The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many aspects of life, and here in Napa Valley, just one of the effects was the closure of tasting rooms and restaurants. We’re all looking forward to a successful safe reopening, especially as June is traditionally the start of the peak season in wine country.
While the details are still being worked out for reopening our tasting rooms, restaurants and other parts of the hospitality industry, another trend has already emerged: People are more interested in Napa Valley real estate than ever. Many urban professionals, particularly those in the finance and tech industries, may not return to their offices even after the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders are completely rescinded. They’re seeking an escape from the increased potential for disease in high-density urban housing and the general pressures of urban life. In San Francisco, they are also migrating out of the city to get away from the expansion of the homeless living on the streets and the riots that they fear will continue. The desire for safety in the COVID-19 era cannot be overlooked. It’s difficult to avoid close contact with others in an elevator in San Francisco high-rise condo buildings, and people are also reluctant to use condo gyms, pools and have a valet deliver and park their cars
Will there be an influx of new Napa Valley homeowners who work from home?
We’ve already seen a trend in people who own second homes in wine country using them as their primary residence during the coronavirus crisis. When we consider the recent protests in many of our cities, these unpleasant events can only create more interest in financially comfortable professionals who want to live in and work from home in a beautiful and more rural environment like Napa Valley. What we are seeing is that people who’ve lived and worked in crowded cities, even in luxury complexes with extensive services, are seeking a more authentic way of life.
At present, we’re seeing Napa Valley’s rental market rise to a premium in response to a temporary influx of people who are working at home due to COVID-19 restrictions. Few, if any, rentals are now available. Most people in big cities that typically go to Europe for the summer have canceled their trips and are renting in the wine country, and some are even buying when they were not thinking of doing so before COVID. Many Silicon Valley companies have announced that work-at-home will continue for their employees through the end of this year and into 2021, and some have even made it clear that working at home will be the “new normal” going forward, most notably Facebook.
How prevalent will home-based work become?
We’re not only trying to learn what home-based work will mean for Napa Valley, but the entire world also is wondering what the long-term impact of the COVID-19 shutdown will be. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about 25 percent of the U.S. labor force already worked at home at least part of the time in 2018. This number has grown, and Global Workplace Analytics, a firm specializing in work-at-home benefits for employers, predicts that globally, 25 to 30 percent of the workforce will work at home multiple days a week by the end of 2020. Although home-based work is more prevalent in the Bay Area and among tech industry workers, internationally, only about 3.6 percent of the workforce worked from home prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
The tech, financial services and even some manufacturing businesses are leading the way in work from home, or #WFH. Here are just a few of the companies that are changing their workplace policies to support working at home beyond COVID-19:
- Facebook: Up to 50 percent of Facebook employees could be home-based within five to 10 years.
- Twitter: Plans to allow some of its workforce to work at home “forever” if they choose, but no specific plans have been set.
- Square (also a company owned by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey): Square employees can continue to work at home “whenever it suits them” once the company’s offices reopen.
- Shopify: The company’s CEO Tobi Lutke announced via Twitter that “office centricity is over.” Shopify’s offices will remain closed until 2021, and its employment structure will be permanently reworked to allow the majority of employees to work remotely.
Over the summer, French automaker Groupe PSA (Peugeot, Citroën) is implementing company-wide work-from-home measures for all its non-production staff. A cloud data storage company, Box, will enable all its 2,000 employees to work from anywhere post-COVID. This company has been holding all its meetings remotely, and they are anticipated to continue doing so remotely from now on.
What effects will work-from-home trends have on Napa Valley real estate?
I’ve written previously about how wine country has been proactive in developing green energy and environmental sustainability, as well as tech amenities that can enhance luxury properties and improve the management of wineries. Napa Valley’s environment and quality of life are already attracting an influx of high-earning work-at-home professionals. I am working with some San Francisco based firms to open offices in Napa to give their employees who don’t live in the city an alternative place to work.
Just imagine: If you could live and work anywhere in the world, what better place than wine country? It’s reasonable to believe that property values will continue to increase in our region. As second homes become primary residences, I believe we’ll continue to see more full-time residents. We want to preserve the quality of life and environment here in Napa Valley, but it’s likely that the growth in year-round residents will be great for local economies as such a large percentage of owners prior to COVID were second homeowners, which has not been good for local businesses.
Could more home-based work negatively impact the environment in Wine Country?
Nothing is more precious here in Napa Valley than our natural environment. What we have learned from the Global Workplace Analytics’ reports is that the global shutdown has resulted in rapid, observable environmental benefits. Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, said that even having workers at home half the time would have the same positive greenhouse gas impact as removing every commuter car from the roads in New York State. She also reported that employers could save about $11,000 a year, on average, by having workers remain at home.
The primary influx of new residents is likely to be part-time homeowners or seasonal visitors who are exchanging their high-pressure and stressful urban lifestyles for a relaxing and healthy full-time wine country lifestyle. Although we may see new ADUs (added dwelling units) for service personnel or older family members being added to some properties where the zoning allows, I think the majority of new wine country residents will be part-timers becoming year-rounders, and people migrating from large cities all over the country, looking for a better life for themselves and their families.