Rural Property Sales Are Soaring in US and Canada

Everyone wants to get out of the city.

little cabin in the woods
A little cabin in the woods.

@howhaveyouben via Twenty20 

Rural property sales are surging across the United States, Canada, and England. After months of being cooped up in apartments or confined to houses with minuscule backyards, people appear eager to get out of the city and buy something with land. Real estate agents report energetic sales, with some people buying acreages unseen and many properties getting multiple competing offers.

Glen Kelvin, CEO of U.S. real estate company Redfin, said in an interview with CNBC (cited in Modern Farmer) that demand has shifted from urban to rural locations. 

"We have seen that people are more interested in that house at the foot of the mountains by the lake. Rural demand is much stronger right now than urban demand, and that’s a flip from where it’s been for the longest time, where everybody wanted to live in the city. We’ll see how it comes out, but there seems to be a profound, psychological change among consumers."

United Country Real Estate in the U.S. has some offices where demand for rural properties has jumped by 50%. One Kansas City-based location has seen a fivefold increase in interest in May and June, with president of United Country Real Estate, Mike Duffy, telling Modern Farmer, "We’re having a hard time keeping up. People want acres." While a similar trend occurred post-9/11, it was mostly restricted to New York; this time, it's all across the U.S.

The same is happening in Muskoka, one of Canada's most desirable tourist regions near Toronto, where cottage sales are up 25%. As one real estate agent, Catherine Inniss, told the Star, "People are coming up in droves. They are buying everything." 

A similar trend is visible in England, where real estate agent in coastal and rural areas are also experiencing a surge in interest. The Express quoted an agent in Truro (southern England), who said, "Next week, we will have the biggest book of listings we have ever had."

What has Changed? 

First of all, most of the things that make city life appealing have been suspended during the pandemic. Bars, restaurants, universities, marketplaces, busy streets, public events, and nightlife have all shut down, and it makes one realize that a city has much less to offer when its vibrancy, its colorful residents, and its shopping opportunities all disappear. 

It has become more acceptable for people to work from home, which opens doors of opportunity that never existed before. Why stay in a cramped space with your kids bouncing off the walls when you could be in an equally small cabin with several acres of field and forest around for them to play? 

Indeed, the Canadian real estate agents say that many of the new sales are to families whose prospects for the summer were grim – no summer camp, no playgrounds open in the city, few day camp programs running. Re/MAX agent Rick Laferriere in Barrie, ON, said that the sales increase is "all 'healthy' family business compared to recent years when buyers were purchasing lakefront homes to earn short-term rental income. With no day camp or sleepaway camps for their kids, 'a lot of families are just biting the bullet.'"

Nor does it seem as scary an investment to buy a cottage or rural property after witnessing the stock market crash. This way people can at least enjoy their money and keep their families safe at the same time, and they're willing to trade in some of the higher returns to do so.

For some, owning a rural property creates the opportunity to become more food-secure. To quote British Columbia real estate agent Freddie Marks, "Suddenly that friend who lives off grid on 20 acres and grows his own vegetables doesn’t seem so crazy." Grocery store shortages are fresh in our minds and many do not want to feel that vulnerable to obscure supply chains ever again.

Modern Farmer views this as very hopeful. It says that "along with those new residents could come a whole new generation of farmers, gardeners and homesteaders." The pandemic has spurred many to action who may never have left their urban lives otherwise. It has opened doors of opportunity, allowed people to imagine a different way of life, and has given them the impetus to pursue it. The world will look different once the pandemic settles down; and at the very least, choosing to live on a rural property might be viewed less as a backward move, and more as a smart and prescient step.