WFH could be big business for realtors

Remote workers may not return to the office but that doesn’t mean they don’t want dedicated office space in their homes.
Feature Wfh More Space Needed Panel

An interesting trend seems to be emerging as many professionals continue to work from home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, eschewing a return to the office.

Since many workers have readily adapted to working from home, traditional commercial office spaces are sitting empty and business leaders are seriously considering the need for maintaining brick-and-mortar offices for their entire staffs. However, just because workers don’t want to return to the office, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to establish more effective workspaces at home, and a new survey indicates they may be looking at home upgrades to accomplish their goal.

CommercialCafe, a nationwide commercial real estate listings platform, recently surveyed 4,384 people who have been working from home, asking them about their professional setup at home, their level of satisfaction, their must-haves, and whether or not they plan to change anything.

Highlights from the survey include:

  • Only 36% of respondents reported having a dedicated space for work in their homes, while nearly half work in their kitchens, living rooms, or other areas around the house.
  • A stable internet connection is the No. 1 must-have for working from home, followed closely by having a proper desk and a suitable chair.
  • However, these seem to be the very things that workers are still missing in their home office setups: 31% of respondents still don’t have a desk, 31% are missing a good chair, and 27% lack the privacy they need during work hours.
  • Of those planning to make changes to their workspace, 58% are considering buying or renting a larger home.

Wfh Must Haves

“Buyers are absolutely asking for homes with amenities like a home office or just more bedrooms,” notes Michelle Goetzinger, a residential real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. “The most common request is for an extra bedroom. It’s almost always for an office. Homes with finished basements, an office, and/or a play space for the kids is now top of mind, as is the coming winter when it will be too cold to be outside for long periods of time.

“Home builders have [begun adding] new offerings such as a basement office that is soundproof or an area on one of the main floors that can double as a play and study room,” adds Goetzinger.

Michael Shapot, a real estate broker with Compass, says his post-COVID experience reflects the desire for larger living space, which can better incorporate a work area and better accommodate the need to work remotely and home school children.

“Many are moving away from the city in favor of more space in the suburbs or the country,” says Shapot. “It’s not only larger space that’s in demand, but different space configurations as well. The popular open concept model conflicts with families that now have multiple people working from home, children attending school via Zoom, other family members who may want to watch TV or use the phone, etc. Smaller, more segregated spaces are in demand, so everyone can have their own space to work, learn, relax, or otherwise live with minimal disturbances.”

“Nearly every buyer we have worked with recently has expressed interest in a home large enough to accommodate an office or study area,” says Tyler Forte of Felix Homes. “Something we’ve also learned over the past few months is that buyers prefer to have an office near the back of the house. This may be because it’s distracting to have family members coming and going throughout the day if the office is located near the front door.”

“There are people who want to stay in the city — particularly millennials — who prefer apartments/houses with extra bedrooms that can be used as offices,” adds Andrew Kolodgie of The House Guys. “Rents have dropped significantly for studios and single bedroom apartments but remain the same for two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments. We perceive the price stabilization as an indication of the demand change.”

The Wisconsin residential real estate market has certainly picked up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a signal that homebuyers are eager to improve their combined living and working conditions. While the initial uncertainty and effects of the pandemic created a slight decrease in June home sales compare to the same month in 2019, very robust sales growth in July and a slight improvement in the August market pushed summer home sales to 27,795, which is the strongest summer sales volume on record for the state, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA).

New construction also has improved in 2020. Through July, single-family housing units authorized by building permits were up 9.3% over the first seven months of 2019, a sign that points to the growing shift among millennials to owner-occupied housing over rentals. “Hopefully this trend will continue and help to eventually ease the supply problem in the state,” says WRA President and CEO Michael Theo.

“I think that the trend of homes with enough room to accommodate an office will not disappear after the pandemic is over,” notes Forte of Felix Homes. “As employers continue to accept more flexible working conditions, a home office may become a mandatory feature for any desirable home.”

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