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How past pandemics affected the urban housing markets of Amsterdam and Paris

Past performance, we are often told, is not necessarily indicative of future results. At the same time, history has a funny way of repeating itself. I recently stumbled upon this research paper by Marc Francke (University of Amsterdam) and Matthijs Korevaar (Erasmus School of Economics) looking at the impact of pandemics on housing markets. More specifically, it looks at the impacts of the bubonic plague on 17th-century Amsterdam and of cholera on 19th-century Paris. Here’s an excerpt that summarizes what they found:

Our analyses for both cities point to substantial impacts of pandemics on property prices. We find that sales prices respond negatively to outbreaks, in particular in heavily affected areas, and that responses are short-lived, with the effects on sale prices being particularly significant in the first six months of an epidemic. Evidence from aggregate house and rent price indices suggests a smaller negative impact on rent prices. Amsterdam and Paris were very resilient to these outbreaks, with population and house price growth quickly reverting to prior trends.

This paper was first published at the beginning of 2021. A lot has changed since then and, in some ways, their findings now seem obvious. There was still a great deal of uncertainty in the market 12 months ago. While it seems like eons ago, I remember our team having discussions around when would be the right time to launch sales for One Delisle. Of course, 2021 turned out to be a record-setting year for housing and that includes the core/urban housing that the media was quick to write off at the onset of COVID.

This is not to say that certain things haven’t changed or that there won’t be further changes — both positive and negative — that come out of this. To give one just example, we all continue to hear anecdotal evidence that a lot of tech talent would now prefer to be in cities like Miami over San Francisco. (I’m not tech talent, but this would be my strong preference.) Did the pandemic help fuel this? Probably. It opened a door for the people who no longer wanted to live in a city with such a supply-constrained housing market. (I’m sure there were other reasons, too.)

These things, of course, happen. Cities are powerfully resilient, but they still need to compete. The bigger point is that cities continue to be our greatest centers of opportunity. And here we have centuries of data and housing records to support the fact that opportunity is both a powerful motivator and a centralizing force for urbanization. This is true even in the face of things like pestilence.

Happy new year, everyone. I think there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022, including far less talk about pandemics and hopefully far more talk of places like Miami.

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

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