The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has transformed the landscape of how Californians live and work. Now it’s changing where.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than a third of U.S. office employees have switched to working remotely and a further 25% are working remote from time to time.

The workplace has been changed forever. Some companies are planning a hybrid return, where employees work both at home and in the office. Others, including social media giant Twitter, plan to let employees choose whether they will work remotely on a permanent basis or return to a traditional office environment.

The new telecommuting age is offering workers a chance to leave behind crowded metros and head for what is being coined “zoom towns.” This describes pockets of the housing market where demand is booming thanks to an influx of homebuyers looking to escape dense cities during the pandemic. The term gets its namesake from Zoom, a video conferencing platform whose popularity exploded when states introduced lockdown measures around the country.

Anxious homeowners are wondering: does the telecommuting revolution have enough staying power to upend my local housing market, or will this phenomenon zoom right past us?

The new housing market

Bigger spaces, fresh air and the end of long commutes are driving factors behind the move to these zoom towns. Many holiday destinations previously shuttered because of lockdown measures are finding new life as a different kind of getaway.

In fact, scenic vacation spots are quickly becoming the prototype for zoom towns. Areas with easy access to nature, like those near lakes, ski resorts and national parks are more likely to attract zoom town status.

Millennials – the generation born between the beginning of the 1980s and the middle of the 1990s – represent the largest proportion of potential buyers for these hotspots. A recent study conducted by Zillow estimates that around 2 million renters whose jobs allow for remote working could soon be looking to buy in these urban locations.

The “zoom boom” is hitting one Northern California town extremely hard. Truckee, located near Lake Tahoe, has seen 162 homes sold this year, a 95.2% increase in homes sold year-over-year as of September 2020. Homes in Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead in Southern California are similar in size to Truckee and have also sold more than 100 homes each this year.

The appeal of towns like Truckee is obvious thanks to the natural built-in cultural amenities. These vacation spots draw flocks of tourists and students alike, but many have not been able to make the move permanent since there aren’t enough high-paying jobs available locally.

Telecommuting changes everything since people can bring their jobs with them, creating the potential to reshape these communities in the long term.

Remote workers are expected to drive population growth and higher home prices in these zoom town communities over the next 12 to 24 months. In Truckee, homes sold above asking price increased a whopping 263% year-over-year as of October 2020.

For residents of large, high-cost cities like San Francisco, the zoom trend is a welcome one. The Golden City’s already volatile market hasn’t been tempered by pandemic; rents and home prices there have plunged since the start of the pandemic, making it more affordable to buyers who have been priced out in recent years.

The zoomification of the real estate market won’t continue at this breakneck speed, but it has the potential to sow the seeds of gentrification and displacement pressure, similar to those experienced in high-cost coastal cities.

Zooms towns are a unique, real-time experiment driven by remote work. These hotspots won’t turn the market on its head, but long-time residents will be uncovering the economic relics of the zoom boom for years to come.