Quick Takeaways

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the commute for many workers, with more offices shifting to remote or hybrid work.
  • Homebuyers are willing to accept a longer commute for greater affordability.
  • Distant “zoom towns” have grown in popularity, but the trend may not last.
  • Access to green commuting options may be an important factor for some buyers.

Prior to the pandemic, commute times had reached an all-time high. As more Americans switched to remote work, they used the time savings to devote more hours to their jobs, home lives, and leisure activities. Now that more offices are reopening for in-person work, some workers are reluctant to return to their former commutes. Other offices have embraced a hybrid work environment, which may have a lasting impact on commuting patterns.

Homebuyer preferences have changed significantly since the pandemic began. The shift to remote or hybrid works means that buyers are more willing to live further from the office. With home prices rising, buyers also prefer the greater affordability of more distant locations.

Some buyers have taken this to an even greater extreme by moving to resort locations in the mountains or near the beach. These “zoom towns” are experiencing population growth they may not be prepared for. Buyers should carefully weigh the pros and cons of zoom towns before buying. Experts warn that the current popularity of zoom towns may be short lived as prices rise and more workers return to the office.

Many workers are choosing green commuting options for health and environmental reasons. Green commuting may include biking, walking, public transit, or a combination. Bike commuting has grown in popularity over the past 20 years, particularly in areas with robust biking infrastructures.

There are a number of websites to help buyers factor in their commute when looking for a home. Buyers can calculate the length of time and financial cost of driving or taking public transit, calculate bikeability and walkability of neighborhoods, and find transportation agencies in their area.

See References for more information.


NAR Library & Archives has already done the research for you. References (formerly Field Guides) offer links to articles, eBooks, websites, statistics, and more to provide a comprehensive overview of perspectives. EBSCO articles (E) are available only to NAR members and require the member's nar.realtor login.

Commuting Issues

Offices Reopen with Safety Plans, but Big-City Commutes Spook Workers (The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 14, 2021)

Compared to commuting methods prior to the pandemic, a greater number of workers plan to commute by car, while fewer plan to choose public transportation. Despite safety protocols within the office, many workers are uncomfortable with potential COVID exposure on mass transit.

Commuting’s Impact on Creativity (Harvard Magazine, Sep.-Oct. 2021)

A study of inventors and commute length “revealed that for every 10 miles of added travel distance, the firms that employed those inventors registered 8 percent fewer patents. Even more dramatic, the patents’ quality—measured by the number of times a patent was cited by other inventors—dropped 11 percent with every 10 miles added to an inventors’ commute.”

More Workers Are Returning to the Office. The Pandemic-Era Commute Might Be Changed Forever. (The Washington Post, Jul. 30, 2021)

As some offices shift to fully remote or hybrid work environments, experts predict a significant impact on traffic and public transit patterns for years to come.

Census Bureau Estimates Show Average One-Way Travel Time to Work Rises to All-Time High (U. S. Census Bureau, Mar. 18, 2021)

The “Travel Time to Work in the United States: 2019” report reveals an average one-way commute of 27.6 minutes in 2019, a 10% increase since the report began in 2006.

60 Million Fewer Commuting Hours Per Day: How Americans Use Time Saved by Working from Home (Becker Friedman Institute, Sep. 20, 2020)

“Drawing on original surveys of our own design, we estimate that the pandemic-induced shift to working from home lowers commuting time among Americans by more than 60 million hours per work day. Cumulative time savings over the past seven months exceed 9 billion hours. Our survey data also say that Americans devote about 35% of the time savings to their primary jobs and about 60% to work activities of all sorts, including household chores and child care. The allocation of time savings is broadly similar for men and women and across groups defined by race and ethnicity, but it differs substantially by education group and between persons with and without children at home.”

Commuting and Where to Live

For Home Buyers, Length of Commute Drops in Importance, New Data Shows (Wall Street Journal, Jul. 21, 2021)

“[C]ommute length has declined in importance for home buyers, as many workers expect to travel to their offices less often going forward. At the same time, rapidly rising prices have made affordability a bigger concern for many buyers.”

Remote Work Is Highly Valued by 2021 Homebuyers (realtor.com®, May 12, 2021)

“[T]hese markets indicate that for many Americans, the forward-looking employment landscape is a hybrid one, which involves some time in an office, along with remote work capabilities. This expectation was clear in homebuyers’ willingness to look much farther away from downtown office centers, drawing a wider, 2-hour or longer potential commute circle.”

NAR 2020 Community and Transportation Preference Survey (National Association of REALTORS®, Jul. 2020)

“Results from the Coronavirus Update to the 2020 Community and Transportation Preferences Survey generally continue the trends from previous surveys of the top fifty metropolitan areas. However, younger respondents – especially those with children at home – show some effects of the pandemic. Among these respondents there is a reduced need to be near highways and public transit or to have a home with a short commute to work.”

If You’re Lucky Enough to Work from Home, Where Will Home Be After the Pandemic? (Rice University, May 27, 2020)

An increase in remote work across the United States has the potential to reshape our cities and suburbs as workers become less tied to physical office locations.

Realtor.com Commute Time Filter (realtor.com®, Jul. 3, 2019)

Search tool from Realtor.com® allows potential buyers to filter their home search by length of commute during rush hour and off-peak times.

Zoom Towns

Are Zoom Towns the New Boomtowns? (NAIOP, Apr. 29, 2021)

While workers move to zoom towns in search of more space, lower costs of living, and proximity to outdoor amenities, they also bring challenges such as heavier traffic, school overcrowding, and increased demand on broadband services.

What Are Zoom Towns, and Should You Invest in One? (Millionacres, Nov. 12, 2020)

“If you're going to invest in a zoom town, do your research and be sure to proceed with caution. While buying in a zoom town may work out, be aware of the ways your investment could backfire.”

Is Your Housing Market Considered a ‘Zoom Town’? (REALTOR® Magazine, Sep. 16, 2020)

Some beach and mountain towns have seen significant price increases as workers take advantage of increased flexibility during the pandemic. However, the high prices could eventually lead to reduced demand.

Booming ‘Zoom Towns’ Should Ease City Housing Costs (Bloomberg Opinion, Aug. 5, 2020) E

“As well-paid knowledge workers who can do their jobs anywhere now flock to these "Zoom towns," home prices are surging and housing inventory is dwindling. Normally, high prices and low inventory would lead to a construction boom, but many of these communities tightly regulate new building. The upshot might be a brief boom that gets choked off by unsustainable prices.”

Green Commuting

The State of Bike Commuting in The US (Bike Adviser, May 2021)

Statistics on bike commuting in the U.S. show that western states have the highest percentages of bike commuters while southeastern states have the lowest. The majority of bike commuters are men, making up 71% of all people who commute by bike.

Switching from Cars to Bikes Cuts Commuting Emissions by 67% (Bloomberg, Mar. 31, 2021) E

“Small changes in citizens' transport habits can significantly cut their carbon footprint, according to an in-depth study of commuting data from more than 3,800 people across seven cities. Choosing a bike over a car just once a day reduces an average citizen's carbon emissions from transport by 67%...”

Bike Commuting to Work – Health, Time & Safety Considerations (Money Crashers, Dec. 15, 2020)

New bike commuters should consider cost investments, health benefits, impact on time and productivity, and safety issues. Preparation is key to successful bike commuting.

‘Corona Cycleways’ Become the New Post-Confinement Commute (The New York Times, Jun. 12, 2020)

“As European cities emerge from quarantines, bicycles are playing a central role in getting the work force moving again. Governments are trying to revive their economies from a deep recession, but can’t fully rely on public transportation to get workers to their jobs because of the need for social distancing. In urban areas at least, bicycles are suddenly an unlikely component to restarting economic growth.”

Green Commuting: How to Do It and Why It’s Important (Blue & Green Tomorrow, Oct. 22, 2018)

People choose green commuting over driving for improved health, mood, and environmental outcomes. Options for green commuting include biking, walking, public transportation, or a combination of these methods.

Commuting Websites

Public Transportation Savings Calculator (Public Transportation.org, 2021)

Tool from the National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates uses gas mileage, commute length, and fuel cost to calculate the annual savings of using public transportation rather than a car.

Housing + Transportation Affordability Index (Center for Neighborhood Technology)

“The Housing and Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index provides a comprehensive view of affordability that includes both the cost of housing and the cost of transportation at the neighborhood level.”

Walk Score (WalkScore)

Locations are scored by walkability, transit, and bike infrastructure. Enter a work location to calculate the time length of various commuting options.

U.S. Local & State Transit Links (American Public Transportation Association, 2021)

Listing of all transit agencies across the U. S., organized by state. Includes local and regional agencies of every size.

eBooks & Other Resources


The following eBooks and digital audiobooks are available to NAR members:

Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (eBook)

Knack Cycling for Everyone: A Guide to Road, Mountain, and Commuter Biking (eBook)

Will Work from Home (eBook)

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