One area of the economy that’s been ticking along in spite of everything is the housing market. A measure of the confidence of companies that build new houses and condos hit a record high in August. The National Association of Home Builders index hit 78 this month after falling below 50 in April and May.
Record-low interest rates, below 3% for a 30-year mortgage, are fueling demand from buyers. The pandemic is also changing what people are looking for in a home, and builders are taking notice.
Better technology, flexible space and dedicated learning areas for kids are some of the things we’re likely to see more of in new homes. That’s according to a recent survey of builders from Meyers Research. Ali Wolf, chief economist there, says the most the popular design change is geared toward adults.
“Consumers are eager to be able to have some kind of quiet space or designated work space in their home,” Wolf said.
Some builders are also adding health-related features. Developer Taylor Morrison now includes air and water filtration systems, touchless faucets and bacteria-resistant paint in all of its new houses.
While demand for home gyms and classrooms may fade, Taylor Morrison CEO Sheryl Palmer says, “when you think about your health, we believe that this is a much more permanent need.”
Palmer also says the new features won’t raise the price of houses, because affordability is still the most important feature of all.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?
Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.
How has the pandemic changed scientific research?
Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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