Relocating in the middle of COVID-19 isn’t easy, but with care and planning, it can be done.
Apartments.com reported in June a substantial increase in people looking for suburban rentals verses downtown markets. Columbus ranked eighth on the list, with a 48 percent increased interest in suburban rentals during the period surveyed.
It was the last day of June when I saw this media release, but the news was no surprise to me. In fact, my spouse and I had been among those who—in the first week of the declared pandemic—had quickly changed a plan that involved temporary housing in the LeVeque Tower Downtown.
“Please, bear with me” I said to my husband. “I’m about to flip-flop.”
He and I were in Florida, at a condo we had purchased in February, planning some renovations and hoping to make it livable by the time our third grandchild was due there in late April. It was March 18, and we were both staring at our computers at the time I interrupted him. He was working remotely during a week he thought would be vacation, and I was reading a lease for the LVQ apartment we planned to use for a year while we considered our next Central Ohio move. In February, we received an unsolicited offer for our previous home, a Waterford Tower condo, which was scheduled to close toward the end of March.
“I’m having second thoughts about living 21 floors in the sky, with elevators, elevator buttons and everything else that could carry germs,” I confided.
“I know. I get it,” he said, looking up from his work. By then we both knew that Red, White & Boom, as well as other Downtown festivities for the summer and fall likely would be canceled. Many of our favorite restaurants would soon shut down. Anyone who knows me well understands that it has long been my desire to live temporarily at the LeVeque so that I could enjoy delivery from The Keep, which is a bespoke amenity.
In an afternoon of swift changes, the Kaufman management company quickly shifted us to a lovely suburban rental, in a peaked-ceiling carriage house within walking distance of Starbucks, which really should have remained open as an essential business.
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We were in Florida, as I mentioned, so we accepted this deal without even viewing the place or its delightful, walkable neighborhood that has vastly improved over the last few years. It all turned out fine. In fact, it is quite efficient living for this very odd year. What was even more fabulous was that my masked husband flew back to Ohio with only nine people on an early morning Southwest flight and oversaw the entire move by himself. It’s the first time ever, I believe, that he’s packed that entire kitchen. I feel only slightly bad that he also packed my home office and my closet. Meanwhile, I stayed in the Florida rehab project, working remotely and talking by phone with painters and installers nearly every day. (All nonessential projects shut down for a short while, which was fine by me at the time.)
As I write, the condo is half-finished and half-furnished but has served its purpose well as we’ve come and gone (driving miles and miles), to celebrate the arrival of tiny Elizabeth and to do three thousand loops around their neighborhood with her delightfully chatty big brother, 2-and-a-half-year-old Benjamin, on his new bike. There was no better way to spend some of those early COVID days than being there for our son and daughter-in-law.
The Central Ohio rental easily holds the furniture we don’t already have in storage as we contemplate a year’s end decision on where we might live and just how much space three visiting grandchildren will require. The prospects are slim. Any real estate agent will tell you that demand is much higher than houses that are available. That was true even before the pandemic, and the lack of available housing has intensified with the spread of COVID-19 and homeowners’ lack of desire to list.
As I’m writing, I am in Maine at an Airbnb visiting our daughter’s family, which includes the engaging and energetic 18-month-old Griffin. With what the Northeastern cities have experienced during the pandemic, I can declare that in COVIDly-quiet Maine, homes are hard to find, too, unless you’re looking for a $3 million island retreat. As the editor of this magazine real estate is continuously on my radar. But it’s big business for my son-in-law, a real estate agent in Maine.
As an aside, you may be questioning our travels during the pandemic. We do all of our driving in day trips on Saturdays or Sundays, no overnights involved until we hit our destination. We carry along snacks for the day, required gloves for gas stations and make a few very fast stops at McDonald’s restrooms, in mask, carrying sanitizer wipes everywhere we go. (We buy at least water at the drive-thru.) We’ve recently tested negative for COVID-19, because Maine would require a 14-day-quarantine if we didn’t test negative just before we entered the state. (Every state’s regulations seem to continuously evolve so be sure to check them at each state’s department of health if you intend to travel this fall.)
But travel is not why I’m writing this. In a year that I’ve spent more miles in a car than ever before, I’m writing about home. I was quiet about our move out of the high-rise in Columbus, not even telling our own parents and others for fear they would worry. (Hell, we were worried about all the logistics involved.) Then, a writer friend asked if she could quote me in an article for national publication, and I concurred, only to find out that there were others I knew also being quoted. We were all moving during a pandemic. And, we were all being quiet about it until we weren’t.
In the following weeks on social media, when many of us looked for diversions from grim COVID news, I discovered several others who were moving. One friend went from Washington, D.C., to Austin. Another packed up her things in Philadelphia and moved to the Jersey Shore. I warned a friend moving from Central Ohio to Sarasota that Florida life was on hold for almost everyone there, with COVID numbers skyrocketing. She ignored my advice to delay, sold her home in Columbus the weekend after it listed, and moved anyway.
There’s nothing like a giant crisis, a reminder of our imminent departure from this earth, to spur us into action.
It is with all of this cumulative experience and plenty of car time that I have created the following list of tips. They are carefully curated from recent experiences.
If you want to sell your house, there is no better time to put it on the market. Mortgage rates are low, demand is high, and the millennials are still looking for starter and move-up housing. If you are still in it, I can’t think of a better time for a baby boomer to seriously think about selling the big family home.
Moving will cause a disruption to your life, but moving companies appear to be taking great care when they arrive to cart out your furniture. (If you need packing help, they’ll do that to.) When you call them, ask about their COVID procedures, their use of gloves, disinfectant wipes, shoe covers and anything else that concerns you. Keep in mind that you always get a better deal by booking a weekday move.
Realtors are understanding and accommodating—whether you’re buying or selling. They are offering virtual walk-throughs because they know homeowners are reluctant to have strangers parading through their places. They also understand a potential buyer’s reluctance to meet in person to look at properties. Fewer people are attending Sunday open houses, so wear a mask and rest assured that a real estate agent will not follow you from room to room. Let me repeat this, always wear a mask if you enter someone else’s home.
Do-it-yourselfers are going to win. Installers for new kitchens and bathrooms may be behind, because even though they were declared essential businesses many had personnel and other challenges in the early days of the pandemic. What looks like a quick project may take months to get done if you’re relying on professionals to do it. Keep this in mind if you’re buying a fixer-upper. Get quotes and timelines before you close the deal.
Furthermore, supply chains are broken. The farther your source, the less chance you have for a quick delivery. Cabinetry, slabs of granite, couches, bedframes—well heck even Lilly Pulitzer T-shirts—are taking far more time to arrive than we could have ever imagined. Buy from local manufacturers and small businesses when possible.
Installers and delivery guys may not follow mask rules, though as always the case, they prefer that you stay several feet away. My husband didn’t argue when a large Russian guy in Florida yanked out an ancient microwave and installed a new one, refusing to wear a mask the entire time. We simply stayed out of his way. (And we hoped that no additional wiring occurred.)
Disinfectant wipes and kindness will win. Keep plenty of both around. Don’t complain and gripe because selling and moving and buying stuff is difficult right now. Let’s agree on this: We don’t know what difficult is if we’re healthy as we’re reading this magazine. (A hot tip about disinfectant wipes: Columbus-based Wasserstrom Restaurant Supply came to the rescue when I was unable to find disinfectant wipes in South Florida. Though a bit delayed, three unmarked cases showed up at the Florida condo weeks after I ordered them. I promptly delivered big containers to each of our surrounding neighbors.)
Luxury apartment builders have it right. Living temporarily in a modern, updated carriage house has fueled my imagination for what could come next. (My husband might say that I don’t need fuel for this.) That said, I’d advise having a permanent place lined up before you move. The prospect of yet another move before we have a vaccine for COVID seems exhausting.
The lack of interest in Downtown living is likely brief. In normal times, living in the middle of a city is well worth the experience for people of all ages. Festivals, restaurants, cultural and sporting events, low commute times—what’s not to love? I received several texts from worried friends when protests were occurring Downtown, but when you live within a mile of the Statehouse, you’ve already accepted that you are at Ground Zero for political action—and a lot of other things. (Yes, with our lives gone digital even by June some of our friends didn’t know we had moved. Some communications get overlooked during a pandemic.)
10. Despite a rocky start when staffing was a challenge, Shipt, Instacart and Sunbasket have proven flexible. With every order, we can change our address, send things to family members and, in the case of Shipt and Instacart, even choose the local stores where we want to shop. If you are still dashing in and out of the supermarket every day, I’d encourage you to sign up for one of these services for the sake of your future. The cost is well worth it if you consider the time and money you save by avoiding in-store “deals” that fill your cart.
11. If you need to use storage, look beyond price and find the best, cleanest storage facility near your home that you can afford. It’s isolating, and comforting, to spend a lot of time with all your old stuff. Maybe you’ll even get rid of some of it now that we’ve had this moment of reckoning about what’s really important in life. (Your adult child’s leaf collection from sixth grade isn’t that important.)
12. If you plan to move, I can’t guarantee that you won’t feel anxious during the process. But, I can guarantee that if you think about one day at a time, that anxiety will seem manageable.
13. If you move this year—or finally take a vacation—your destination will likely feel very similar to your current home: you are safer with carry-out food and a lot of digital screen time. The whole world is still on lockdown, so don’t expect a big crowd welcoming you in the new neighborhood or at the hotel’s sunset happy hour. (And be leery of hanging out there if there is one.)