Big-city life has always been a major trade-off: the amazing job opportunities, cultural resources, and endless options for dining and nightlife weighed against cumulous-scraping prices for homes with a tiny footprint. Looming large over the equation has been the common goal of keeping work commutes as short and easy as possible. But the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 turned all that upside down. Suddenly plenty of office workers (and their employers) have made a startling discovery: They can do their jobs just as well remotely! So, it stands to reason, why not do it somewhere cheaper?
After spending seemingly endless months of Zooming from the bedroom, schooling in the living room, and lingering in the bathroom for a few precious extra moments of privacy, many families have been packing up their urban cubbyholes in favor of large homes out in the country or the ‘burbs.
According to the Pew Research Center, even back in June, at least 1 in 5 adults had moved, or knew someone who had moved, due to the pandemic.
If employers let their workers go remote permanently, suddenly folks could go anywhere—anywhere that has a decent internet connection and good living conditions, that is. So where are the best places for folks to escape the biggest, priciest cities? The industrious data team at realtor.com® (working remotely, of course) is here to help!
We focused on more affordable metropolitan areas, all but one with home list prices under the national $350,000 median. They offer the magical combo of low home prices and reasonable cost of living as well as fast-speed internet so folks don’t uncomfortably freeze in their work meetings. We also made sure these metros have plenty of businesses and fun/interesting places to explore when the pandemic ends. Because it will end. (Metros include the main city and surrounding smaller towns, urban areas, and suburbs.)
“With so much more time spent at home, there’s more urgency to try to address a fit that’s not quite right,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com®. “People’s priorities and needs have shifted as a result of changes in the way we live now.”
To come up with the best places to telecommute, we scoured the 100 largest metros for the ones with access to high-speed internet (at least 250 Mbps), affordable home prices, and a low cost of living. The data came from realtor.com, the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Only one metro per state was included to ensure geographic diversity.
Ready to peruse the greener grasses? Let’s check out the best places to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic—and beyond!
1. Syracuse, NY
Median listing price: $199,950*
The ‘Cuse might be cold as hell come wintertime, but what it lacks in sunny warmth it makes up for in space, affordability, and connectivity. Verizon’s high-speed Fios is available throughout much of the city, and the company launched what it claims is the fastest 5G network in the world just last month.
Buyers who want to settle down in this college town can easily find a nice home with room for an office and some outdoor space, including this small four-bedroom listed for just $104,900. However, in the COVID-19 era, many of the new residents who have been flocking to Syracuse from pricey downstate (the New York City metro area) have been opting for even more space outside the city proper, into the suburbs and surrounding rural ZIP codes with slightly slower web speed. Like everything else, it’s a trade-off.
For less than the cost of a Manhattan studio, buyers have been snatching up sprawling properties just a 20-minute drive from downtown, including this large three-bedroom on nearly 3.5 acres for $689,900 or this four-bedroom on more than an acre for just $199,900.
“In greater Onondaga County we have a lot of access to high-speed internet and whatnot,” says Sarah Barrows, a licensed real estate salesperson with Keller Williams Realty Syracuse. “We’ve enabled a lot of people to work from home.”
2. Akron, OH
Median listing price: $179,950
Cleveland may have the Browns, Indians, Monsters, and Cavaliers—heck, it even had LeBron!—but Akron has high-speed internet. A whopping 98.95% of its residents have access to broadband, which makes it a better place to work from home. (But if you’re watching a game on your big screen, does it really matter how close you are?)
The well-connected metro offers home seekers plenty of room to roam. The northern part of the city is full of beautiful parks, including a national park. So those looking for easy access to nature need not travel far at the end of the workday and school day from places like this three-bedroom ranch for $225,000 or this three-bedroom on an acre lot right on the perimeter of Cuyahoga Valley National Park for $238,400.
3. Scranton, PA
Median listing price: $194,550
Scranton and greater Northeastern Pennsylvania already had a scorching-hot home market before the pandemic due to its growing population and burgeoning jobs market. Earlier this spring—at the height of the state’s COVID-19 shutdown—new listings plummeted by 78%, the third-steepest decrease in the nation. New listings are up now, but they are still flying off the multiple listing service.
A surge of new residents fleeing pricey metros like New York City has driven up prices throughout Lehigh Valley—but they’re still far cheaper than in the big cities. Some home buyers, lured to Electric City by Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti’s “Work From Here” initiative this summer, put in offers without even stepping foot on the property.
It sounds crazy, but the $359,000 that can’t even buy a shoebox in Manhattan can get a historic five-bedroom home on 1.5 acres in Scranton’s stunning East Mountain or a cute three-bedroom with a covered porch for just $205,000.
Median listing price: $285,050
While many restaurants have been struggling with takeout and reduced capacity, pizzerias have been one of the few winners of the pandemic. Talk about comfort at home. Why not cut living expenses while picking up some of the best pies in the United States to eat in your sprawling abode?
New Haven’s renowned clam pizzas (try ’em!) may not be the reason Big Apple residents have been relocating to Elm City in droves—but they certainly don’t hurt matters. The city and its surrounding ZIP codes have received an influx of New Yorkers packing up their apartments for spacious single-family homes near the shore. Homes such as this three-bedroom in Historic City Point listed for $205,000 and this West Haven five-bedroom Colonial Cape for just $199,500 have been in high demand all summer.
“If they’re trading the New York City lifestyle, most buyers want a different lifestyle near the water,” says Regina Sauer, a Realtor® with Frank D’Ostilio Real Living Milford. “And they definitely want a lot of space to work from home and teach children from home.”
5. El Paso, TX
Median listing price: $226,000
Due to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and their corresponding pressure on the local medical system, El Paso County is currently in the midst of another shutdown. But the city is still considered one of the best places to work remotely in terms of affordability, internet speed—nearly 97% of the population has access to broadband—and weather. Daytime highs in the winter range from the high 50s to low 60s, making it easy to socially distance outdoors year-round when your northern brethren are stuck inside.
Just northwest of downtown, buyers can take advantage of the sunshine from the comfort of their backyard pool, starting in the mid-$200,000s, like this four-bedroom with a den listed for $270,000 and this four-bedroom with two living areas for just $247,500. With those kinds of setups, why would you even want to leave the house?
Median listing price: $329,050
Even before the pandemic prompted many urbanites to rethink the skyscraper-high rents and home prices in places like New York City and San Francisco, there were plenty of folks decamping for New Orleans. The walkable city has just as much culture and even better food (and drink) than most major metros for a tiny fraction of the price.
In centrally located, desirable neighborhoods, the competition for homes is tough, though. The average single-family home price across the metro has risen by more than 6% from the same time period last year. But buyers can still find lovely homes in those sorts of neighborhoods for a whole lot less than in equally attractive burgs around the country.
This charming Mid-City three-bedroom, within walking distance to City Park, is listed for $335,000, and this nearby three-bedroom Arts and Crafts bungalow with covered porch and tree-covered yard is asking $395,000.
Median listing price: $299,950
The suburbs surrounding Milwaukee have experienced a swell of new homeowners since the start of the pandemic. City dwellers from both the Cream City and nearby Chicago have been getting into bidding wars over spacious homes close to downtown in areas like New Berlin and Wauwatosa.
You remember this was one of the battleground states, right? In conservative New Berlin, buyers have been seeking out houses with grassy lawns, including this three-bedroom with a finished basement (office anyone?) for $259,000. In Democrat-leaning Wauwatosa, homes are generally a bit more expensive, but buyers can still find deals that are far more affordable than in similar neighborhoods, including this sprawling four-bedroom that could use a few updates for $264,900.
Regardless of which way they lean politically, many of these folks have been prompted to seek a change of scene due to the pandemic.
“We’re seeing this dynamic of younger people moving to suburbs because they don’t want to be on lockdown,” says Michael Borowski, owner/broker of Homestead Realty. “People are moving outside of the city because of COVID, and employers are not requiring them to come back to their physical workplace anymore.”
Median listing price $399,950
Rhode Island is so tiny, the Providence metropolitan statistical area encompasses the entire state plus Southeastern Massachusetts. And the whole metro area is seeing a massive influx of people relocating from cities like New York and Boston, says Amanda Nickerson Toste, broker associate and partner at Sakonnet Homes.
“The hotter markets are in the rural areas,” she notes.
However, the internet in rural Rhode Island has been struggling to meet the demand of all the people needing Zoom or Google Hangouts for school and work. To get the best connections, buyers need to look toward Providence and its nearby suburbs. Barrington, for example, is known for its great schools (and correspondingly high taxes and home prices), proximity to downtown, and safe, rural vibe with high-speed internet.
There, it’s possible to get into a home with an office starting in the high-300,000s, including this historic three-bedroom listed for $384,900 and this three-bedroom Cape Cod on an acre for just $379,000.
Median listing price: $272,050
U.S. News and World Report recently ranked this Midwestern metro at No. 5 on its Best Places to Live list, and it certainly has a lot going for it. It’s home to nearly 60 company headquarters, numerous parks, and interconnected bike trails. Pre-pandemic, the recently revitalized downtown was a lovely place to dine out, and it surely will be postpandemic, too. And more than 90% of its population has access to ultrafast internet.
As is the case with most metros these days, many young families who are working remotely are looking for deals on homes with extra space inside and out. About 20 minutes southwest of Des Moines, and just a 10-minute drive from Blank Park Zoo, the suburb of Norwalk has been seeing a ton of young parents due to its affordable price points and higher-performing schools for the past few years—and that trend has continued through the pandemic.
The walkable town offers first-time buyers a chance to get into large homes starting in the $200,000 range, including this three-bedroom with an office and deck for $249,000 and this four-bedroom with a decked-out yard listed at $269,000.
10. St Louis, MO
Median listing price: $274,950
While St. Louis is justly famed for its iconic Gateway Arch, it also boasts 700 life science and agriculture technology firms, a thriving startup scene, 45 colleges and universities, nationally acclaimed restaurants, and one of the best zoos in the county. And it’s also one of the 25 most affordable cities in the United States, with a standard of living higher than 95% of other cities, says Luan Meredith, broker/owner of Realty and Associates.
After years of downtown revitalization, the suburbs surrounding the city have been seeing a surge of new residents this year, with many young families looking for fully renovated homes with separate spaces for spouses to work and kids to study. Even in highly desirable neighborhoods with coveted school districts, like Kirkwood, buyers can find great deals, including this convertible three-bedroom with a loft for $339,000 and this cute two-bedroom with recently finished extra spaces for $260,000. That extra square footage and new renovations are exactly what St. Louis buyers have been snatching up in droves.
“Now they all want a bigger house, or better house, or newer house,” says Meredith. “It’s the younger generation that’s growing and moving up.”
* Median home list prices are from October using the most recent realtor.com data available.