Jacksonville Is Nation’s No. 1 Metro For 'Digital Nomads'

Apr 28, 2021

With remote work becoming a permanent arrangement for many, a new report finds Jacksonville could be a big destination for those living the “digital nomadic lifestyle.”

Real estate site Zillow and review site Yelp teamed up on the report, which ranked Jacksonville as the top metropolitan market for digital nomads, by comparing a variety of criteria such as rental rates and area amenities.

Digital nomads are defined as those able to move from location to location, staying connected to work and family digitally, while experiencing "new adventures in unfamiliar destinations."

Whether looking for a new city or town to experience for one month or six months, digital nomads may be exploring various locations in hopes of eventually making a permanent move, Zillow and Yelp said.

“These destinations boast a mix of outdoor adventure and city perks that are appealing to the many young professionals who have transitioned to the nomadic lifestyle due to their new-found ability to work from anywhere,” said Yelp trend expert Tara Lewis in an email sent to WJCT News. “They’re great for digital nomads, and offer a variety of highly rated local businesses and activities these folks are looking for, like shared office spaces, furniture rental, hiking, RV repairs, paddle boarding and more.”

Nearly 11 million American workers currently describe themselves as digital nomads, an increase of 49% from 2019, according to independent talent provider MBO Partners’ 2020 State of Independence research study

Zillow and Yelp said page views to Jacksonville rental listings increased 120% over the same time last year. The report found Jacksonville is the most affordable metropolitan area in Florida with typical rental rates coming in at $960 a month. However, that average is disputed. Rent Café, which is an online service connecting renters and landlords, said Jacksonville’s average rent is $1,173 and was up 5% year-to-year.

The Zillow/Yelp report also pointed out some specific Jacksonville area amenities, writing: “highly rated gems like Black Sheep RestaurantBold Bean Coffee Roasters and Secret Tiki Temple, and vacation getaways like Amelia Island, Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville Beach are a short drive away.”

Investors are taking notice of the trend, snapping up area homes.

“We really do have this demand.  Nationally, one in five homes are purchased by investors,” said Missi Howell, president of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, who was a guest Wednesday on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Part of that investor trend that has popped up on the First Coast is rent-to-build, also referred to as B2R homes, in which new single-family-homes are built specifically for renters.

Homebuilders frame new build-to-rent houses being constructed along Hillsdale Road on Jacksonville's Southside.
Credit BILL BORTZFIELD / WJCT NEWS

One example is a subdivision currently under construction on Jacksonville’s Southside on Hillsdale Road, called Hillsdale Estates. It features one- and two-story homes with two-car garages nestled between other nearby subdivisions with occupant-owned homes.

Anyone who has driven around Jacksonville recently knows luxury apartments are another big trend.

A check of current Jacksonville rents shows they can easily top $2,000 per month in some areas of Jacksonville, with some rents surpassing $5,000 per month.

A listing on Rent Café shows the top units at the new Vista Brooklyn apartment complex on Riverside Avenue top $5,000.

While the digital nomad trend may be beneficial in luring new residents to the First Coast, there is a downside: housing affordability is dropping for existing residents.

About 70% of Florida’s low-income households are cost-burdened, meaning more than 30% of their income is spent on housing and utilities, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Rental rates continue to quickly rise, and for those who want to buy a home, the market is extremely tight with soaring home values.

Real estate investment company Roofstock said home values in Jacksonville increased by 7.5% last year and are expected to grow by another 8.4% over the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, it said, for-sale inventory in Jacksonville was down by nearly 42% compared to the previous year.

A discussion on housing affordability and the full interview with Howell can heard on Wednesday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, which also encores Wednesday at 8 p.m. on WJCT News 89.9.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.