Rocking the suburbs? Remote work could shift post-COVID home buying

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With an estimated 56% of Americans currently working remotely due to social distancing, the need to live in the city where one's employer is located could dissipate.

The shelter-in-place orders showed that employees in a variety of vocations can perform their duties outside of the office without drop-offs in productivity. This revelation could spur migration patterns further outside crowded metro areas if employers keep work-from-home options open. Prospective buyers would no longer have to consider commute times in their home search.

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

Three-quarters of people currently working from home would prefer to maintain that flexibility when normalcy returns, according to a Zillow survey. Additionally, 66% would consider moving if they had that flexibility. If the pandemic produces a mass relocation, it could open up inventory in metro centers and give more balance to the overall housing market.

Of those who would consider moving, 31% want homes with office spaces, 30% want larger properties and 29% want homes with more rooms.

"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."

Living under quarantine highlighted the upsides of space and land available outside of cities. However, the attraction to city living goes beyond just reduced commutes, especially for millennials. Amenities — from restaurants, to shopping, to cultural experiences — would still be desirable for potential homebuyers.

"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," Olsen said. "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."

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Housing market Home prices Purchase Housing affordability Housing inventory Zillow Coronavirus