From Liberty Street Economics @ The NY Fed:
Since the start of the pandemic, home prices in the U.S. have increased by an astonishing 40 percent. The New York-Northern New Jersey region saw a similar meteoric rise, as home prices shot up by 30 percent or more almost everywhere—even in upstate New York, where economic growth was sluggish well before the pandemic hit. New York City is the exception, where home price growth was less than half that pace. Indeed, home prices actually declined in Manhattan early in the pandemic, though they have rebounded markedly since. Much of the region’s home price boom can be traced to the rise in remote work, which increased the already strong demand for housing at a time when housing inventories were low and declining. Home price increases have largely outpaced income gains through the pandemic boom, resulting in a reduction in housing affordability in the region. However, with mortgage rates rising, it appears that the region’s housing boom is waning, as it is for the nation as a whole, with prices leveling off, though the inventory of available homes remains historically low.
There are a number of reasons home prices increased so dramatically in such a short period of time, both in the nation and the region. First, substantial government support was provided to households early in the pandemic, which contributed to a favorable financial environment. In particular, pandemic relief—including foreclosure and eviction moratoriums—provided support to the housing market during a period of economic contraction when, historically, the housing sector tends to weaken. On top of that, mortgage rates hit historic lows, which provided a boost to housing demand.
In addition, the pandemic fundamentally altered the landscape of housing demand in unexpected ways. Dense urban cores lost some of their luster. Urban amenities that during normal times had been attractive—like bars, restaurants, museums, and public transportation—turned from a blessing to a curse early in the pandemic due to fear of contagion and social distancing. In addition, proximity to urban centers became less important for those who no longer needed to commute to a centrally located job due to the rise in remote work. At the same time, the proliferation of working from home suddenly increased the demand for space, as people looked for larger houses to accommodate spending more time at home. These forces led to a substantial migration of the population toward less dense areas. Regionally, this migration was largely from New York City to its suburbs and beyond, benefitting areas in northern New Jersey, Long Island, the lower and mid-Hudson Valley, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. It also led to increased demand for locations in upstate New York, particularly among remote workers who’d become untethered from their workplaces. Overall, recent research suggests that the increase in housing demand caused by the shift to remote work explains half of the rise in home prices during the pandemic.
All of this occurred during a time of historically low inventory of available homes. Indeed, the homebuilding response to increased demand and higher prices in terms of new construction was muted by worker shortages and supply chain disruptions. Low housing inventory has been particularly severe in upstate New York, which helps explain the significant home price growth experienced there.