2021’s Best Cities for WFH Value

Family Sharing Spacious Room as Work and Play Space

If you need more space to work from home (WFH) while cutting your living costs, then it pays to know 2021’s Best Cities for WFH Value.

LawnStarter ranked the 120 biggest U.S. housing markets based on 20 key metrics to find out where the “untethered class” can get the most bang for their buck. 

We factored in home and yard sizes, fluctuations in sale and rent prices, and telework-friendliness. We also considered which cities offer incentives to remote workers to move there.

Check out our ranking below, with separate comparisons of the best cities for WFH buyers and WFH renters. You’ll also find some highlights, lowlights, and expert tips. 

After you learn which roomy cities will stretch your dollars the furthest, you can finally spend your savings on that Peloton or 65-inch TV you put off buying.

Table of Contents

City Rankings 

See how each city fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreSpace RankBuyer-Friendliness RankRenter-Friendliness RankWFH-Friendliness RankIncentives Rank
1Rochester, NY64.1539127645
2Tulsa, OK61.5964155321
3Cincinnati, OH61.036359305
4Shreveport, LA60.811982445
5Orlando, FL57.9770359105
6Baton Rouge, LA57.952293705
7Little Rock, AR57.0548271805
8Pittsburgh, PA57.04102454155
9Las Vegas, NV56.8473942771
10Houston, TX55.83672613265
11Fort Lauderdale, FL54.8797772185
12Overland Park, KS54.7133067145
13Fort Worth, TX54.6849571185
14Knoxville, TN54.51131458195
15Miami, FL54.5091294255
16Baltimore, MD54.21921652711
17Oklahoma City, OK54.17822215425
18Memphis, TN54.14652012665
19Tallahassee, FL54.10416381005
20El Paso, TX53.9978486355
21McKinney, TX53.524634715
22Birmingham, AL53.4476257725
23Frisco, TX53.201667325
24Huntsville, AL53.1796029295
25San Antonio, TX53.12525426205
26Yonkers, NY52.9771176665
27Newport News, VA52.73535318365
28Cleveland, OH52.671083210515
29Detroit, MI52.511141025735
30Atlanta, GA52.50603539245
31Newark, NJ52.07105214825
32Dallas, TX51.7966643295
33Arlington, TX51.68458620135
34Greensboro, NC51.6021718615
35Jacksonville, FL51.54751945545
36Louisville, KY51.53742324875
37Richmond, VA51.43261155695
38Chesapeake, VA51.14114271285
39Lincoln, NE51.13205633495
40Milwaukee, WI51.081034017605
41Tampa, FL50.81891385125
42Omaha, NE50.54435816685
43Durham, NC50.29155948415
44Winston-Salem, NC50.2818674915
44Garland, TX50.2883753655
46Philadelphia, PA50.151151853375
47Plano, TX50.025936035
48Raleigh, NC49.79177456165
49Des Moines, IA49.771003823845
50Vancouver, WA49.66403183215
51Grand Rapids, MI49.45465157405
52Kansas City, MO49.43932135835
53St. Louis, MO49.39996922505
54Charlotte, NC49.29238150235
54Columbus, OH49.291104637435
56Henderson, NV49.20284976345
57Scottsdale, AZ48.9264475655
58Tucson, AZ48.893437311075
59Norfolk, VA48.85853434855
60Indianapolis, IN48.717245211095
61Minneapolis, MN48.61872478455
62Anchorage, AK48.421450301185
63New Orleans, LA48.341173319955
64Reno, NV48.14127079175
65Irving, TX48.0059984945
66Salem, OR47.99374140995
67Nashville, TN47.79334346975
68Aurora, IL47.41357844625
69Fresno, CA47.366812741055
70Providence, RI47.33566828925
71St. Petersburg, FL47.321063968595
72Austin, TX47.2124858075
73Madison, WI46.74308462465
74Gilbert, AZ46.5988889225
75Virginia Beach, VA46.48275595385
76Lexington, KY46.40765431175
77St. Paul, MN46.29947751555
78Aurora, CO45.56618281275
79Portland, OR45.53817369575
80Grand Prairie, TX45.22319461585
81Honolulu, HI44.9411336961201
82Chicago, IL44.431166184335
83North Las Vegas, NV44.335576411135
84Phoenix, AZ44.18698064815
85Tempe, AZ43.93629277485
86Spokane, WA43.78364799785
87Mesa, AZ43.47517970945
88Salt Lake City, UT43.142911063395
89Chandler, AZ43.05229688565
90Glendale, AZ42.84389565905
91Denver, CO42.511019093315
92Tacoma, WA42.49777290745
93Worcester, MA42.245810187525
94Jersey City, NJ42.1111862108115
95Washington, DC40.0311110282675
96Boise, ID39.861687971125
97Sacramento, CA39.40959191895
98Riverside, CA39.245099861105
99Santa Rosa, CA38.6157831011115
100Oxnard, CA38.407989921155
101Huntington Beach, CA36.5647106111535
102Anaheim, CA36.1884108107635
103Moreno Valley, CA36.11541001031195
104Santa Ana, CA35.96104971041085
105Chula Vista, CA35.80441071001025
106Long Beach, CA35.7910910398885
107New York, NY34.72119281181065
108Seattle, WA34.29107105113475
109San Diego, CA33.6190111110795
110Los Angeles, CA33.5796115105865
111Santa Clarita, CA33.3325104114935
112Rancho Cucamonga, CA32.9942109115755
113Glendale, CA32.3888116106965
114Irvine, CA31.9632113116765
115Ontario, CA30.55981121121165
116Oakland, CA28.301051171021045
117San Jose, CA24.4386119109985
118Boston, MA23.341201141191145
119Fremont, CA21.92801181171015
120San Francisco, CA14.361121201201035
Infographic showing the best cities for WFH value based on median home square footage, average yard size, and sale and rent prices

WFH Buyer Rankings 

See which cities are best for WFH buyers:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreSpace RankBuyer-Friendliness RankWFH-Friendliness RankIncentives Rank
1Rochester, NY60.95391645
2Orlando, FL56.45703105
3Miami, FL56.07912255
4Tulsa, OK55.076415321
5Cincinnati, OH54.84635305
6Pittsburgh, PA54.831024155
7Las Vegas, NV53.57739771
8Fort Lauderdale, FL53.40977185
9Shreveport, LA52.62198445
10Overland Park, KS52.48330145
11Knoxville, TN51.861314195
12Frisco, TX51.2416625
13Baltimore, MD50.879216711
14Yonkers, NY50.46711765
15Tampa, FL50.038913125
16McKinney, TX49.5546315
17Tallahassee, FL49.434161005
18Baton Rouge, LA49.33229705
19Houston, TX48.456726265
20Chesapeake, VA48.311142285
21Vancouver, WA48.244031215
22Richmond, VA47.562611695
23Atlanta, GA47.526035245
24Oklahoma City, OK47.008222425
25Fort Worth, TX46.83495785
26Jacksonville, FL46.807519545
27Huntsville, AL46.70960295
28Minneapolis, MN46.558724455
29Henderson, NV46.432849345
30San Antonio, TX46.345254205
31Memphis, TN46.136520665
31Reno, NV46.131270175
33Plano, TX46.0159335
33Scottsdale, AZ46.01644655
35Virginia Beach, VA45.602755385
36Dallas, TX45.53666495
36Philadelphia, PA45.5311518375
38Raleigh, NC45.431774165
39Detroit, MI45.3311410735
40Durham, NC45.281559415
41Newport News, VA45.145353365
42Grand Rapids, MI45.124651405
43El Paso, TX45.087848355
44Austin, TX44.91248575
45Lincoln, NE44.892056495
46Gilbert, AZ44.69888225
47Birmingham, AL44.637625725
48Little Rock, AR44.414827805
49Garland, TX44.30837555
50Charlotte, NC44.112381235
51Cleveland, OH43.9910832515
52Fresno, CA43.9568121055
53Honolulu, HI43.83113361201
54Louisville, KY43.807423875
55Arlington, TX43.784586135
56Newark, NJ43.491052825
57St. Petersburg, FL43.2210639595
58Columbus, OH43.0511046435
59Milwaukee, WI42.9510340605
60Spokane, WA42.943647785
61Aurora, CO42.786182275
62Jersey City, NJ42.5711862115
63Irving, TX42.36599845
64Norfolk, VA42.288534855
65Greensboro, NC42.262171615
66Omaha, NE42.234358685
67Kansas City, MO41.989321835
67Madison, WI41.983084465
69Nashville, TN41.873343975
70Salem, OR41.803741995
71Tucson, AZ41.6034371075
72Des Moines, IA41.4210038845
73Chicago, IL41.4011661335
74Aurora, IL41.133578625
75Portland, OR40.858173575
76St. Louis, MO40.809969505
77Anchorage, AK40.6414501185
78Denver, CO40.1710190315
79St. Paul, MN40.169477555
80Winston-Salem, NC40.091867915
81Tempe, AZ40.026292485
82Chandler, AZ39.972296565
83Indianapolis, IN39.8972451095
84Lexington, KY39.777651175
85Grand Prairie, TX39.713194585
86Tacoma, WA39.517772745
87New Orleans, LA39.3311733955
88Providence, RI38.945668925
88New York, NY38.94119281065
90Worcester, MA38.8358101525
91Phoenix, AZ38.636980815
92Mesa, AZ38.155179945
93Boise, ID37.2916871125
94Salt Lake City, UT37.2329110395
95North Las Vegas, NV36.9855761135
96Glendale, AZ36.873895905
97Santa Rosa, CA36.5657831115
98Huntington Beach, CA36.4947106535
99Sacramento, CA35.909591895
100Washington, DC35.50111102675
101Seattle, WA35.05107105475
102Riverside, CA34.8050991105
103Anaheim, CA34.6084108635
104Oxnard, CA34.5779891155
105Santa Clarita, CA34.1825104935
105Rancho Cucamonga, CA34.1842109755
107Moreno Valley, CA33.77541001195
108Santa Ana, CA33.57104971085
109Irvine, CA33.4032113765
110Chula Vista, CA32.75441071025
111San Diego, CA32.3090111795
112Long Beach, CA32.22109103885
113Los Angeles, CA30.5596115865
114Glendale, CA29.4188116965
115Ontario, CA28.93981121165
116Boston, MA26.311201141145
117Oakland, CA22.921051171045
118Fremont, CA20.35801181015
119San Jose, CA19.8986119985
120San Francisco, CA16.431121201035

WFH Renter Rankings 

See which cities are best for WFH renters:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreSpace RankRenter-Friendliness RankWFH-Friendliness RankIncentives Rank
1Tulsa, OK70.43645321
2Baton Rouge, LA65.5723705
3Shreveport, LA63.30192445
4Little Rock, AR62.91481805
5Fort Worth, TX62.45491185
6McKinney, TX61.1744715
7Frisco, TX61.1617325
8Arlington, TX60.534520135
9Cincinnati, OH60.26639305
10Huntsville, AL59.99929295
11Houston, TX59.616713265
12El Paso, TX59.48786355
13Plano, TX58.8656035
14Greensboro, NC58.40218615
15San Antonio, TX58.355226205
16Overland Park, KS58.01367145
17Dallas, TX57.60663295
18Newport News, VA57.515318365
19Las Vegas, NV56.397342771
20Garland, TX55.99833655
21Newark, NJ55.981014825
22Oklahoma City, OK55.728215425
23Irving, TX55.38594945
24Winston-Salem, NC55.31184915
25Memphis, TN55.096512665
26Knoxville, TN54.911358195
27Raleigh, NC54.831756165
28Charlotte, NC54.742350235
29Baltimore, MD54.729252711
30Cleveland, OH54.6710810515
31Lincoln, NE54.472033495
32Birmingham, AL54.46767725
33Atlanta, GA54.446039245
34Omaha, NE53.934316685
35Rochester, NY53.593927645
36St. Louis, MO53.539922505
37Durham, NC53.511548415
38Orlando, FL52.897059105
39Chesapeake, VA52.801171285
40Milwaukee, WI52.5110317605
41Yonkers, NY52.22716665
42Pittsburgh, PA51.2710254155
43Reno, NV50.861279175
44Austin, TX50.64248075
45Salt Lake City, UT50.452963395
46Grand Rapids, MI50.294657405
47Aurora, IL50.253544625
48Louisville, KY50.107424875
49Gilbert, AZ49.82889225
50Madison, WI49.583062465
51Jacksonville, FL49.497545545
52Henderson, NV49.352876345
53Columbus, OH49.2111037435
54Des Moines, IA49.1110023845
55Providence, RI49.105628925
56Fort Lauderdale, FL48.859772185
57Grand Prairie, TX48.653161585
58Scottsdale, AZ48.32675655
59Vancouver, WA48.104083215
60Indianapolis, IN47.9172211095
61St. Paul, MN47.809451555
62Richmond, VA47.762655695
63Anchorage, AK47.7114301185
64Detroit, MI47.6911425735
65Tucson, AZ47.1834311075
66Aurora, CO46.956181275
67Tampa, FL46.718985125
68Norfolk, VA46.628534855
69Philadelphia, PA46.4311553375
70Tallahassee, FL46.3941381005
71Kansas City, MO46.289335835
72Lexington, KY46.227431175
73Salem, OR45.933740995
74Nashville, TN45.743346975
75Portland, OR45.558169575
76New Orleans, LA45.4511719955
77Tempe, AZ45.346277485
78Chandler, AZ44.262288565
79Virginia Beach, VA44.212795385
80Minneapolis, MN43.998778455
81St. Petersburg, FL43.9510668595
82Phoenix, AZ43.736964815
83Glendale, AZ43.663865905
84Worcester, MA43.325887525
85Miami, FL43.319194255
86North Las Vegas, NV43.3055411135
87Mesa, AZ42.175170945
88Denver, CO42.1610193315
89Chicago, IL41.4911684335
90Fresno, CA39.1268741055
91Tacoma, WA39.037790745
92Washington, DC38.6711182675
93Honolulu, HI38.32113961201
94Spokane, WA37.403699785
95Riverside, CA36.6550861105
96Jersey City, NJ36.60118108115
97Sacramento, CA35.559591895
98Huntington Beach, CA35.2847111535
99Boise City, ID35.2016971125
100Anaheim, CA34.7684107635
101Chula Vista, CA33.85441001025
102Oxnard, CA33.2679921155
103Long Beach, CA32.3310998885
104Los Angeles, CA32.0696105865
105Santa Rosa, CA32.05571011115
106Glendale, CA30.7988106965
107Oakland, CA30.521051021045
108San Diego, CA30.4390110795
109Seattle, WA30.30107113475
110Moreno Valley, CA30.03541031195
111Santa Ana, CA29.131041041085
112San Jose, CA29.0986109985
113Rancho Cucamonga, CA28.4942115755
114Irvine, CA27.9332116765
115Santa Clarita, CA27.8525114935
116Ontario, CA24.22981121165
117Fremont, CA22.89801171015
118New York, NY15.111191181065
119San Francisco, CA10.201121201035
120Boston, MA10.091201191145

Highlights and Lowlights

Rochester: The Right Choice

America’s first “Boom Town” appears to be poised for a second economic explosion: Rochester, New York, lands at the top spot in our ranking of the Best Cities for WFH (Work from Home) Value. 

How did Rochester get it right for remote workers? The city boasts the coolest real estate market — as in it ranks No. 1 for Buyer-Friendliness. On closer inspection, it has the fifth highest change in new listings over three months, and its inventory has sat on the market the longest. While these could be construed as signs of unattractive homes, they also could be interpreted as less competition and more room to negotiate.

It’s only natural, then, that Rochester also would clock in at No. 1 among the Best Cities for WFH Buyers. So head on over with your wallet and all your puffy furniture.

Suburban Persuasion

Consistent with pandemic trends, suburbs still hold the cure to claustrophobia and high costs. Except for Houston and Las Vegas, all the cities in our top 10 are small to midsize cities and suburbs. Among them are Rochester, New York, at No. 1; Tulsa, Oklahoma, at No. 2; Orlando, Florida, at No. 5; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at No. 8. 

These cities are a mixed bag when it comes to square footage and teleworker-friendliness, but they’re among the best markets for both buyers and renters. Two, including Tulsa and Las Vegas, also are among the few U.S. cities in our ranking with baiting schemes to attract remote workers from out of town.

Move to one of these cities to stretch your legs and your budget.

California: Not for the Cheap and Claustrophobic

It’s not hard to guess why California’s biggest cities land at the bottom of our ranking: They’re crowded and expensive. Fresno is tops at No. 69, while the rest are in the bottom third, with Sacramento in 97th place, Santa Ana in 104th, Irvine in 114th, and San Francisco dead last. 

How did Fresno upstage the rest of the California cities in our ranking? Well, Fresno isn’t just an outlier in the state when it comes to the share of homes being sold above asking price — it’s a national anomaly. It ranks No. 1 for this metric — with just over 5.5% of homes selling higher than the asking price — despite recently being reported as the hottest housing market in the U.S. 

Meanwhile, San Francisco finishes last overall and in our separate rankings for WFH buyers and WFH renters. The Bay City is hands-down the priciest housing market in the U.S. and among the only three cities in our ranking — all in the Golden State — with median sale prices in the seven figures. 

The bottom line: California is great for short-term, high-budget summer vaxcations, bad for long-term, cheap living for digital workers.

Texas: The Temporary Tenant State

While Tulsa, Oklahoma, steals the No. 1 spot in our standalone ranking of the Best Cities for WFH Renters, Texas cities are the real standout acts of this show. 

The Lone Star State sends four cities to the top 10: Fort Worth, McKinney, Frisco, and Arlington in fifth through eighth places, respectively. More impressive, it claims half of the top 20, including Houston, El Paso, and Plano in 11th to 13th places, San Antonio in 15th, Dallas in 17th, and Garland at No. 20.

What’s so special about Texas? For one, several cities are in the top 10 of our ranking of the Best Cities for Remote Workers (McKinney claims first place). But overall, multiple Texas cities earn high marks in the Space category — everything’s bigger in Texas, as they say — and Renter-Friendliness. Sadly, none offers a bribe for incoming remote workers, but the savings on rent is a good tradeoff.

Ask The Experts

If you weren’t claustrophobic before the pandemic, chances are you were after isolating and working from home for months.

But before you pack your bags and put down roots in Pleasantville, it’s important to understand the pre- and post-pandemic trends in the world of telework that could affect your decision to move. Our panel of experts give their two cents below.

  1. Remote work brought on by the pandemic has spurred a mass exodus out of big cities and into the suburbs. With the country opening back up, how will this trend evolve?
  2. Besides impacting local housing prices, how else will mass migration of remote workers affect the new cities they call home and the cities they leave behind?
  3. A number of cities and states offer incentives aimed at attracting remote workers to revitalize their economies. What other innovative ways can beleaguered governments recruit remote workers?
  4. More companies are adopting “geographic” pay policies (adjusting employees’ compensation to reflect those employees’ current location). Will this deter more remote workers from relocating? Should it? Why or why not?
  5. What are some less obvious tradeoffs to moving into smaller cities and towns from big cities?
  6. What qualities do people fleeing the big city look for in a home in a smaller city? Are there some things home buyers and renters seek more than others?
  7. What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?
Patrick Button
Associate Professor
Henry H. Perritt, Jr.
Professor, Chicago-Kent College of Law
Miren Ivankovic
Adjunct Professor
David Slusky
De-Min and Chin-Sha Wu Associate Professor, Department of Economics
Anthony B. Sindone
Clinical Assistant Professor of Finance and Economic Development
Kevin Lang
Professor of Economics, Department of Economics
Patrick Button
Associate Professor
Tulane University

Remote work brought on by the pandemic has spurred a mass exodus out of big cities and into the suburbs. With the country opening back up, how will this trend to evolve?

Likely, we will see this change gradually revert, but not entirely. Some businesses will shift to being entirely remote, some will go back to everyone being in person, but many will keep some remote options.

For the businesses that keep some remote options, this could be workers only coming in to the office on certain days or certain workers being able to continue working remotely almost entirely.

So, some of the remote work will “stick” but primarily for occupations that require less face-to-face contact. These tend to disproportionately be occupations with higher education or skill levels.

A number of cities and states offer incentives aimed at attracting remote workers to revitalize their economies. What other innovative ways can beleaguered governments recruit remote workers?

As an expert in economic development incentives, I am very skeptical that these are a good idea. The broader research on incentives generally finds minimal impacts of incentives on business location or economic development.

Usually with incentives, the benefits are low, but the costs are high. In this case, I worry that the incentives will just pay remote workers who were planning to locate there anyway.

What matters more for personal and business location, according to research, is local amenities: public and transportation infrastructure and urban amenities like parks, cultural institutions, etc. Regional governments should invest in these to make their cities more attractive.

More companies are adopting “geographic” pay policies (adjusting employees’ compensation to reflect those employees’ current location). Will this deter more remote workers from relocating? Should it? Why or why not?

This will create less of an incentive for remote workers to move to cheaper locations. Remote workers then pocket less of the benefit of relocating somewhere cheaper.

This will definitely deter remote workers to some extent, but I don’t think we know by how much yet. It depends on how large the adjustment is.

If, for example, the adjustment is strong, such that relocating would not impact income net of cost of living, then the only incentive to relocate would be personal preferences to live in a more rural or suburban location. In this case, I expect much less relocation.

But we don’t know much about this yet, as we often can’t study these events immediately with data. What remains to be seen is how strict these geographic pay policies are and also how sensitive remote workers are to changes in their income net of cost of living.

What are some less obvious tradeoffs to moving into smaller cities and towns from big cities?

I am not sure what classifies as “obvious” or not, but relocating far from an urban center could require you to get a car, as sometimes you may have to go into work or the city.

Relocating to a smaller city or town also means a large change in urban amenities and lifestyle. There is less to do in smaller cities but less congestion, etc. Those considering relocating have to think about how this sort of move would affect their daily lives.

What qualities do people fleeing the big city look for in a home in a smaller city? Are there some things home buyers and renters seek more than others?

The ability to work remotely frees people from having to pick housing that they can reasonably commute to. This allows remote workers to select a location and style of housing that better fits their diverse personal needs. This could be selecting a particular location that is more scenic or has better weather (for longer moves), a cheaper location, or finding housing that has certain amenities (e.g., a backyard, more space).

What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?

  1. Try to determine what expectations your employer has about remote work. Do you know if this will be permanent? Do you need to get approval to work remotely? How often do you need to be there in person (e.g., once a week, quarterly events)?
  2. Does you employer have any policies where they adjust pay based on where you live? Do they plan to have any of these policies? How would these policies affect your choice of where you should move to and if you should move?
  3. Moving to a more suburban or rural location can lead to a drastic change in lifestyle, for better or for worse. Do some research so you know what to expect. It might be good to spend some time in the area you want to move to before you move there.
Henry H. Perritt, Jr.
Professor, Chicago-Kent College of Law
Illinois Institute of Technology

Remote work brought on by the pandemic has spurred a mass exodus out of big cities and into the suburbs. With the country opening back up, how will this trend to evolve?

People are not going to be in a hurry to move back to the cities. Burgeoning crime is a disincentive, and they have put roots down in new places.

Besides impacting local housing prices, how else will mass migration of remote workers affect the new cities they call home and the cities they leave behind?

The new cities will experience a boost in demand for services like restaurants and retail establishments. The old cities will experience reduced demand, causing distress for many of those businesses.

A number of cities and states offer incentives aimed at attracting remote workers to revitalize their economies. What other innovative ways can beleaguered governments recruit remote workers?

Governments generally do a bad job trying to influence labor markets with various kinds of subsidies and incentives. Governments should concentrate on ensuring safe streets and providing good public services and education.

More companies are adopting “geographic” pay policies (adjusting employees’ compensation to reflect those employees’ current location). Will this deter more remote workers from relocating? Should it? Why or why not?

Geographic pay policies are not a new thing. Geographic differentials long have been a feature of compensation systems. It makes sense for wages to reflect local labor-market conditions.

What are some less obvious tradeoffs to moving into smaller cities and towns from big cities?

Smaller cities usually have worse internet and cellular connectivity. Some have less responsive public services (but some do better). There is less choice in retailers and service establishments in smaller cities, too.

What qualities do people fleeing the big city look for in a home in a smaller city? Are there some things home buyers and renters seek more than others?

  • More space
  • Safe streets
  • Better education systems

What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?

  1. Find out what level of internet connectivity is available. D
  2. Determine if multiple sources of internet connectivity are available.
  3. Look at the crime rates, and determine the philosophy of police and prosecutors toward street crime.
Miren Ivankovic
Adjunct Professor
Clemson University

Remote work brought on by the pandemic has spurred a mass exodus out of big cities and into the suburbs. With the country opening back up, how will this trend to evolve?

In my opinion, these are mainly office-type jobs, where people sit around their computers and work. The same can be done from another location, and meetings can be conducted via Zoom-like software. It will depend on the corporate culture of a particular business.

Many banks in New York City want their employees back. Perhaps it is easier to manage their productivity this way or have quick, unannounced office meetings. It is also true that office space in inner cities is expensive, and if the firms can lower that cost by “outsourcing” the workplace, many will pursue that option. Thus, for now, the trend can go either way.

Besides impacting local housing prices, how else will mass migration of remote workers affect the new cities they call home and the cities they leave behind?

That is a good question. Not just new cities in the U.S., but new countries might be affected by this trend. For example, many “work from home,” mainly young and mobile adults are moving to new countries like Italy and Croatia, where they earn their income in dollars, but local cost is lower, and their standard of living has improved. Those countries will have to figure out how to tax that income since it is earned abroad while residing in that country.

Cities that lose occupancy will have to figure out how to fill up those empty office spaces. It would be hard to imagine Wall Street occupied by a nonfinancial sector, but throughout history, different businesses move in and out, as the demand changes for their services. This is where local chambers of commerce will have to work hard to replace outgoing employees.

Many southern towns, upon a collapse of the textile industries, became “ghost towns,” and some still are. Having a good city council and a good mayor will play a pivotal role in minimizing the transition.

A number of cities and states offer incentives aimed at attracting remote workers to revitalize their economies. What other innovative ways can beleaguered governments recruit remote workers?

As I mentioned above, in many cases, individuals are moving to another place simply because the other place offers a better standard of living and its natural beauties. For example, some Americans are moving to cities of Zagreb and Dubrovnik, in Croatia, simply because those are beautiful places to stay and work and also the cost of living is lower than in the U.S.

A local town in South Carolina, Greenville, attracts newcomers with its natural advantages like lakes and mountains but also with its vibrant city lifestyle, great infrastructure, and other activities that please new people.

More companies are adopting “geographic” pay policies (adjusting employees’ compensation to reflect those employees’ current location). Will this deter more remote workers from relocating? Should it? Why or why not?

The question is, what is really happening to employees’ real income, not their nominal income?

If one’s purchasing power decreases, they will be hard-pressed to move or to work as hard. So, firms will have to be very careful when they are estimating that number.

What qualities do people fleeing the big city look for in a home in a smaller city? Are there some things home buyers and renters seek more than others?

I am sure, assuming similar income levels, they will seek probably larger homes (space), good schools for their children (if they have any), low levels of crime and nature — many do love the city lifestyle, but being close to rivers, lakes, and mountains, will have major advantages.

What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?

  1. Learn as much as you can about the new place (if a new country, learn that country’s language).
  2. Join local clubs (social, sports, etc.), which will allow you to meet many new people at once.
  3. Be open-minded; a new place might be much different than the old place, so be ready for it and embrace it.
David Slusky
De-Min and Chin-Sha Wu Associate Professor, Department of Economics
University of Kansas

Remote work brought on by the pandemic has spurred a mass exodus out of big cities and into the suburbs. With the country opening back up, how will this trend to evolve?

Many individuals previously lived in big cities because of convenient, walkable access to amenities. As the country opens back up and vaccination makes those amenities become safe again — find out where to get your vaccine here — I expect we will see some of the individuals who left cities returning to them.

Besides impacting local housing prices, how else will mass migration of remote workers affect the new cities they call home and the cities they leave behind?

More remote-work options will also enable couples to live in one city where one individual has an in-person job and the other has a remote job.

Previously, when both individuals had in-person jobs but in different cities, the couple may have lived in the suburbs equidistant to both cities to share the commuting burden.

A number of cities and states offer incentives aimed at attracting remote workers to revitalize their economies. What other innovative ways can beleaguered governments recruit remote workers?

Government could create more tax treaties where individuals only have to file and pay taxes to the state that they live in and not to the state that they work in. For example, Pennsylvania, where I’m from, has reciprocal tax agreements with many nearby states (i.e., Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia) but not all (i.e., New York and Delaware).

A state that wanted to attract remote workers from other states could pass a law that these workers did not have to file taxes in the state that the employer was based in. (The employer still would.)

More companies are adopting “geographic” pay policies (adjusting employees’ compensation to reflect those employees’ current location). Will this deter more remote workers from relocating? Should it? Why or why not?

It all depends on how large the adjustments are relative to moving costs and local cost of living. In general, I think differential pay will make it more likely to attract a remote worker who is already in a high-cost city (and may not want to move for spousal or family reasons) rather than entice a worker to relocate.

What are some less obvious tradeoffs to moving into smaller cities and towns from big cities?

One large tradeoff, especially as one gets older, is the distance to the nearest major hospital. An additional half an hour driving time to the nearest hospital may have drastic consequences for an individual. Even for individuals near a community hospital, being near a smaller hospital and farther from a large hospital may also have negative consequences.

Even in an outpatient setting, there may only be one of a particular specialist in town, which makes it difficult to find the right match or get a second opinion.

Another tradeoff may be a lack of public transit, making driving the only transportation option.

What qualities do people fleeing the big city look for in a home in a smaller city? Are there some things home buyers and renters seek more than others?

I see individuals are looking for lower housing costs, less traffic, and better-funded public schools. I don’t see a larger difference in these items between buyers and renters.

What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?

  1. Move to a metropolitan area within an hour drive of a major airport. Having to take two flights everywhere will make both business and personal travel substantially worse.For me, living within an hour drive of the Kansas City airport has made it very easy for me to travel in the cases where a remote interaction is insufficient.
  2. Ensure that wherever you are moving has excellent broadband.
  3. Consider the political environment of the state government and whether you are on the same side or the opposite of the issues and policies it has recently implemented.
Anthony B. Sindone
Clinical Assistant Professor of Finance and Economic Development
Purdue University Northwest

Remote work brought on by the pandemic has spurred a mass exodus out of big cities and into the suburbs. With the country opening back up, how will this trend to evolve?

What we are seeing is not only an out-migration from urban areas to less congested, so-called, suburban areas, we are also seeing lower fertility rates along with higher mortality rates across the country.

This trend began before the start of the pandemic. The pandemic amplified this trend. Even though the country is beginning to open, I expect this trend to continue but at perhaps a slower pace.

The net result will continue to be birth rates lower than the historical averages coupled with death rates higher than what they were prior to the beginning of COVID-19. Birth rates are declining at approximately 4% per year, while death rates rose by over 15% during the pandemic year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Thus, I expect to see a slight decline in the general population for at least the next 5–7 years. The death rates will fall but will remain at higher levels than the historical levels due to the lack of herd immunity. As more of the population gets vaccinated, these rates will fall closer in line with historical levels.

Besides impacting local housing prices, how else will mass migration of remote workers affect the new cities they call home and the cities they leave behind?

Of course, migration of the workers from cities to less congested areas will affect the labor market outcomes. The demand for workers of all types, both remote and not-so-remote workers, is increasing while the supply of such workers is in flux. This is resulting in labor disequilibrium throughout the country.

What I am seeing are employers adjusting wages and working conditions to induce workers to seek employment in those industries where worker demand is high. Almost all industries are affected by this. But I am observing these adjustments more in the retail and hospitality industries than some other industries.

With the growth of remote workers, we will see an uptick in the demand for technological support for these workers.

Housing price trends are beginning to level off as I write this. I expect this to continue especially if and when the Federal Reserve engages in policy to raise interest rates to offset inflationary pressures.

A number of cities and states offer incentives aimed at attracting remote workers to revitalize their economies. What other innovative ways can beleaguered governments recruit remote workers?

Besides paying direct subsidies to incentivize populations to live in a particular city — “We will give you $10,000 to move here!” — we are seeing and will continue to see other incentives as well.

Some of these might include educational subsidies for home-owner residents of a city, meaning the city might pay all or part of a resident’s state college tuition.

Another incentive might be subsidies to fix up houses: sidewalks, paint, façade repair and upgrades, etc.

More companies are adopting “geographic” pay policies (adjusting employees’ compensation to reflect those employees’ current location). Will this deter more remote workers from relocating? Should it? Why or why not?

As I said above, wage and perk incentives are being used by employers to induce workers to join or remain in their organizations. Any compensation paid to an employee would be viewed in total. We refer to this as the total wage bill.

What does it cost us to recruit and retain the employee? That bill includes everything that the employer pays to the employee.

Will this deter remote workers from moving out? Well, that depends on all the factors that are considered by the employee when they make their decisions to seek employment at any company.

Raw wages, perks, working conditions, geography, family, demographics all play a role in that decision. I do not see these incentives affecting remote-worker decisions any more than nonremote-worker decisions.

What are some less obvious tradeoffs to moving into smaller cities and towns from big cities?

Well, the obvious tradeoff will be the different amenities that the people would be able to enjoy. Larger cities, generally, have more cultural centers than smaller cities. There are usually a greater variety of entertainment and dining choices in the larger city. Again, people make decisions understanding these tradeoffs.

Some less obvious tradeoff might be loneliness resulting from moving to a less congested location. If one sits in front of a computer nearly all day in a less populated area than they were used to, along with fewer amenities, we can imagine how that might result in a sense of loneliness along with the mental health issues that may result.

What qualities do people fleeing the big city look for in a home in a smaller city? Are there some things home buyers and renters seek more than others?

I see that many people expect to have more space, more square footage, in a home in a smaller city than they were able to afford in the larger city.

They expect less noise, such as street noise if they live in a smaller city. They might expect people to be more sociable in the smaller city, like a case where “everyone knows everybody.”

People should keep in mind that some of these expectations might be met while others might not be.

What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?

Look at your whole life. How does the move fit in with your whole life plan? Life is more than a salary. Life is much more about everything that has nothing to do with salary or income directly.

“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” -Winston Churchill

Neither one’s living nor one’s life would exist without the other.

Kevin Lang
Professor of Economics, Department of Economics
Boston University

What are your top three tips for remote workers considering moving to a new city for more space and lower cost of living?

  1. Think about how promotions are determined where you work. Will working remotely and being more physically distant interfere with the roles you can take on and/or informal interactions that will help you move up the ladder?
  2. Think about the effect on your personal labor market if you decide you want to move to a new job. Do your alternatives primarily include remote jobs, or will many of them want you to work in person? Are those in-person jobs available in the labor market to which you are moving, or would you have to move again?
  3. Think about how your move will affect your networking opportunities outside your job.

Methodology

We ranked the 120 largest U.S. cities from best (No. 1) to worst (No. 120) based on their overall scores (out of 100 possible points), averaged across all the weighted metrics listed below. 

Metric NameWeightingMin. ValueMax. ValueBest
Space
Median Home Square Footage38503,048 sq. ft.Max. Value
Average Yard Size22,744 sq. ft.23,951 sq. ft.Max. Value
Buyer-Friendliness
New Listings per 100,000 Residents355567Max. Value
3-Month Difference in New Listings per 100,000 Residents2-45.00182.66Max. Value
Median Days on the Market34115Max. Value
3-Month Difference in Median Days on the Market2-115103Max. Value
Median Sale Price3$72,000$1,450,000Min. Value
3-Month Difference in Median Sale Price2-$38,000$206,500Min. Value
Share of Homes Sold Above Asking Price35.51%87.98%Min. Value
3-Month Difference in Share of Homes Sold Above Asking Price2-18.84%30.88%Min. Value
Median Sale Price per Sq. Ft.2$57.07$1,067.52Min. Value
3-Month Difference in Median Sale Price per Sq. Ft.1-$13.87$110.51Min. Value
Projected 1-Year Change in Home Value14.3813.70Max. Value
Renter-Friendliness
Rental Vacancy Rate32.1014.00Max. Value
Median Rent Price3$812$2,997Min. Value
3-Month Difference in Median Rent Price2$15$271Min. Value
Median Rent Price per Sq. Ft.2$0.46$2.19Min. Value
3-Month Difference in Median Rent Price per Sq. Ft.1$0.01$0.27Min. Value
WFH-Friendliness
Rank in LawnStarter's "Best Cities for Remote Workers" Study31150Min. Value
Incentives
Availability of City, County, or State Incentive(s) for Incoming Remote Workers (Yes = 1, No = 0)201Max. Value

Sources: Bankrate, Homes.com, LawnStarter, MakeMyMove, Redfin, U.S. Census Bureau, Zillow

Why This Study Matters

Working from your kitchen table and Zooming with your team from your bed isn’t ideal — or sustainable. Neither is paying thousands in rent for the 500-square-foot one bedroom you share with your partner and two dogs.

Unfortunately, that’s the reality for millions of remote workers these days. The good news: Many cities offer extra wiggle room — including an actual yard and other natural amenities — for a much smaller price tag. Some cities will even pay you to move there.

Many newly minted remote workers already seized this opportunity during the pandemic and fled big cities for quieter, more affordable towns. That led to overheated suburban real estate markets, bidding wars, and empty apartment buildings in urban cores.

But local housing markets show signs of cooling, while rental markets have begun stabilizing, which suggests demand is starting to taper off. 

So if you’re asking yourself when to take the leap, the answer is now. This study highlights the cities where remote workers face the least competition for space and will save the most cash. 

Happy house or apartment hunting!

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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Staff Writer