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Working From Home? Find The Best Places To Live In 2021

by Liz Taylor Posted on January 4, 2021

Where would you move if you had the freedom to live where you want? Now that the pandemic has opened the floodgates to working from home, experts agree that the shift to working from home is mostly here to stay. As a result, forecasters predict that in 2021 more people will be moving to the suburbs, exurbs, and smaller cities to find more affordability and space.

Not only is working from home spurring people to leave cities for suburbs, more are also moving long-distance, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers and 600 real estate professionals by Homes.com. Of the consumers who have moved or plan to move, 40% are relocating more than 100 miles away, and half of those are moving more than 500 miles. 

So don’t be afraid to consider moving to an entirely new part of the country, as there’s never been a better time to make your relocation dreams a reality. Here’s a look at some of the top locations to consider, as well as some tips on what to look for when you’re deciding on the best place to live.

Zillow and Yelp’s top 10 affordable suburbs with a city feel:

Zillow and Yelp’s map of the top 10 affordable suburbs with a city feel
Credit: Zillow and Yelp

Best places to live now that you’re working from home

While many remote workers are taking advantage of their newfound freedom to move to be closer to family or enjoy warmer weather, you may be simply trying to escape the exorbitant real estate prices and cramped conditions of the big city. But you also may not want to give up the city vibe and host of urban amenities you’ve come to love.

If that’s you, then you should take a look at the new Cityness Index by Zillow and Yelp, designed for buyers seeking locations that offer more affordability and indoor-outdoor space while keeping a big-city feel. Based on the Cityness Index factors, here are the top 10 affordable suburbs with a city feel, expanded with resources to learn more. Read on, or click to jump to the locations that interest you most:

  1. Waterbury, Connecticut
  2. Lowell, Massachusetts
  3. Joliet, Illinois
  4. Sunrise, Florida
  5. Pasadena, Texas
  6. Lancaster, California
  7. Hampton, Virginia
  8. Marietta, Georgia
  9. Norman, Oklahoma
  10. Tempe, Arizona

    1. Waterbury, Connecticut

    Housing affordability is a major draw, as the typical Waterbury home value of $139,000 is 29% less expensive than the typical home in New Haven and 46% less expensive than the typical U.S. home, according to Zillow. Its strategic location between New Haven and Hartford (about 40 minutes from each) is another major asset for this leafy New England city of 100,000.

    With over 20 distinct and diverse neighborhoods, Waterbury has some of the most active community associations in Connecticut, which are intent on protecting their small-town character and livability. From neighborhood block parties, concerts, sports clubs, and arts markets to Broadway plays at the historic Palace Theater and exhibits at the Mattatuck Museum, there is no shortage of things to do in Waterbury.

    Lowell, Massachusetts
    (Credit: Like Lowell via Facebook)

    2. Lowell, Massachusetts

    With typical home values of $323,000 -- about half what you’d expect to pay in Boston proper -- Lowell combines affordability with history and culture. Known as the birthplace of both the Industrial Revolution and Jack Kerouac, Lowell is about 45 minutes by car or train from Boston. The city of about 112,000 residents is also home to the UMass Lowell campus, bringing the attributes of a top research university.

     The cobblestone streets and former mill buildings of downtown are part of Lowell National Historical Park, established in 1979 as the first urban National Park in the country. Lowell features restaurants representing more than a dozen cultures, as well as a thriving arts and festival scene.

    The Merrimack River winds through Lowell city center, while a state forest nearby offers over 1,000 acres for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Lowell's neighborhoods are a diverse reflection of the city's many populations, each with its own character and history. The eight distinct neighborhoods include: Pawtucketville, Centralville, Highlands, The Acre, Downtown, Back Central, South Lowell and Belvidere.

    Joliet, Illinois neighborhood
    (Credit: City of Joliet, Illinois, Government via Facebook)

    3. Joliet, Illinois

    The typical home in Joliet costs about $155,000 -- 40% less than a similar home in Chicago. Located on the first 100 miles of historic Route 66, about 45 miles southwest of Chicago, Joliet is known as the “Crossroads of Mid-America.” Today, it’s served by two Metra commuter lines, Amtrak, and two major interstates. The third largest city in Illinois, Joliet has about 150,000 residents, while retaining a small-town atmosphere.

    Joliet Junior College and the University of St. Francis each have two campus locations within the city. Major Joliet attractions include historic downtown architecture, Harrah’s Casino, Hollywood Casino, Joliet Slammers baseball at Silver Cross Field, NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet Historical Museum, Route 66 Visitors Center, Ironworks Park, Bicentennial Park, and four regional bicycle trails. 

    Sawgrass Sanctuary in Sunrise, FL
    Sawgrass Sanctuary
    (Credit: Sunrise Florida Government via Facebook)

    4. Sunrise, Florida

    With a typical home value of $243,000, homes in Sunrise, are 36% less expensive than in the city of Miami. About 30 minutes away from Ft. Lauderdale's beaches, and less than an hour from Miami and Palm Beach, Sunrise is bordered by I-595, I-75 and the Sawgrass Expressway, and just west of the Florida Turnpike. The city of 92,000 is also easily accessible by three international airports and two deep-water ports.

    While Sunrise is a popular retirement location, it’s also family-friendly, with 12 public schools and award-winning recreation facilities, including Sawgrass Sanctuary, a 20-acre park and learning center that features a hiking/bicycling trail, fishing pier and boardwalk. An active Citizen Volunteer Corps involves all ages in community activities, encouraging a small-town spirit.

    Young cowboy at the Pasadena Livestock Show & Rodeo in Pasadena, TX.
    (Credit: Pasadena Livestock Show & Rodeo via Facebook)

    5. Pasadena, Texas

    Founded in 1893 and named after Pasadena, California because of its lush vegetation, Pasadena in Texas offers a small affordability edge over nearby Houston, with a typical home value of $168,000, or 14% lower. The city of about 150,000 residents is just 10 miles or 20 minutes away from Houston.

    Pasadena, TX has built a family-friendly community with 43 parks and an abundance of public facilities, including four youth recreation centers, five swimming pools, a golf course, and an adaptive recreation center dedicated to people of all ages with disabilities. With 2,500 acres of forests and marshlands, Pasadena’s Armand Bayou Nature Center is the largest urban wildlife preserve in the U.S. The Pasadena Livestock Show and Rodeo, founded in 1949 to keep the city’s cowboy and agricultural heritage alive, takes over the city each year, showcasing top-notch rodeo competition and musical artists as well as fun family events – all raising scholarship funds for local youth.

    6. Lancaster, California

    At $320,000, the typical Lancaster, CA home is less than half the price you'd expect to pay in the city of Los Angeles. About one hour north of L.A., Lancaster is the hub of the Antelope Valley, known for the beauty and clear blue skies (clean air!) of the California High Desert. With about 170,000 residents, the city of Lancaster has a bustling urban scene, with no shortage of things to do. The city’s BLVD Cultural District has been serving as an epicenter for major cultural events, shopping, and dining since the late 1800s.

    Home to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and annual California Poppy Festival, Musical Road, and the Aerospace Walk of Honor, Lancaster also offers an abundance of outdoor experiences. From the crimson cliffs of Red Rock Canyon State Park to an array of nature preserves and city parks, Lancaster presents an abundance of active pursuits.

    7. Hampton, Virginia

    Even with its miles of shoreline, the typical home values of $188,000 in Hampton, VA are nearly 60% less than nearby Virginia Beach and 36% less expensive than the typical U.S. home. Founded in 1610 at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, Hampton is one of the oldest U.S. cities and currently one of the fastest growing in the Hampton Roads region, with about 135,000 residents.

     Hampton offers diverse housing options, from waterfront homes and turn-of-the-century Victorians to new urban condominiums and affordable, family-friendly neighborhoods. While parents give Hampton schools higher than average ratings, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College provide opportunities for higher education. A vibrant arts community, festivals, and cultural attractions that include the Fort Monroe National Monument, Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton Coliseum, and The American Theatre, as well as harbor tours and cruises offer plenty of things to do in Hampton, VA.

    8. Marietta, Georgia

    About 20 to 40 minutes from downtown Atlanta, Marietta, GA draws people who seek the peace of a suburban town while still being close to the big city. Although Marietta’s typical home value of $318,000 is slightly higher than the city of Atlanta, it's still relatively more affordable than other nearby suburbs, like Sandy Springs and Brookhaven. 

    Beautiful antebellum homes and old downtown streets give a historic flair to everyday life here. With affordable homes, solid schools, thousands of acres of parks and protected land, and plenty of lively restaurants and shops, Marietta attracts all kinds of people — from families and history buffs to artists and urban farmers. 

    9. Norman, Oklahoma

    While homes in Norman are generally more expensive than those in Oklahoma City about 17 miles north, the typical home value of $180,000 still offers an affordability advantage over the typical U.S. home. As the home of the main campus of the University of Oklahoma and championship Sooners, Norman is far more than a bedroom community of Oklahoma City.

    Along with a thriving historic downtown district and arts scene, Norman has four historic neighborhoods, including the Miller, Silk Stocking, Chautauqua, and Southridge Historic Districts featuring distinctive architectural styles and eras. With about 120,000 residents, the city of Norman was recently recognized as one of the most progressive cities in the state and the Norman Public School system was rated the top school system in Oklahoma.

    10. Tempe, Arizona

    Like some of the other small cities on this list, Tempe’s typical home value of $338,000 is somewhat higher than nearby Phoenix. Yet the city is attracting people who prefer less noise and density, but still want the sophistication and choices that come with urban life. About 20 minutes east of Phoenix, Tempe is home to Arizona State University, which contributes to a bustling performing arts scene.

    With a population of 185,000, Tempe features a choice of dining, entertainment and shopping hubs, from downtown around Tempe Town Lake to Tempe Marketplace and Arizona Mills. With 335 days of sunshine, Tempe’s outdoors scene is nonstop, from hiking and paddle boarding to rock climbing and golf. 

    Want to explore more choices? The Cityness Index is just one resource for finding the best places to live when you’re working from home. The data experts at the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) developed a “Work from Home Score” for U.S. counties, based on factors like good internet connectivity, housing affordability, and the number of people there who are already working remotely. If your idea of the best place to live includes an area where you’re more likely to find supportive conditions for working from home, take a look at the top-ranking counties by the NAR Work from Home Score.

    Tips for finding your best place to live in 2021’s competitive market

    Location is only one part of finding your best place to live. If you’re working from home, you’re likely to want a home office, or at least, more square footage. But, in today’s market, you also need to succeed in leasing or buying a home. Home buyers in 2021 are expected to face the same challenges brought last year by the pandemic and other market factors -- namely competition for too few homes. While more sellers may be encouraged to place their homes on the market, industry experts expect greater demand to continue to put sellers in the driver’s seat, which means more homes will be attracting multiple offers. 

    If you’re looking to relocate and plan to buy a home, here are some ways to position yourself for success when you’re making an offer, based on Homes.com’s survey results:

    • Be prepared with a lender’s pre-approval letter. With 59% of home sellers less likely to even show a house without proof that you’re a qualified buyer, you need to take this step in advance. See these home buying tips for a quick primer on getting pre-approved for a mortgage.
    • Sell your own home first. While it used to be common for buyers to make an offer that’s contingent on the sale of their own home, 69% of sellers are now less flexible when it comes to accepting an offer with a contingency clause. You may need to consider temporary housing and portable storage as a way to bridge the gap between selling your own home and moving into a new one.
    • Expect to pay for repairs yourself. With 57% of sellers saying they’re less inclined to negotiate on repairs, consider what types of home improvements you’re prepared to make on your own dime.

    To be sure, the wider acceptance of remote work is one of the few silver linings to come out of 2020 and all of the struggles brought by the pandemic. If you’re fortunate to soon be working from home on a permanent basis, the new freedom this brings in terms of where you choose to live is truly a game changer. 
    Are you thinking about a relocation in 2021? You may want to use our ultimate moving checklist, as it’s never too soon to start planning.  

    Source: All home value data is based on Zillow data as of October, 2020.

    (Credit for image featured at top: Jonny Kennaugh via Unsplash)

    Liz Taylor is a freelance writer who keeps up with moving and storage trends while managing the PODS Containing the Chaos blog.

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