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In the big estate game, there’s a new king on the board. The suburbs are not only alive, they’re thriving, and it’s all thanks to the game-changer that is flexible work. Who needs a skyscraper view when your office is your living room, and your commute is just a stroll from bed to desk?
“We expect WFH’s capacity to continue to be an incentive for young families to seek out more distant suburban and rural markets where housing may be more affordable,” notes a recent Bank of America report. It’s like trading a city flat containing sardines for a spacious and comfortable home. It’s not rocket science; It is simply the art of making work a job for you.
The five-day work week, like the dodo, is heading for extinction. “A little commute for a longer period isn’t a handicap” if you’re not in the office Monday through Friday, 9-5, says Lawrence Yoon, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. Not when you have the flexibility of where and when you work. Why put up with the daily urban rat race when you can occasionally roll with the relaxed suburban pace instead?
Related: A new trend of remote work is helping employers retain talent amid job market pressures
Millennials: Not urban at all
Remember when we thought millennials were city slickers, with their Uber rides and brunch habits? Turns out, they embrace the suburban dream as passionately as a child pouncing on the last slice of pizza.
Hyojung Lee, a professor of housing and property management at Virginia Tech, notes humorously, “We’ve always talked about millennials as urban people…but it turns out they’re not cool anymore.” In fact, about 45% of millennials now plan to buy homes in the suburbs, according to a recent Bank of America survey. That’s up from 33% in 2015. Maybe it’s not about being “cool” anymore but about being “clever.”
Gourmet Exodus: A Revolution in the Suburban Culinary World
This new migration to the suburbs isn’t just about homes and workplaces. It also transforms the gastronomic landscape. Urban retail vacancies overtook suburban vacancies in 2022, for the first time since 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal. Like ants on a stroll, restaurants and retailers are flocking to these thriving city centers.
Consider the salad chain, Sweetgreen. Once a downtown staple, it is now making the suburbs its main theater with 50% of its locations located there. And it’s not just salad—even top chefs choose suburban cities for their next culinary adventures. It is as if the suburbs have become the new Manhattan of the restaurant world.
The face of suburbia is also changing. Long associated with homogeneity, suburbs now exceed the national average for racial diversity, according to a Brookings Institution analysis. The stereotype of a white picket fence is slowly giving way to a vibrant mosaic of cultural diversity.
The City Still Stands: Reality Check
Despite this suburban boom, downtown isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel yet. Even in the age of hybrid work, Yoon reminds us, people are returning to city centres. And while suburbs close to cities are thriving, demand in the outlying suburbs has fallen dramatically since the height of the pandemic.
So, in this grand real estate game, it’s not about cities losing or suburbs winning. It is about realizing that the playing field is changing. As we embrace the flexibility that technology gives us, our living preferences evolve in turn. As I tell my clients whom I helped figure out back in the office and mixed work plans, you need to go where your people are, rather than just trying to force a top-down command control structure on them—at least, if you want to keep your best talent.
Related topics: You must let your team decide their approach to hybrid work. A behavioral economist explains why and how you should do it.
Cognitive biases: invisible forces that shape our choices
Beneath our decision-making processes, cognitive biases often run the show. They are like puppeteers, subtly influencing our choices and judgments. Two of the main biases that may influence this exodus to the suburbs are the status quo bias and the entrenchment bias.
First, let’s consider the status quo bias. This is our tendency to prefer things to remain as they are by doing nothing or maintaining our current or past decision. With the onset of the pandemic, the status quo has been disrupted, forcing us to adapt to the new “normal” — working from home.
For many, this temporary change has turned into a comfortable routine. The novelty has faded, replaced by the status quo bias. We’re used to the convenience, freedom, and flexibility of working remotely. The prospect of returning to our previous lifestyle — the daily commute and strict working hours — seems more daunting than sticking to the new status quo.
On the other hand, anchoring bias refers to our tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we encounter (the “anchor”) when making decisions. When the pandemic hit, the “anchor” for many was the vision of a lifestyle free from the daily restrictions of commuting and desks. This initial impression strongly influenced subsequent decisions about working and living arrangements.
Furthermore, as we’ve seen suburban life thrive—with thriving retail space, diverse communities, and the promise of a more balanced lifestyle—those positive first impressions have only been reinforced. The anchor was cast, and it landed hard in the suburban area.
By understanding these cognitive biases, we can make informed decisions about our work and lifestyle choices. As we navigate this era of change, it is essential to challenge our biases, question our assumptions, and remain open to all possibilities. Only then can we truly make the most of the opportunities that the future of work offers.
In the end, whether it’s the city siren or the sweet suburban tune that wins your heart, it’s clear that flexible working has forever changed the way we live. It has reshaped not only our working lives, but our homes, communities, and landscapes. The suburbs soak up the sun, not as a retreat from the city, but as a compelling alternative.