SAN FRANCISCO—As news of COVID-19 spread, research and consulting firms began speculating about what impacts the virus would have on society and the economy. Newly uncovered insights from the first-ever America at Home Study unveil a paradigm shift in how residents view and value their homes. With the concept of home being more important than ever before, thousands of surveyed consumers prove ownership is not only top-of-mind, but more in demand than the industry and its analysts anticipated.

Developed by three women leaders in the homebuilding industry, the data shows future design trends, what people are willing to spend and the changes they’re making now. Spearheaded by tst ink LLC principal Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, market and consumer researcher/Strategic Solutions Alliance founder and chief strategist Belinda Sward, and DAHLIN Architecture and Planning CEO Nancy Keenan, the results also shed light on how homeowners view these investments, offering hope and a new path forward for the industry at large.

“By putting this data to work, builders, developers, architects and more will gain a competitive advantage by designing and building what today’s residents want,” said Sward.

Until the America at Home Study, no organization had gathered hard data about one of the most important factors: how Americans will view their homes after being quarantined in them while attempting to work, school their children and find a new normal.

“I grew frustrated that nobody was asking or talking about what this meant for Americans,” said Slavik-Tsuyuki. “The majority of the nation was sheltering in place and the information shared by analysts was largely opinion. No one was asking consumers about their stark homebound realities and what it would mean for home and community design in the future.”

Based on responses indicating COVID-19 has impacted many Americans’ plans to move sooner, a potential new housing demand of 2.1 million households has been identified among US homeowners across all age groups led by Millennials. While 42% of respondents plan to stay in their homes longer, more than half said they have no change in plans, meaning if they were planning to move, those plans are still intact.

For renters, nearly half of respondents said COVID-19 has made them more inclined to buy a home. This equates to a potential housing demand of approximately 7.4 million households switching from renters to owners. For this group, affordability is seen as a necessity in order to make the change. Between both homeowners and renters, 72% desire a single-family detached home over any type of multifamily housing type.

“COVID has made more than 45% of renters say they now want to become homeowners. In the West, this number is the highest in the nation at 49%. And this is the group most willing to make location trade-offs to do so–31% said they were very willing to move to a different or less expensive location in order to buy, which is 9% higher than the national response. There’s much discussion about urban versus rural living as a result of COVID and more permanent work from home opportunities. When asked if they would settle for a rural location if it improved their ability to buy, 38% of respondents in the West said they were very willing to do so, 5 points higher than the nation overall,” Slavik-Tsuyuki tells Globest.com. “Potential buyers in the West were the most likely in the nation to own attached townhomes, but at only 8% of respondents. Coupled with the trade-offs these buyers say they are willing to make to be better positioned to buy, this points to new design opportunities for smaller more efficient single-family detached homes.”

When asked what “home” means as a result of COVID-19, respondents overwhelmingly identified three top terms: a safe place (91%), comfort (85%) and family (84%).

All generations of respondents identified three top features missing from current homes that they would be willing to pay for: germ-resistant countertops and flooring (55%), greater technology and energy efficiency (55%), and more storage for food and water (51%). Furthermore, nearly all survey participants have already made one or more changes in their home in light of the pandemic, including disinfecting more regularly and using individual rooms for combined purposes.

“When asked what changes they had made to their homes already as a result of COVID, respondents in the Western region were the most likely to have reorganized things to create more space (47%) and they were also the group most likely of all to have turned their garage into a home gym (20% versus 15% overall),” Slavik-Tsuyuki tells Globest.com.

The America at Home Study is a nationally representative survey of 3,001 US adults between the ages of 25 to 74 with an annual household income of $50,000 or more. The study spanned four regions: West, South, Northeast and Midwest.

Conducted online from April 23 to 30 and analyzed in early May, it is the first wide-scale effort to put American residents at the heart of the conversation in a quantifiable matter. New York-based Gazelle Global Research programmed and fielded the survey, ensuring a credible representative sample size. The non-biased survey was not paid for by any sponsor or brand and was created to deliver real statistics.

“The results of the America at Home Survey are clear: people don’t want to go back to ‘business as usual’ or ‘normal’. The pandemic has brought forth a deep desire for change,” said Keenan. “As industry leaders, we have a duty to take these responses and put them into practice, starting by focusing on sustainability related to hygiene, health and safety.”