A Rise in Work From Home Could Lead to a New Suburban Boom

A Rise in Work From Home Could Lead to a New Suburban Boom

Now that more than half of employed Americans (56 percent) have had the opportunity to work from home, a vast majority want to continue, at least occasionally, according to a new survey from Zillow.

The survey, conducted last week by The Harris Poll, finds that 75 percent of Americans working from home due to COVID-19 say they would prefer to continue that at least half the time, if given the option, after the pandemic subsides.

Two-thirds of employees working from home due to COVID-19 (66 percent) 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 percent 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 that prior to COVID-19, only seven percent of civilian workers in the United States had the option to work from home as a workplace benefit, though 40 percent 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 percent higher than in 2019.

A Rise in Work From Home Could Lead to a New Suburban Boom

A Rise in Work From Home Could Lead to a New Suburban Boom

Work from home opens new location opportunity

Where people choose to live has traditionally been tied to where they work, a dynamic that through the past decade spurred extreme home-value growth and an affordability crisis in coastal job centers.

But the post-pandemic recovery could mitigate or even produce the opposite effect and drive a boom in secondary cities and exurbs, prompted not by a fear of density but by a seismic shift toward remote work.

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 a third say they would consider moving in order to live in a home with a dedicated office space (31 percent), to live in a larger home (30 percent), and to live in a home with more rooms (29 percent).

A Zillow analysis finds 46 percent 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 Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, San Francisco and San Diego, where far fewer homes have spare rooms.

When it comes time to move, homebuyers who can work remotely may seek out more space — both indoor and outdoor — farther outside city limits, where they can find larger homes within their budgets.

“Moving away from the central core has traditionally offered affordability at the cost of your time and gas money. 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,” said Zillow senior principal economist, Skylar Olsen, in a release. “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,” Olsen said.

“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, in the release.

“Buyers, who just a few months ago were looking for walkability, are now looking for extra land to go along with more square footage.”

No daily commute sets up new work from home options

Previous Zillow research found that renters, buyers and sellers overwhelmingly agree that the longest one-way commute they’d be willing to accept when considering a new home or job was 30 minutes.

This new survey from Zillow and The Harris Poll finds those priorities appear to change if people have the flexibility to work from home regularly. When given that option, half of those who are able to do their job from home (50 percent) say they would be open to a commute that was up to 45 minutes or longer.

In most major cities, living close to downtown comes at a price. A previous Zillow analysis found that in 29 of the nation’s 33 largest metro markets, buyers can expect to pay more per square foot for a home within a 15-minute rush-hour drive to the downtown core.

If buyers and renters are not burdened by a five-day-a-week commute, housing in the exurbs, secondary cities and remote bedroom communities may become viable and affordable options.

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