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1 in 3 Americans is open to moving if they can work remotely — but there's a catch

"We haven't seen the end of pandemic-driven relocation; there will be a second wave of migration."

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Almost 9 million Americans have relocated since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the National Association of Realtors — and more are willing to pack their bags.

Two-thirds of Americans would consider relocating if given the opportunity to work remotely indefinitely, or have already done so, according to new data from Redfin. That includes 34% of adults who have already moved to a different city or area in the last year, as well as another third who would like to move. The researchers polled 1,400 people in 32 major markets who bought or sold a home in the last 12 months, or plan to do so in the next 12 months.

As the data shows, though, there's a caveat: Most Americans who are willing to move or who have moved already still want to stay relatively close to home.

How far people are going, and how much money they make

Most of those relocating aren't going very far. Nearly 9 in 10 of those who have already relocated moved less than 50 miles away. And about 7 in 10 of those who want to move anticipate only going a similarly short distance, reinforcing the idea that many Americans are moving in search of more space.

Indeed, Redfin reports, "more than 50% of those who left New York moved to New Jersey."

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People who have relocated or who are up for it haven't been hit as hard financially during the pandemic as their peers. Those earning more than $150,000 per year represent the largest share of those who have already moved.

That's not surprising: Well-paid industries such as finance and professional services have the most people telecommuting, while many lower-paid jobs like in construction and hospitality may require workers to come in. And the employment rate has bounced back more quickly for high-income workers.

The future of remote work

An estimated 41% of Americans are working from home, reports UpWork. And according to the Redfin data, a striking 72% of homebuyers and sellers expect their remote work to continue.

"We haven't seen the end of pandemic-driven relocation; there will be a second wave of migration this year as permanent remote workers are able to let lifestyle preferences and affordability rather than proximity to the office dictate where they live," Daryl Fairweather, Redfin's chief economist, says in the report. "Although some people will return to offices this year as vaccines roll out, many more workers will remain remote. We expect even more homebuyers to be moving out of town this year as they solidify their remote-work plans."

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While many companies are rolling out long-term remote work plans, not every worker will get a chance to participate. It depends on the "company, role, and job description going forward," says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. "Some jobs indicate remote work 100% and others indicate remote for the time being," with certain stipulations, like having to come in one or two days per week. That could be easy enough if you're less than 50 miles away but challenging or impossible otherwise.

If you want to move, talk to your boss about what your company plans to do if you haven't already. This is key in deciding whether you can stay in your current role even if you move or if you may need to find a new job you can do from your new home.

Some jobs indicate remote work 100% and others indicate remote for the time being.
Vicki Salemi
career expert, Monster

"If you move to Colorado and pursue jobs in New York City," says Salemi, "video interviews will be fine for you wherever you are, and for the next several months it may be OK working from home in Colorado. But perhaps several months to a year from now, the employer will want you in the office full time or take a hybrid approach. It depends on several different variables."

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Both employers and employees have been "navigating rigorous challenges during these unprecedented times that have shown both our resiliency and flexibility," she says. "So, if you're contemplating moving, it's important to be flexible and open to change."

What to know before you move

The typical United States' home value is about $263,350 and has increased over 7% in the past year, according to Zillow. If you are looking to buy a place, plan carefully and save consistently.

"Whatever you think you can afford on a new home purchase, give it a test drive" in your current budget, Mark La Spisa, a certified financial planner and president of Vermillion Financial Advisors, told Grow last year. "Start saving the extra amount that is the difference between what you are spending now versus what you will spend after the new home purchase. Put this difference from projected expenses toward saving and trying out the new expense spending plan."

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There are programs that can help pay for your new home. Some first-time New Jersey buyers can qualify for a loan of up to $10,000 to cover the down payment and other closing costs, for example. Some residents of Colorado can be eligible for grants worth up to 3% of the mortgage that they don't have to pay back.

Whether you're moving for more space or a change of scenery, be sure to look at the full picture. Even similarly sized cities in different states can have very different cultures, and you'll want to be content where you are. Before jumping in, make sure the lifestyle you want fits with the neighborhood you're heading to because that can have a big impact on how long you stay.

There's no "one-size-fits-all" approach to deciding on a move, Salemi says. "Crunch some numbers to see what you're saving in terms of living expenses and taxes. Get analytical, evaluate pros and cons either in a spreadsheet or a list, look at the advantages and disadvantages financially, personally, professionally — and then make a decision."

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