Return to Work Is Coming for Your Pandemic-Era Home - Kanebridge News
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Return to Work Is Coming for Your Pandemic-Era Home

Some sellers are putting properties on the market to be closer to the office, as companies shift back to in-person work and hybrid schedules

By LIBERTINA BRANDT
Fri, Nov 24, 2023 10:35amGrey Clock 3 min

After three years of living in her dream home in a Texas community called Rocky Creek Ranch, Donna Rutter is giving it up to move closer to the accounting firm she bought in the nearby city of Fort Worth.

Rutter spent most of her 30-year career as a CPA for large firms in Dallas and Fort Worth. Even before Covid, she had a work style that allowed her some flexibility. She didn’t have a central office she went to every day, but she had clients she travelled to visit on site. That schedule allowed her to build a home in Rocky Creek, about 20 minutes from downtown Fort Worth.

Then the pandemic hit and she gave up travel and went fully remote. Now, with the pandemic-influenced lifestyle waning and the importance of being in the office growing, she has been drawn back into the workplace but for different reasons. In 2021, she bought her own firm, renamed Donna R Rutter CPA PC, and started working from her desk each week.

“Small businesses weren’t really set up to work remotely,” said Rutter, 59. “My clients want me in the office. They want to meet with me.”

The only problem, she said, was that her office is near central Fort Worth, making her commute about 45 minutes each way. She decided that is too long, and is moving closer to her new business. Her roughly 11-acre ranchette is now on the market for $1.75 million.

Rutter is just one of many homeowners making the decision to relocate closer to work.

According to a September report by Redfin, about 10% of home sellers in the U.S. are looking to move because of return-to-work policies, indicating that after more than three years of remote-work policies dominating behaviour in the housing market, the in-person, 9-to-5 lifestyle is picking up some steam. Average office attendance last week was 50.5% of the pre pandemic level in February 2020 across 10 major U.S. cities, including New York and San Francisco, according to Kastle, which tracks security-badge swipes into the buildings they secure.

In May and June, Redfin’s study surveyed more than 600 people across the country who were likely to sell and move within the next year, according to chief economist Daryl Fairweather. The findings follow more than a year of announcements from major corporations—including Apple, Walt Disney, Google and Tesla—calling remote employees back to the office.

In Seattle, local real-estate agent David Palmer of Redfin said that so far this year, he has received about 10% more inquiries than in 2022 from clients looking to relocate closer to the city because their jobs require a hybrid work schedule.

“I have a buyer who moved out of the city during the pandemic. He now works for Google and, long story short, he needs to commute three days a week and it’s about a two-hour commute each way,” he said. “So he’s actively looking to buy something.” Palmer’s client didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

Google has announced it will consider office attendance records in performance reviews, The Wall Street Journal reported in June. The company began calling employees back to the office a few days a week in April 2022.

Austin-based real-estate agent Matt Holm of Compass said that since Elon Musk called his employees back to the office, he has had several clients looking to move to the city to work for, or with, Tesla, where the company is headquartered. Last year, Musk told Tesla employees they are required to spend at least 40 hours a week in company offices, The Wall Street Journal reported. He sent the same message to employees of his rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, which also operates in Texas.

Finding affordable housing in Austin for some of the incoming workers can be tough, Holm said. Those who can’t, often settle down in nearby markets, such as San Antonio and Killeen, because they are cheaper, he said. In October, the median sale price in the Austin metro area was about $444,000, down 6.5% from October 2022, Redfin said.

But for the employees who can afford Austin prices, Holm added, the demand has been a welcome boost to the housing market, which has seen slowed sales due to rising interest rates. On average, homes in the Austin metro area are sitting on the market for 63 days, Redfin stated, up from 53 days during the same period in 2022.

The sentiment around relocating for in-person attendance is mixed, Palmer said, “I have some clients who don’t mind, others who are a bit peeved.”

Rutter and her husband, Steve Lewis, 61, built their roughly 4,000-square-foot ranchette in late 2019. They outfitted it with vaulted ceilings, a heated saltwater pool, a dog shower and an outdoor kitchen, among other features.

While the home they have bought closer to the city is just 20 minutes from her office, it is about 1,000 square feet smaller and sits on about a third of an acre. She declined to disclose the purchase price. “We don’t have as much room,” she said, but added she is excited for a change and a shorter commute.

The couple’s ranchette is garnering interest from potential buyers, according to their listing agent, John Giordano of Compass. Rocky Creek Ranch is a desirable area because of the steady demand for ranchettes and because of its proximity to downtown Fort Worth, he said, adding that homes there rarely come up for sale.



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”