The Week (US)
To be a house hunter in 2021 is to live in a near-constant state of disappointment. After months of being locked down inside our two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, my wife and I realized last year that we needed more space—ideally a house with a yard or basement where we could occasionally banish our bouncing and bickering 5- and 8-year-old kids. And so we decided to join the masses of urbanites attempting to become suburbanites. I say “attempting” because the Covid-era combination of an unprecedented shortage of properties for sale and a surge in potential buyers has turned the process of finding a house and then getting a bid accepted into a Holy Grail–like quest. (See Making Money.) We’ve made about 10 failed offers in recent months, all for modest three-bedroom homes, roughly half of which we lost to allcash buyers and the remainder to people willing to pay 15 percent or more over the asking price. To beat the competition, buyers are resorting to ever more extreme measures. People are bidding on homes they haven’t seen in person and waiving inspections. A Bethesda, Md., resident even pledged to name her firstborn after a seller. It wasn’t enough; someone else got the house.
This craziness is playing out at the same time that a very different kind of crisis is unfolding in the rental sector. At least 11 million Americans are behind on their rent, many as a result of losing their jobs during the pandemic, and thousands of small landlords are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (See The Last Word.) The Centers for Disease Control’s rental eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of June, so many families in arrears could soon find themselves homeless. America’s split-screen housing market is an almost perfect symbol of the preexisting social inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic. While some of us are seeking to upgrade, many low-income workers—already disproportionately sickened and impoverished by Covid—are Theunis Bates simply trying to keep a roof over their head. Managing editor