Data Reveals Major Shift in Renter Preferences in Transportation, Shopping

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Canadians’ preferences as to where they live are changing fast, with many seeking quiet homes with easy access to quality grocery stores, while shunning public transport and daycare centers, according to a new report from location intelligence provider Local Logic.

The Montreal-based company quantifies access to amenities and services across North America, and is used on approximately 80% of real estate portals across Canada. Through product usage, they learn about changes in search volume for specific lifestyle preferences, quantified by Local Logic’s 17 unique “Location Scores,” which monitor noise levels, traffic, greenery, quality of schools, access to restaurants and 12 other categories. 

Between the first quarter of 2020 - when pandemic-related lockdowns and social distancing measures were first instituted - and the fourth quarter of the year, the data turned up major changes in renter preferences.

The most striking differences are around public transportation accessibility and grocery store proximity, both of which were among the top 3 most desired characteristics during Q1 of 2020, according to Local Logic’s data.. At that point, nearly 14% of all interactions were around public transportation, second only to elementary schools. In Q4, that dropped to around 10% (a 24% decrease), while grocery store proximity took that second spot, going up from 10% in Q1 to nearly 13% in Q4.

Some other key changes the report identified was an increased interest in quiet surroundings and park access (a 9% increase on average), as well as growing interest in cafes, restaurants and shopping areas (an 8.5% increase on average). On the other hand, interest in daycares around rental units went down nearly 20%, and nightlife close to 10% down.

Grocery shopping: in-store vs online

While some of the changes may seem unsurprising in a post-COVID world, they can have a major impact on the future of the cities we live in. The rising interest in proximity to grocery stores suggests that in spite of the fast growth of online shopping (30% of Canadians are estimated to buy their groceries online now, compared to 12-15% before the pandemic, per a CBC report), having a store in the area around the house is more important to renters than before. Whether for curb-side pickup or in-store visits, renters want to have the options created by a nearby store. Experts also believe that once restrictions ease, the use of online grocers will go down and balance at a level between pre-pandemic times and today.

Public transit strong in spite of infection fears

The decreased interest in access to public transportation is quite intuitive. The combination of avoiding crowded spaces, especially closed ones, together with the shift to working remotely, means that public transportation is being used far less than before ( a full 77% lower than expected in Canada as of February 2021, according to Transit App), and when renters are making the move it’s not as much of a draw as it used to be. However, as the restrictive measures will ease up, and vaccinations will be distributed, Local Logic analysts believe interest in public transportation will rebound. The category was still among the three most valued location characteristics during the pandemic, according to the report, indicating that renters are still aware of its importance despite the need to reduce contact with others.

Photo credit: Manny Fortin (Unsplash)

Another area that has remained important to renters, per Local Logic findings, are so-called “third places”. The term was coined back in 1989 by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, and refers to public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact that are not their homes or workplaces.

Looking at the shifts in renter preference from before the pandemic to now, the report found that the desirability of these places has gone up across different categories: cafes, restaurants, parks and shopping areas have all seen an increase of just under 10% each. The analysis cautioned that these shifts will serve as an important signal for decision-makers, municipalities and real estate developers to consider when planning a neighbourhood or a rental apartment building post-COVID, as renters still want to have easy access to those third places.

Parks naturally saw increased interest as Canadians sought safety in open spaces,, but it was also one of the regularly searched location characteristics prior to the pandemic - ranking 6th out of 17 overall factors.

Photo credit: Gabriella Clare Marino (Unsplash)

The growth in demand for cafes, restaurants and shopping areas is less straightforward, given that Canadians are still quite limited in how much time we can spend indoors or close proximity to others, the report said. This growth in spite of restrictions and lockdowns suggests that these are resilient businesses that should be encouraged around rental projects, and could incentivize renters to pick one apartment over another.

The bottom line

It’s important to remember that Canada and the rest of the world are still in the midst of a pandemic, and the timeline for reopening and going back to normal is still uncertain. However, Local Logic found that the country will have much to gain from looking at what matters most to renters, especially during times like these, to help guide the planning and development of future rental projects across the country. 

More parks and quieter spaces, alongside small cafes and local restaurants, are more likely to attract future renters and should be incorporated into the fabric of a neighbourhood, while maintaining access to public transport nearby is still highly important, in spite of recent decreases in demand. And while online shopping for groceries will not go away, local grocers are desired more than ever and should not be overlooked. 

All of these factors will be critical in ensuring both individual buildings and Canada’s cities as whole can continue to be successful as COVID begins to recede and a new era begins for the country.