Moving On Up (And Out): Americans Consider Moving Farther from Work

A desire for bigger homes, upgraded amenities, home improvements, and greater distance from work are the latest byproducts of the pandemic.

Roselyn Tirado / Unsplash

An exclusive study between Fast Company and The Harris Poll finds the COVID-19 pandemic may have encouraged several Americans to increase investment towards their living spaces by moving farther from work, living in larger homes, relocating to more urban areas, and spending more on home improvement.

Despite the pandemic, Americans are still evaluating new housing options. Nearly a quarter (23%) of Americans say they are considering buying a home that will be their primary residence, and 10% are considering buying a home that will not be their primary residence. Of those that are considering buying a new primary residence, half (49%) are considering moving to urban areas — more than those considering moves to suburban (44%) and rural (23%) areas.

These prospective homebuyers are also flexible about living farther from their workplace. Three-quarters (74%) of those currently employed and considering buying a new primary residence say they would consider buying a house that is farther away from their workplace than their current house. Sixty percent would be willing to move at least 10 miles farther away from their workplace, and 29% would be willing to move at least 20 miles farther away.

For these employees, it may even be worthwhile, especially if they are moving to more expensive urban areas. Twenty percent of employed Americans say their employer will compensate them (e.g., pay relocations expenses, give them a bonus for not using office space, increase their salary) if they relocate permanently. In fact, nearly a fifth (17%) say their employer will increase their salary if they move to a city or state with a higher cost of living, and only 8% say their employer will lower their salary if they move to a city or state with a lower cost of living.

For these prospective homebuyers, size and amenities are important, too. Over half (52%) of those considering buying a new primary residence are looking at homes that are larger than their current one. Another two in five (38%) are looking to keep their home size about the same while just 10% are looking to downsize.

Prospective homebuyers in urban areas were the most likely to want more space: 60% say they are considering a larger space for their next primary residence, potentially due to lower interest rates that allow them to consider sizing up from the typical, small urban spaces.

Given the rise in those working from home, it’s perhaps no surprise that 72% of those considering buying a new primary residence say it’s important they have space for a home office in their new home. Naturally, those who are employed value this slightly more at 79%. Other important household features include eco-friendly appliances (76%) and a formal dining room (64%).

Again, urban dwellers were the most likely to value such amenities compared to the general population, potentially explaining how they would like to fill their larger dream homes. They overwhelmingly say space for a home office (85%), eco-friendly appliances (84%), and a formal dining room (74%) are important to have in their new home.

Even for those not bitten by the home-buying bug, home improvements may be an appealing alternative. With money tight for some, though, stimulus checks can provide the funding for such upgrades. Of those who claim they are eligible for the third government stimulus check (issued on or after March 11, 2021), 58% say they will spend at least some of the check on home improvements or repairs. This is even higher for those living in urban areas at 65%.

The term “home improvement” can conjure up people experimenting with new paint colors and redesigning backyards. This may mean that many Americans are looking to continue embracing the home improvement trend that developed during the pandemic. However, with many Americans struggling to pay housing expenses due to reduced income and even more Americans spending most of their time at home because of the pandemic, it’s more likely that such spending by stimulus check recipients will go towards household maintenance and other housing expenses that have been neglected during the pandemic.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Fast Company during April 2-5, 2021, among 1,125 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. These online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download full data tables here.