Allegheny County

Will COVID-19 have long-lasting impacts on Pittsburgh’s real estate and retail markets?

PITTSBURGH — Our lives have been altered in a way many of us never expected since the COVID-19 pandemic, and like many unexpected events in history, there will be a new normal.

But that leads to the question, when we look back at this point in time what will have changed?

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While brick-and-mortar businesses like J.C Penny, J Crew and Gordmans announced bankruptcy, online sales are surging and experts say the pandemic will have a lasting financial impact on retail businesses.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for many retailers to come back from this. I think they’re going to see a permanent loss in demand, and we’re going to see sales continue to move online,” PNC Chief Economist Gus Faucher said.

Faucher has been an economist for more than two decades, and he said many stores and malls were feeling pressure before coronavirus forced the issue.

"I do think we’re going to see a lot of traditional retailing jobs go away, and those are good, entry level jobs for teenagers, for college students and so forth,” he said. “So retailers need to think about what can they offer that in person that online retailers can’t offer.”

But retail likely won't be the only business feeling lasting impacts of the pandemic.

“I think we also might see a reshuffling in commercial real estate, and in particular, office real estate. A lot of people are working from home,” Faucher told Channel 11’s David Johnson. “It’s not like offices are going to go away, but I do think that they may be less demand for office space going forward.”

However, those who work in commercial real estate feel differently.

“Commercial is not dead at all. Commercial’s a big part of our economy, and I think commercial real estate is definitely going to rebound, but not tomorrow,” Marv Levin, vice president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ commercial division, said.

Levin said that in his 35 years working in commercial real estate, he’s never seen the industry shut down, but there will be changes.

"People are not going to be as close as they were. I think you're going to see some satellite offices, and I also think you may see a little bit of shrinkage because, like I said, the executives see you can work from home and be just as productive,” he said.

Residential real estate agent Jane Herrmann said our area is different when it comes to national trends.

“We never see these huge highs and lows, as some of these big metropolitan cities do. So, I do feel we will be OK,” she said.

Faucher thinks the local economy will rebound, but that it won't happen until consumers are confident that health crisis is controlled.

“I think that’s the best way of making sure we have a strong economy, not just over the next few months, but for the rest of 2020, into 2021 and 2022,” he said.