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The Untethered Worker Is the New Sunbird

Florida Realtors economist: Turning seasons into verbs – “We wintered in Florida” – was once a trait of wealthy retirees. But a newly untethered workforce working at home because of the pandemic is now also considering weather-based migration, albeit a little differently.

ORLANDO, Fla – The term “snowbird” is as Floridian as alligators, oranges and sunscreen. For those unfamiliar, snowbirds are typically people who have their permanent residence in colder climates, from the Carolinas to New England, who have retired and seek to “winter” in Florida, escaping the harsh weather during their golden years. Snowbird season is generally from October through May, also known as “not hurricane season” to those of us who call Florida home year-round.

But there is another type of migratory animal potentially entering Florida’s ecosystem – the “sunbird”. Similar to their weather-weary counterparts, these people also desire temperate weather year-round, and they’re willing to temporarily re-locate to get it.

What makes them different, however, is their age and life stage: Where they have their “main nest” and when they migrate from it. Sunbirds make Florida their state of permanent residence for the majority of the year and seek to escape the punishing months of June, July and early August by “summering” up north.

As with both migratory animals, the key is mobility. Regardless of where their nest is and when they migrate from it, being able to move around during the year is somewhat of an aspirational goal not easily attainable to those in their prime working years and/or with school-aged children. Typically, people are tied to the area they live in because of their jobs and in cases where they have kids, their schools.

That is, of course, before 2020 happened. By severing the link between job choice and housing choice, people can consider sunbirding at a much younger age, not needing to wait until retirement to start rethinking the way they work and raise children.

According to research conducted by Chris Salviati, a housing economist at Apartment List, the “untethered class” is different from someone who will be going back to the office full- or part-time post-pandemic. These people can fully cut the cord with their corporate office. The untethered class are highly educated and high-earning, and with a median age of 32, many are likely on the precipice of settling down.

Given that so many untethered workers live in the nation’s most expensive housing markets, many may choose to relocate to markets where they can afford to purchase homes and raise families more comfortably. The research indicates that roughly one out of every three employed adults work in an occupation that can feasibly be performed remotely.

So where is this new class of worker looking to go? According to a report from careercloud.com, Florida is among the top 10 states for remote jobs. Research indicates that this new type of worker can start to act on the work-from-anywhere concept, and Florida is a great state to receive them.

Florida continues to attract people with its no state income tax, affordable homes and excellent quality of life. While the flight from high-tax states isn’t entirely borne out in the statistics, there is enough anecdotal evidence to at least acknowledge this logical trend. More people are doing back-of-the-envelope math and recognizing that making a home base in Florida saves them thousands in income tax every year.

What does this mean for you?

Sunbird buyers have specific needs that are different from snowbirds. Unlike snowbirds who generally are looking for a small condo on the beach that they can rent out in the off season, sunbirds are looking for their nine-months-out-of-the-year home. Rentability in the summer may not be as important. They will likely have or start to have children, so school district still matters. They are looking for a primary residence and will have financing needs that differ from a retiree looking for a second home. Many are coming from states with a higher cost of living and may have more cash available for their purchase, particularly if their salary does not adjust for Florida’s cost of living.

Their needs for a home are similar to a year-round resident, but they will be undergoing a more significant move that crosses state lines. Their familiarity with submarkets may not be as refined as a local buyer. The expertise of a skilled, local Realtor will be critical in their decision-making process, as they lack the local connections that typically inform an intra-market move.

It is worth doing some research on your market to get a sense if your area is a target for this relatively new type of buyer. Is your Chamber of Commerce marketing outside of Florida to attract untethered workers? Is there strong broadband to support the remote worker? Is the housing inventory desirable to families with potentially two adults working from home, their children, and potentially their support team? Will buyers from other states find the kind of schools that meet their family’s needs? Will your local market have enough to make an out-of-state buyer take the plunge to become a Florida resident?

Find these answers out and get ready to welcome the newest migratory animal to Florida!

Jennifer Quinn is a Florida Realtors economist and the Director of Economic Development

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