Remote work will fuel housing demand for years to come

New Zillow survey finds remote workers are far more likely to move, yet nearly 40% of employees still don’t know if or how often they must return to their workplace

Black woman at desk looking into computer screen

Remote work is already fueling the Great Reshuffling, as people who no longer have to be at their workplace five days a week prioritize affordability and space over a short commute. New data suggests there’s more reshuffling to come. In a July 2021 Zillow survey of 1,000 U.S. workers, more than 80% of respondents say they want to work remotely at least occasionally, and 44% want to work from home all the time. People who work from home at least once a week are nearly twice as likely to say they would consider moving because of the pandemic.

“Workers are clear in their desire for more flexibility,” says Meghan Reibstein, vice president of organizational operations at Zillow. “It’s no surprise employees are willing to change jobs to get to this more sustainable way of working, and employers risk losing people if they ignore employees’ preferences. If given the freedom to move, employees can work where they’re happiest and most productive, which is a win for them, their organizations and their communities.”

Zillow’s own internal data offers a small case study in how remote work can spur people to move. After the company announced a permanent flexible workplace policy in October 2020, the monthly relocation rate jumped more than 45%, compared to typical relocation rates in 2018 and 2019. 

Remote work has the potential to bring the most significant expansion of economic opportunity and housing affordability witnessed in a generation or more. The ability to work and live anywhere is already opening up housing opportunities all over the country, widely benefiting first-time buyers and renters of color. When given that flexibility, remote or hybrid workers are more likely to say they would move — 23%, compared to 13% of in-person workers who say the same. 

As employers make — or delay — plans to reopen workplaces this fall, Zillow’s research finds that 39% of U.S. workers still don’t know if or how often they’ll be working in person. More than one-third of those workers say that uncertainty is impacting their ability to make decisions about their lives, such as the decision to move. 

“Lingering uncertainty over permanent flexible work policies suggests that we’re closer to the beginning of the Great Reshuffling than the end,” says Chris Glynn, Zillow senior managing economist. “As more people learn how often they’ll have to be at their workplace or make a job change to gain that flexibility, we expect to see more people move. Remote work will be a significant driver of housing demand for years to come, along with demographic trends.”

A large majority of workers surveyed by Zillow say that various aspects of working from home are now very or extremely important to them, such as control over their life and their time (69%), and the freedom to live where they want (64%). Half of millennial and Gen Z workers who don’t yet know their employer’s post-pandemic plans say they’re at least somewhat likely to consider getting a new job if they end up working in person more often than they would like.