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23 Million Remote Workers Are Moving To Cheaper Places To Live

As remote work becomes a more permanent experience for a large part of the U.S. workforce, as many as 23 million people might move in the near future because they now can work anywhere, according to a new survey by Upwork


Most of them would be leaving large metro areas for less-expensive smaller places. 

"Many people see remote work as an opportunity to relocate to where they want and where they can afford to live," Upwork Chief Economist Adam Ozimek said in a statement. Upwork is a platform for hiring freelance workers and for freelancers looking for jobs.

"This is an early indicator of the much larger impacts that remote work could have in increasing economic efficiency and spreading opportunity,” Ozimek said.

Admittedly, the company says its survey of 20,000 people points to a wide possible range when it comes to in-migration: 23 million is the high end of the estimate, while the low end of the estimate is 14 million remote-work movers. But even at that lower number, the impact on the city real estate markets that remote workers leave could be disruptive.

All together, Upwork says, between 6.9% and 11.5% of households are planning a move because of the growing availability of remote work. To give those numbers context, a "normal" percentage of households moving in any given year is closer to 3.6%, which was the number of households moving to a different county or state from 2018 to 2019, according to Census Bureau data.

Among those respondents currently living in a major metro, more than a fifth, 20.6%, say they are planning to move. Some 12.2% of those in suburbs likewise say they plan to move, while fewer than 10% each say they will leave midsized cities or rural areas.

The cost of living is a clear motivator. More than half, 52.5%, are planning to move to a house that is at least 10% or more cheaper than their current home. A fair number want an even steeper discount: about 1 in 5 respondents said they want to find a house that is 50% less expensive or more.

Some of the newly mobile remote workers seem to be headed for "gateway" communities in the western U.S., though those places were growing even before the pandemic, Fast Company reports. Gateway communities are towns and small cities with close access to outdoor recreation opportunities in the form of public lands or resort areas. Such places may not be prepared to handle a sudden crush of new residents.

As for the cities workers leave behind, one impact might be a drop in apartment rents. That has already happened in some of the most expensive markets in the country, such as San Francisco, New York City and Boston.

It isn't clear, however, that the underlying assumption of the permanence of remote work is correct. As of mid-October, only 33% of workers say they "always" work remotely, down from 51% in April, according to Gallup. Also, some employers (and employees) have never liked the idea of working remotely all of the time, and they will probably resist it.

“I believe that people don't really like working from home, and I think it's not productive,” Related Cos. CEO Jeff Blau told Bisnow. “There's lots of distractions at home and bad WiFi and kids to take care of and dogs that bark … As we look past this year, I think that people will return back to the office in droves."