For many Americans, the workplace may never look the same after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. A lasting legacy is likely to be a wider acceptance of remote working. The post-pandemic recovery could drive a housing boom in more affordable cities and surrounding suburbs, prompted not by a fear of density but by a seismic shift toward working from home.
A new survey from Zillow, conducted last week by The Harris Poll, finds 75% of Americans working from home due to COVID-19 say they would prefer to continue that routine at least half the time, if given the option, after the pandemic eases. The rise in sophisticated technology has enabled them to create an environment at home, or practically anywhere for that matter, to be productive.
Where buyers go shopping for a home could indeed shift in the wake of the pandemic, according to Realtor.com. “The experience of being at home for a long period of time has everyone rethinking their priorities,” said Danielle Hale, realtor.com chief economist. “People are recognizing space is more important, so they’re looking for more affordable areas where they can have more space at the same price.
A long-held pattern of people choosing to live in urban areas has traditionally been tied to the availability of the greatest number of jobs and the ease of taking public transportation, a dynamic that through the past decade spurred extreme home value growth in urban centers.
Now that more than half of employed Americans (56%) have had the opportunity to work from home, a vast majority want to continue, at least occasionally. For example, Twitter announced Tuesday that working remotely is a permanent option.
Two-thirds of employees working from home due to the pandemic (66%) would be at least somewhat likely to consider moving if they had the flexibility to work from home as often as they want. Only 24% of Americans overall say they thought about moving as a result of spending more time at home due to social-distancing recommendations.
The Pew Research Center found prior to COVID-19, only 7% of civilian workers had the option to work from home as a workplace benefit, though 40% worked in jobs that could potentially be performed remotely.
Recent Zillow research suggests more Americans are at least looking at their housing options. In mid-April, page views of for-sale listings on Zillow were 18% higher than in 2019.
Many employed Americans are trying to square the desire to work remotely with the functionality and size of their existing homes. Among employees who would be likely to consider moving, if given the flexibility to work from home when they want, nearly one-third say they would consider moving in order to live in a home with a dedicated office space (31%), to live in a larger home (30%), and to live in a home with more rooms (29%).
A Zillow analysis finds 46% of current households have a spare bedroom that could be used as an office. But that percentage drops off by more than 10 points in dense, expensive metros such as New York, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and San Diego, where far fewer homes have spare rooms.
When it comes time to move, home shoppers who can work remotely might seek out more space, both indoor and outdoor, farther outside city limits, where they can find larger homes within their budget.
“Moving away from the central core has traditionally offered affordability at the cost of your time and gas money,” said Skylar Olsen, Zillow senior principal economist. “Relaxing those costs by working remotely could mean more households choose those larger homes farther out, easing price pressure on urban and inner suburban areas. However, that means they’d also be moving farther from a wider variety of restaurants, shops, yoga studios and art galleries. Given the value many place on access to such amenities, we’re not talking about the rise of the rural homesteader on a large scale. Future growth under broader remote work would still favor suburban communities or secondary cities that offer those amenities along with more spacious homes and larger lots.”
Zillow Premier Agents from Silicon Valley to Manhattan say anecdotally that they are seeing the early beginnings of a shift.
“We are seeing more buyers looking to leave the city,” said Bic DeCaro, a member of Zillow’s Agent Advisory Board serving Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. “Buyers, who just a few months ago were looking for walkability, are now looking for extra land to go along with more square footage.”
Keith Taylor Andrews, a small business owner in Denver, started home shopping on Zillow the week Colorado issued a stay-home order. The first-time home buyer is now under contract on a house in Fayetteville, Arkansas, that he plans to use as his home office.
“We learned from COVID-19 that we could operate our business remotely,” said Andrews, who has 40 employees working from home. “Arkansas is a good place to move, it’s economical and there are far fewer people. It feels like a breath of fresh air to get out of the city.”
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