the exact impacts of the protests on the real estate industry in these states likely won’t be fully understood for many months, it appears for now that civil unrest caused predominantly short-term dips in interest in the housing market in select cities and states. However, the impacts of unrest could, with time, be revealed as even greater, given the overlap with the coronavirus pandemic. The two could’ve joined together to form the perfect impetus for a total shift in real estate habits.

About the Author

Headshot for author Jemima McEvoy

Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.

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