The Real Estate Adventures of Six Philly Families Who Moved During the Pandemic

This strange year led to a lot of big changes — including some unexpected changes of address.

move during pandemic

These Philly families share what it’s really like to move during the pandemic. Illustration by Woody Harrington

The Greater Philadelphia residential real estate market had been on a tear for several years when 2020 began. Then came alarming news about a deadly new coronavirus making its way to these shores from abroad. When we began to feel the virus’s effects here in March, the market seemed to go into hibernation. Real estate sales moved underground during the spring lockdown — which happened to coincide with one of the busiest seasons for buying and selling homes.

But once it became legal to actually sell real estate again, the market went into overdrive. Bidding wars broke out as too many buyers chased too few houses — many of them feeling a sudden urge to move after COVID turned what had been comfortable homes into stressful living spaces.

Some of the pressure on local real estate came from a rising tide of New Yorkers moving down to Philly. Christopher Plant, who has specialized in helping New Yorkers move here as an agent with Elfant Wissahickon Realtors since making the move himself almost 20 years ago, says COVID was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “I found that people were just fed up,” he says. “Between the financial crisis of 2008 and everything that happened after that and then COVID, a lot of people had just reached the end of their rope. And with the uncertainty over when COVID restrictions would be lifted and the gradual acceptance of telecommuting, the immediacy of being in New York became less important and less attractive.”

But there was also an internal migration going on — one that many generations of young Philadelphians have undertaken. This one follows a standard script: have children, move to the suburbs. The difference with COVID is that childless couples and empty nesters made the move, too. Robin Gordon of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors, a broker who specializes in upscale Main Line and Center City real estate, says, “I’m seeing not only millennials moving out, but also older people who had been in the city and thought they were going to stay longer. They just want more space.”

Or less: “There are empty nesters who thought they were going to move into town from their big homes and are now looking for a flat or a small carriage or ranch house in the suburbs,” says Gordon. On the Main Line, she continues, such houses “sell like hotcakes because there’s really a lack of inventory for the empty nesters who probably would have gone into town and now don’t want to.”

Sales haven’t completely fizzled in the city, however. New Yorkers, especially, who want to be close to city amenities once they reopen but don’t care to pay New York prices are still buying city properties. “There were a ton of high-number transactions in the Rittenhouse area, on Delancey, in Society Hill, where buyers were coming from Manhattan,” says Plant. Young Philly suburbanites for whom city living still has appeal are also buying properties in outlying neighborhoods like Manayunk, Germantown and Mount Airy, where attractive, reasonably priced starter homes can be found.

In all the movement, some Philly folks found themselves in dream homes they couldn’t have dreamed of just a short while ago. Here are their stories:

I Moved Out of My Parent’s House and Became Became a First-Time Homebuyer

first-time homebuyer

First-time homebuyer Womack wasted no time creating an inviting space in her home. Much of the art was made by family and friends. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Health and wellness coach Renée Womack decided she’d been living with her parents long enough when COVID hit. She used the occasion to find a place in the city, where she’d longed to live. Keep reading here.

We Moved From NYC to the Main Line, and Got an Extra 1,660 Square Feet in the Process

move back to philly

Here’s why these Philadelphia natives made the choice to move back to Philly during the pandemic. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Local natives Michael Kaufman and Allie Strawbridge moved to New York after they graduated from college, figuring if they could make it there, they could make it anywhere. Having made it, they got a hankering to come back to Philly. COVID gave that hankering a huge shove. Keep reading here.

Now That I Work Remotely, I Traded My Manhattan Apartment for a Rittenhouse Townhouse

move from new york

Marcus moved from New York into this Rittenhouse townhouse, which came equipped with a library — rolling ladder included — that he uses to store his book collection. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Podcast technology entrepreneur Simon Marcus figured out that he could live wherever he wanted once everyone at his company started working from home. So he moved from Manhattan to a city where he could get what he wanted for less. Keep reading here.

We Moved Out of Our Fishtown Rowhouse Into a Rural Farmhouse

moved from philly

This fireplace, which is part of the original structure, dates back to 1737. Not pictured: a second fireplace on the opposite wall. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Antoinette Marie Johnson is a Philly girl with a love of cities. Erik Oberholtzer is a bicoastal chef with a love of authentic food. After years of urban living, they decided they needed a place where they could grow their own food — and chose a logical spot for it. Keep reading here.

We Left Our Cramped Queens Rental for a Luxury KOP Development

living in king of prussia

Rodrigues (left) and McQuoid traded Queens for living in King of Prussia, where they have a top-floor unit that overlooks the pool. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Globe-trotters Gabe Rodrigues and Travis McQuoid wanted a home where they could live without a car. They found it in King of Prussia, of all places. Keep reading here.

Our Growing Family and the Pandemic Made Our Decision to Move to the Suburbs Easier

moved to the suburbs

Their last house was dark, so the Sevincs are in the process of replacing their fake plants with the real thing. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Christianne and Orhan Sevinc dreaded giving up their city lifestyle, but when COVID sidelined all the things they loved about it, they decided they needed a place in the ’burbs with enough room to handle a new arrival. Keep reading here.

Published as “On the Move” in the March 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.