The sudden and unexpected shift to remote work for many Americans has put a premium on walls, doors and extra space as millions search for a quiet and comfortable place to work.
A new survey from Zillow found a majority are making do without a dedicated home office for now, and many say they'll consider a move to a home with more space if working remotely becomes a long-term reality.
A third of respondents in a recent Zillow survey report working from a home office currently, with the rest forced to repurpose another area of their home such as a living room, dining room or bedroom into an office space. Working out of a shared space that's not designed to support long hours in front of a computer can bring distractions and other frustrations - especially as open concept layouts have soared in popularity in the past few years - suddenly putting a premium on a quiet, separated workspace.
For that reason, additional Zillow survey data shows most Americans working from home due to COVID-19 are reimagining what they want in a home and would ultimately consider moving if given the flexibility to continue working remotely after the pandemic subsides. When asked why they would consider a move, the top reasons revolved around a home's characteristics, not its location or affordability. The most common responses were to live in a home with a dedicated office space or to live in a larger home, while the reasons cited least often had to do with where homes were located - moving to a more- or less-dense area, or near a vacation destination.
Zillow search traffic trends seem to back up these results. Many Americans appear to be considering a move for a home with their desired features, as Zillow traffic on for-sale listings was up almost 50% from last year in mid-May[iii], but location preferences do not appear to have changed much. The share of those views going to urban, suburban and rural listings has barely changed since last year.
"In thinking about the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work stands out as perhaps the biggest change agent," said Skylar Olsen, senior principal economist at Zillow. "Changes in the options available to us can shift our preferences and decision making. Remote work allows for precious time savings without a commute and potentially more affordable living away from job centers, but it can come with productivity and sanity costs without the proper tools. Those costs can be mitigated by certain home features, namely a quiet and secluded place to work, so we may see a growing premium on homes with room for an office or other place to comfortably work, which could in turn shift the types of new homes that come on the market."
Sellers seem to be getting wise to this shift in preferences - a home office was mentioned in 8.2% of all for-sale listings in April, about a 10% jump from the previous year - and they may begin to affect the types of new homes built in the future. Pyatt Builders has already seen dedicated home office spaces grow in popularity and expects that growth to continue, while Berks Homes expects future home offices to be kept separate from other spaces with more insulation for better privacy. When considering a home office space in a new home or as part of a remodel, Zillow Design Expert Kerrie Kelly recommends prioritizing natural light and ventilation.
Telecommuting is, of course, only an option for some - the Pew Research Center estimated 40% of American workers held jobs in February that could potentially be performed remotely - and it remains to be seen how many employers will adopt more flexible remote work policies when they reopen their workplaces. Any noticeable shifts in the housing market from a growing desire for a home office space would likely happen slowly over many years if recent trends hold moving forward.