Redfin: Quarter of Remote Employees Expect Work-from-Home to Continue

May 21, 2020

The sudden shift to remote work, brought on by the COVID-19 crisis will likely accelerate a major migration away from expensive coastal cities. According to a new survey of homebuyers and sellers featured in Redfin's latest report, 1 in 4 newly remote workers expect to continue to work remotely once shutdowns end, and over half of respondents would move if they never had to go into an office.

Redfin is preparing for a seismic demographic shift toward smaller cities," said Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. "Prior to this pandemic, the housing affordability crisis was al-ready driving people from large cities to small. Now, more permissive policies around remote work, and a rising wariness about close quarters, will likely accelerate that trend. We expect to see more people commuting once a week from Sacramento to San Francisco, from Tacoma to Seattle, from New Hampshire to Boston. Some won't com-mute at all, choosing instead to work completely virtually from a small town, perhaps where their parents still live. The whole narrative of the past 200 years, of the young person moving to the big city, may turn a little upside down in the years ahead."

About 4 in 10 survey respondents were not working remotely before the shutdowns but were able to during the shutdowns, and more than 28% of them said that they expect to continue to work remotely or have the option to work from home after the shut-down ends. In Seattle, 44% expect to work remotely indefinitely—by far the highest of any of the high-cost cities surveyed.

This sudden increase in remote work may lead to an exodus from expensive coastal cities with people moving to entirely new cities or even just relocating farther out, but within the same metro area. More than 60% of survey respondents from the New York City metro area said that they would consider moving away if they were able to work remotely all the time. In Boston, San Francisco and Seattle the share that would move away was more than 50%.

Even if remote work becomes only a part-time option, workers could still relocate to far-flung reaches of their existing metro areas to purchase a much larger home for the same price, while keeping their total weekly commute time steady. For example, price per square foot in the Seattle area falls from $327 within a 30-minute round-trip com-mute of downtown to $120 for a 75-minute commute. A commuter coming into the office two days a week would then still only be commuting for a total of 150 minutes per week.

Before the coronavirus shutdowns, only about 9 to 16% of survey respondents were working remotely or from home most of the time. During the shutdowns, the share working from home shot up to between 73% and 85%, with the San Francisco Bay Ar-ea leading the way at 85%.

The primary reason cited by people in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle for wanting to leave: To live somewhere less expensive. New York had the largest share—40%—of people looking for relief from high costs, with San Francisco in close second at 36%.

If these trends hold up after the pandemic ends and people begin leaving high-cost coastal cities for more affordable places, Redfin expects price-pressure to ease and gentrification to slow. One of the most lasting impacts of this pandemic will be the way it spreads a once-centralized tech workforce across the country.

Redfin surveyed more than 900 currently-employed active Redfin users and customers across the country between May 3 and May 5, 2020, specifically targeting four expensive coastal metro areas: New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, which accounted for 71% of the total survey responses. The remaining 29% of responses came from the rest of the country.


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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