So You’re Looking for a New Place. Should You Still Make a Commute Time a Priority?

published Aug 27, 2020
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Credit: Lauren Naefe/Stocksy

As any “House Hunters” fan can tell you, commute time has historically been one of the most important factors in deciding where to live. When the choice is narrowed down to two homes that are very similar in most regards, the one that offers a shorter trip to the office in the morning will often come out on top.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many people suddenly found themselves working from home. Five months in, workplaces are adapting to let employees work at home in the long term, with high-profile companies like Twitter and Slack saying they’ll extend their work-from-home policies indefinitely

Now that this shift has taken place, is commute time still a major factor in real estate? Here’s what the future of the once-important factor for renters and buyers may look like.

Walking distances could eclipse traditional commute considerations

Especially for those who live in major metropolitan areas, public transportation was often the main commute option. In the wake of the coronavirus, people want to avoid trains, subways, buses, and any other crowded mode of transportation to prevent being infected, says says Ericka Rios, director of leasing for Chicago-based Downtown Apartment Company. For that reason, many aren’t as concerned with subway stops within walking distance—they’re looking for homes within walking distance of their workplaces.

“Our clients are very keen to live within a 15-minute walking distance of their workplace because they do not want to rely on public transportation,” Rios adds. “And they also want to be within walking distance of grocery stores, parks, and other daily necessities, because they find comfort in being able to access those goods and services easily.” 

Outdoor space may become a more important amenity than commuting distance

For some, commute times matter significantly less than last year, allowing other factors to become more important—and these days, outdoor space is more desirable than ever. While spending more time at home, personal outdoor space allows people to take a break from others in the household, and it also offers room for exercising when many people are no longer headed to the gym.

There’s evidence that coronavirus is less likely to spread outdoors, giving people another reason to prioritize backyards, patios, decks, and balconies, which offer a venue to safely socialize with friends and family.

“Instead of looking for places close to work, people are looking for places with outdoor space, and care more about square footage than ever before,” says Erika Benadom, marketing manager at Dwellsy, a rental marketplace site. “Some are even looking to increase their bedroom count in a neighborhood that is more affordable so they can have a home office.”

Gilad Rom, founder of Huan, a California-based company that makes smart pet tags, says having a yard and proximity to a park have become the most important parts of finding a new home—especially as his company is now fully remote.

“Commute time is no longer a factor for me in deciding where to live,” Rom says. “I’m a dog owner, so I choose to live in a safe neighborhood with lots of parks where I can take my dog for walks. Having a big backyard is also handy for my dog to run around in when I’m busy running my business from my laptop.”

It might not be far-fetched to abandon an easy commute requirement altogether

One realtor thinks commute time won’t be a deciding factor in choosing a home going forward—at all.

“Commute time, measured in how many steps to the subway, express bus, or other means of transportation will no longer be a factor in deciding where one lives,” says Gerard Splendore with Warburg Realty. “The coffee shop or breakfast spot, dry cleaner, and newspaper stand on the way to and from the subway, which were once so important, will no longer be crucial.”

Instead, Splendore thinks people will put a premium on factors that are conducive to operating an efficient home office, including internet access, proximity to FedEx and mail centers, convenience of office supply deliveries, and lunch takeout options.