Best places to live when you can work from anywhere

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For many professionals, 2020 eliminated a major part of the day: the commute to the office. While vaccines are beginning to chart a path toward some sense of pre-pandemic normalcy, many aspects of workers’ lives are bound for a different future — one where some employees never need to see the inside of an office again.

This raises a big question: If you can work from anywhere, where should you live?

Best places to live when you can work from anywhere

Job prospects are one of the key factors that distinguishes the cities in Bankrate’s 2021 best places to live in the U.S. When you can work from anywhere, however, job concerns like local unemployment rate and the presence of major companies become less of a consideration. So, we evaluated cities across the country to identify places where your ability to work remotely also gives you the ability to live even better. Here’s what we considered:

  • Affordability – We analyzed cost-of-living data to determine where you’ll be able to best stretch your dollars. We also compared median home prices from December 2020 to get a sense of which areas offer affordable opportunities to avoid renting.
  • Wellness – Low-cost living only means something if you can actually make the most of living. We looked at listings from chambers of commerce and convention and visitors’ bureaus to get a sense of the entertainment and dining options in each of these cities. Outdoor recreation was also a critical factor on our list: If you don’t have to be inside an office or commuting, you may as well spend more of your time outside. We assessed each city’s parks system and nearby opportunities to enjoy somewhere other than your home.
  • Safety – If you want to love a city, you need to feel safe. We looked at the most recent statistics of violent crime and property crime to get a pulse on safety in each of these places.
  • Connectivity – Working from anywhere means logging on, so we assessed data on the fastest and cheapest internet service across the country to give you an idea of how quickly you’ll be able to download that deck you need for your next project. We also looked at broadband data.
  • Accessibility – You could move to a remote mountain town, say, but what if you need to travel for work, or want to see family? To address this, we looked to cities with airports, and evaluated daily flight service to get an idea of how easy it will be to get from point A to point B.

While all of these factors are worth considering if you’re thinking about moving, keep in mind that finding a good place to call home when you don’t have to go to an office is a personal decision — one that involves what’s best for you or your family and your financial future.

1. Des Moines, Iowa

Affordability: 10 out of 10
Wellbeing: 9 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Connectivity: 10 out of 10
Accessibility: 7 out of 10

Des Moines first attracted our attention with its standout performance as the second-best connected city in the country, according to a recent Allconnect Internet Connectivity Report.

After digging deeper, it’s clear there are plenty of reasons to close that computer screen, power down your mobile device and enjoy more of Iowa’s capital city. From sipping a craft beer at free Friday night art events at the city’s Mainframe Studios to exploring more than 800 miles of trails throughout Central Iowa, Des Moines is a place where you can make the most of never having to spend time commuting to an office.

Moving to Des Moines feels like an ideal investment, too. The median home sale price was just $160,000 at the end of 2020, according to real estate brokerage Redfin, and based on the city’s recent growth trajectory, it seems like that value is poised to increase in the coming years.

2. Omaha, Nebraska

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Wellbeing: 9 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Connectivity: 8 out of 10
Accessibility: 9 out of 10

We tried to find a reason not to move to Omaha, and it wasn’t easy. This is a city where it’s somewhat less expensive to buy a home — with a median sale price of $205,500 at the close of 2020, according to Redfin — and you can stay active on miles of trails, including a 20-mile path along the Missouri Riverfront, or have fun in the city’s Old Market Entertainment District. If you prefer to ditch your desk (or your couch) while you work, you have several free Wi-Fi locations within the city to utilize, as well.

While you might not immediately think of Nebraska as an in-demand locale — the state tourism commission has used the slogan “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” — consider the following: The state occupied the No. 6 position on Sharecare’s most recent Well-Being Index, an indication that residents love what they do, and stress less while doing it.

3. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Affordability: 10 out of 10
Wellbeing: 7 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Connectivity: 7 out of 10
Accessibility: 6 out of 10

How does an extra $10,000 sound? If it’s enticing, Tulsa just might be a candidate for your new home. The Tulsa Remote program is designed to make the second-biggest city in Oklahoma a hotbed for those who can work anywhere, with financial assistance to cover relocation expenses, a monthly stipend and a desk at one of the city’s coworking spaces.

But here’s the thing: Tulsa seems like a prime place to live even if you don’t get any extra cash. The median sale price was $192,000 as of the end of 2020, Redfin reports, and a low cost of living comes with a tall list of things to do. Meet up with other residents at Gathering Place, the city’s expansive riverfront park; enjoy a night out in the Blue Dome Entertainment District, a hub of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues; or, when you have to work, visit one of the city’s many buzzing cafes.

4. El Paso, Texas

Affordability: 10 out of 10
Wellness: 9 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Connectivity: 8 out of 10
Accessibility: 4 out of 10

El Paso didn’t make an appearance on our 2021 best places to live in Texas, but that’s mainly due to the fact that the biggest employers are located in the state’s other, larger cities. With no need for an office, however, El Paso soars as a culturally rich border city that trades the towering skyscrapers of Dallas or Houston with the natural wonder of the Franklin Mountains.

It’s cheap, too. El Paso has the lowest cost of living among any of the cities on our list, and you’ll also reap the Texas benefit of paying no state income tax. One downside, though, is the city’s accessibility. While all the major carriers operate in El Paso, there’s no direct service to major business centers on the East Coast. So, if you’re planning to be a frequent traveler, you’re going to need to deal with the headache of extra connections.

5. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Wellness: 9 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Connectivity: 8 out of 10
Accessibility: 8 out of 10

If you’re going to work from home, why not work from the beach? Instead of looking at a Zoom window, Virginia Beach gives you a chance to enjoy the coastline from an actual one. That access comes at a cost, though: The city’s median home price is $290,000, according to Redfin, which is the highest on our list.

However, costs of living are still significantly lower than other major metro areas, and Virginia Beach has some of the lowest crime rates on our list. Plus, even when it’s too cold for the beach, it’s probably still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors, with average daytime low temperatures rarely dipping below the 40-degree mark.

Best places to live when you can work from anywhere: Honorable mentions

If you’re a remote worker willing to pick up and go anywhere, here are three other places to put on your radar:

Anywhere in Alaska

Alaska’s permanent fund dividend program can be an attractive selling point in the new work-from-where-you-want culture. The program pays out a dividend to residents based on the state’s revenue from oil and gas projects. In 2019, the majority of residents received more than $1,600 each.

That’s a nice bump to see in your bank account, but don’t let it be the only deciding factor in where you call home. There are drawbacks, including that five of the worst-performing cities in Allconnect’s connectivity report are located in Alaska.

The Shoals, Alabama

This multi-city region in Northwest Alabama doesn’t quite crack the population code to be on our official list. However, The Shoals is giving Tulsa a run for the money — literally. The Remote Shoals program pays new qualifying residents $10,000 to move to the area for their remote work duties. The smaller towns in this region mean a slower pace of living than you’ll find in denser areas, but you’ll also find lower crime rates, lower housing costs and lower air pollution overall, potentially making it a contender.

Topeka, Kansas

Kansas City is on our 2021 best places to live list, and its neighbor to the west is worth mentioning, thanks to the Choose Topeka program. If you’re a remote worker, you can apply to receive up to $5,000 for renting or $10,000 for buying a home in the city. There’s a twist to this incentive, too: Jimmy John’s will throw in another $1,000 if you move to one of the company’s three delivery zones in the city. (Of course, no matter how much you love their sandwiches, we should note that food delivery services shouldn’t necessarily be your main consideration when buying a home.)

Before you decide to move

If your company isn’t requiring you to come into an office now, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to stay at home forever. The aftermath of the pandemic will likely not mean the end of the office, says Matt Massucci, founder and managing partner of Chicago-based talent recruiting firm Hirewell.

“Some companies might require employees to be within 50 miles of one of their offices so they can go in once a week or once a month,” Massucci says. “Eventually, I see most companies operating on some sort of hybrid model that involves a few days of work in the office each week and the rest of the time remote.”

Even if your company gives you the green light to find a new home, be sure to understand any implications for your paycheck. Not too long ago, digital payments company Stripe made headlines for giving employees a relocation incentive, but also cutting the salaries of those who opted to move from expensive metro areas to more affordable destinations. That rationale might make sense to some — an employee living in a small town in New Mexico has smaller expenses than an employee living in Downtown Seattle, for instance. However, Massucci believes that most employers will still need to pay competitively for talent, regardless of the market where someone is living.

“Human nature means people don’t want to make less money for doing the same job,” Massucci says.

If your employer does grant you the freedom to avoid the office all the time, it’s also important to consider what it might mean if you’re never there in person.

“You really have to think about where you want to be and what you want to do,” Massucci says. “If you’re perfectly content with being an individual contributor, working remotely is probably okay. If you want to move into leadership, you’re going to be severely limited if you’re not where your company’s headquarters is located. If you’re removed from everyone else, you can be a bit out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”

If none of those concerns are on your mind, though, now might be a great time to think about finding a new place to work and live. You can get started with Bankrate’s homebuying guide. 

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