Searching for a home used to be simple. Real estate agents would plug in a client’s desired bedroom count, location and square footage and filter by price to find potential fits.
Now, with the rise of remote work and working from home, agents say buyers are much more specific — and technical. They want high-speed internet, fiber connections and strong cell service. They request home offices (sometimes two) with privacy, soundproofed walls and good lighting for Zoom calls.
Toni Frana, a career coach at FlexJobs, has been working remotely since 2012, and for her, the trend is no surprise. “I’ve moved from one end of the country to the other five times since becoming a full-time remote worker,” Frana says. “I always prioritize looking for the right workspace first.”
It looks like Frana’s home-office-first approach will become more common in the years to come. According to a recent McKinsey survey, nine out of 10 companies will keep remote work arrangements, at least partially, even after the pandemic.
“Many agents thought the demand for home offices would wane as the pandemic became more under control, but it appears that so many people are opting now to work from home even though their offices are open,” says Kelly Moye, a real estate agent with Compass in Boulder, Colorado. “It looks like the high-tech, private home office space is here to stay as one of real estate’s most valuable features.”
Hunting for a home office
According to a survey from the National Association of Home Builders, 63% of today’s buyers want a home office. Nearly a quarter? They say they’re downright “essential.”
So essential, in fact, that buyers are willing to pay a premium. Data shows that homes with offices sell for about 3.4% more than homes without. That’s the difference between a $356,700 price tag (today’s national median) and $368,827 — over $12,000 more. Properties with home offices also sell nine days faster.
“The home office is now a must-have,” says Phillip Salem, an agent with Compass in New York City. “It’s no longer just a nice-to-have.”
Unfortunately, home offices aren’t always easy to find — at least technically speaking. Though agents can list “study” rooms on multiple listing services, the local listing databases used by real estate pros, many agents lump these in as extra bedrooms instead. While an extra bedroom could add anywhere from $5,000 to “tens of thousands” to a home’s sale price, according to Incenter Appraisal Management, the tactic makes it hard to spot home offices off the bat.
Buyer preferences also complicate things — and agents say buyers have a pretty detailed idea of what they want in an office.
“Buyers want a place that is closed off, allows for privacy but is cheerful with light and sun — not a dingy basement,” Moye says. “They ask specifically about strong internet connections and soundproofing features.”
According to Warburg Realty agent Steve Gottlieb, the size and style of the office also matters, particularly for those who will be using Zoom and other video tools often.
“With meetings taking place on video conferences more than ever, employees are conscientious of their colleagues seeing into their homes,” Gottlieb says. “The home office can no longer just be a computer setup. It needs to look neat and professional on-screen.”
While home office requests can be difficult to fulfill, for real estate agents, the biggest hurdle may be the tech-related questions that come with them.
“I have never had so many people ask me to get download and upload speeds,” says Trenton Hogg, a Redfin agent in Chanhassen, Minnesota. “It’s really quite technical. Those aren’t things I just have on hand.”
Today’s buyers want details on internet providers, download speeds, fiber connections and cell phone carriers. Some even ask about outdoor Wi-Fi or specific companies and providers. (Verizon Fios is a big request in New York, where service — both cell and Wi-Fi, can vary widely from one area to the next.)
“I have seen buyers asking about the general quality of internet service in certain buildings, as well as cell service, since some buildings don't get great cell service,” says Michael J. Franco, an agent with Compass in New York.
New construction buyers are also getting in on the high-tech home office game. In fact, KB Home, the fifth-largest builder in America, launched an entire home office package last August due to increased requests.
The basic office (which ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 typically) boasts things like extra-wide counter spaces, USB charging outlets, data ports and open shelving, and buyers can add on upgrades like soundproofing, phone jacks and custom lighting packages. KB also partners with companies like AT&T Fiber, Cox and OnTech to ensure connections are up to speed.
“Buyers are certainly paying more attention to the connectivity of their new homes,” says Dan Bridleman, KB Home’s vice president of sustainability, technology and strategic sourcing. “At the end of the day, they want to be reassured that the technology, especially when it comes to their internet, will meet the increased usage.”