How Remote Work Is Shaping the Future of Real Estate

The COVID pandemic has dramatically changed how we work, learn, and connect with friends and family. In particular, shelter-in-place restrictions led to a large increase in the number of Americans working from home over the past year. 

And while pandemic restrictions will lift eventually, many people seem set to continue with remote work moving forward into the future — a trend that could significantly impact both where people want to live, and what features they’ll be looking for in their next homes. 

The State of Remote Work In 2020 and 2021

More Americans than ever shifted to remote work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. According to data from Gallup, about 62 percent of employed Americans said that they were working from home at least some of the time as a result of the crisis. 

A study from the research firm Gartner found that about 74 percent of executives expect that some of their employees will shift to remote work on a permanent basis. A survey from Gallup, meanwhile, found that three in five workers who have shifted to working from home during the pandemic would prefer to continue working remotely as much as possible, even after public health restrictions have been lifted. 

A study from shines a spotlight on the upsides of staying at home; in an April 2020 survey of 1,300 consumers searching for a new home, nearly 20 percent said that a big benefit of sheltering at home was having more time to spend with family. 13.9 percent said that they appreciated not having to get ready for work, and 12.8 percent enjoyed not having a daily commute. 

The Freedom to Move — Anywhere

Having the ability to work remotely can offer individuals and families more freedom and flexibility — including when it comes to where they choose to live. 

Not having to commute to an office could free people up to relocate to a spot they’ve always dreamed about — whether that means trading in city life for the suburbs, or moving across the country to be closer to their families while still holding onto their current careers. 

People have certainly been on the move throughout 2020; data from Pew Research Center suggests that more than one-in-five U.S. adults either changed their residence due to the pandemic, or know someone who did. 

As our President and CEO Steve Baird recently put it to Forbes

As we all found ourselves spending more time at home this year, the market for new homes and even secondary residences exploded, and we expect that to continue in 2021 as priorities change in response to COVID-19. Many buyers aren’t waiting for a return to normal. Instead, they’re anticipating a new normal in which they live, work and entertain differently than ever before and view housing through that lens.

That includes rethinking what geographic areas and types of communities they may want to live in. 

According to data from the professional services firm Upwork, recently cited by Keeping Current Matters, between 6.9 percent and 11.5 percent of households are planning a move “due to the growing availability of remote work due to COVID-19” — that would translate into 14 to 23 million Americans relocating in the near future. 

Of this group, 41.5 percent are looking for homes more than four hours away from where they currently reside. Large cities are expected to see the largest exodus; 20.6 percent of those who are planning to move are based in a major city.

This lines up with data from the National Association of REALTORS® 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, which found that 57 percent of buyers who purchased a home during the pandemic opted for a suburban location, compared with 50 percent of “pre-pandemic” buyers. 

What Home Features Will Be Key for “WFH” Buyers?

Spending more time at home in 2020 has highlighted some of the difficulties of remote work — and, moving forward, buyers will be searching for homes that can allow them to enjoy the upsides of staying in, with fewer hassles along the way. 

As a result, one of the biggest factors that could drive some buyers from urban to suburban areas will be the types of home features available — including more square footage and more outdoor space. 

For example? According to the NAR 2020 Profile of Buyers and Sellers, the top reason that sellers were looking to relocate before the pandemic was to move closer to friends and family. After shelter-in-place restrictions, sellers were more likely to report that their main reason for moving “was because their home was too small.”

This lines up neatly with survey findings from The pandemic has caused people looking to move to have a new set of must-haves for their next home, many of which are closely associated with remote work — including more space in the house (15.7 percent), more outdoor space (13.6 percent), and better technology (12.5 percent). 

As work-from-home becomes even more commonplace, some of the home features that buyers will be looking for in 2021 and beyond might include:

A Dedicated Home Office

Demand for home offices was already growing pre-pandemic, and is a highly sought feature among buyers looking at listings right now. Having an office at home helps provide comfort and privacy, and can help create some boundaries between work and play — making it easier to relax and destress at the end of the day.

Better Technology

Expect plenty of questions about broadband and WiFi from buyers and sellers alike. A Pew Research Center study conducted in spring 2020 found that more than half of all U.S. adults said that the internet was “essential” to them personally during the pandemic. Meanwhile, smart home features will only continue to grow in popularity, particularly among younger generations. Even before the pandemic, smart home tech could help a property stand out; according to data brought to our attention by the Chicago Tribune, more than half of potential buyers (54 percent) say that “if they had to choose between identical houses, one with smart home tech, the other without, they’d buy the smart home.”

More Outdoor Space

Spending more time at home during the pandemic has underscored the importance of being able to relax in the Great Outdoors. The NAR 2020 Community and Transportation Preference Survey found that people who felt that they lived in areas with “lots of places to walk nearby” reported an 8 percent increase in overall quality of life. 

More Separation (Indoors and Out)

According to a survey from, about 7.7% of homeseekers want more separation inside; 9.8% want more separation from their neighbors. While the open floor plan isn’t going away anytime soon, buyers will be looking for “a better balance between private, semiprivate, and public spaces,” as Jennifer Kelly Geddes writes for Long before the pandemic, buyers expressed a clear preference for homes with large outdoor living areas, with one survey showing that 70 percent of people think of a large backyard as their number one most important outdoor feature in a home. 

Ready to Explore Chicagoland? We’re Here to Make It Easier

While it’s hardly business as usual, we know that the Chicagoland real estate market is still strong. The market is moving — and if you’re ready, you can too. 

During this extraordinary time, the professionals at Baird & Warner, Key Mortgage, and Baird & Warner Title Services are here to help homebuyers and sellers achieve their biggest real estate goals, while making the process easier at every step of the way. 

Please rest assured that while we are instituting the CDC’s health safety and prevention protocols across all our businesses and office locations, we are still operational and ready to continue serving you. At Baird & Warner, 165 years of history have taught us how to overcome even the most adverse conditions. We’re by your side — no matter what.