Note: This article was originally published on


by Carl Malcolm

According to Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021, a new report from the Urban Land Institute and PwC US based on their survey of more than 1,600 leading real estate industry experts, the COVID-19 pandemic did not necessarily generate new trends in the multifamily housing market, but sharply accelerated trends that were already underway.

Migration and appeal of suburban locations, preferences for floor plans that support work-from-home options, and integrated outdoor social and recreational areas were already influencing the design of multifamily residential projects and have been consistent trends in the report for the past five years.

Working from home was already a trend, but has now been accelerated by COVID-19. The success of the work-from-home experiment during the pandemic has changed attitudes towards working from home and reimagined the traditional workplace. Salesforce recently announced a new work-from-anywhere model that will enable the majority of their employees to work remotely at least part-time, and Pinterest paid $90 million to break their lease. As we are coming out of the pandemic, more people are choosing to permanently work from home or go to a hybrid of working from home and going into an office.

The trend of shifting to a work-from-home environment will change the needs in multifamily housing design. As our homes become the place where we both live and work, the design of multifamily housing will need to adapt to accommodate both. Residential units, common areas, and design plans will all need to be reexamined and modified to accommodate the remote work trend.

It’s no secret that malls are on their way out. In 2017, Credit Suisse estimated that between 2017 and 2022, 20-25% of malls in the US would close. The COVID pandemic has only served to hasten this decline, and has added fuel to the “retail apocalypse.” In 2019, 9,300 stores closed — including major traditional mall anchor stores like Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney. The fact of the matter is that the United States has more leasable space than any other country in the world. During the mall renaissance between 1975 and 2015, malls were being built at a rate that doubled the rate of population growth. As online shopping continues to tighten its grip on the retail market, more malls and strip centers are finding themselves with vacant space.

The decline of traditional retail combined with a housing crisis and increased need for housing makes converting empty malls and other retail spaces into mixed-use developments one of the most attractive options to developers. This type of development combines retail, commercial and residential into one development, known as horizontal mixed use. In today’s world, the demand for retail space is down. Consumers are rejecting the traditional retail experience — they don’t want to just go to the store, but they want an experience. They want walkable spaces that allow them to make a day of shopping. This can include shopping, eating out, enjoying green space, and more. These areas can also attract tenants to the residential part of the development. They give residents an experience, rather than living in a basic apartment complex.