Whatever happened to American wanderlust? Manifest destiny? Hitting the road?
The fact is, Americans are less likely to pack up their belongings and relocate now than at any point in recorded history: Only about 11% moved to new homes last year, the lowest rate recorded since the government started keeping track 70 years ago. This includes a drop in the number of folks moving to new homes in the same state, as well as those moving across state lines.
Why are more people staying put? Part of it is due to the torrent of millennials, with their mountains of debt and shifting job prospects.
“It is a tough time for people in their 20s. … It takes young people five to six years longer now to get out of the house compared with previous generations,” says John Cromartie, a geographer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Then there’s the general aging of the population, with many baby boomers already ensconced in their forever homes.
Make no mistake: The pool of movers may be shrinking, but the country is still going through a period of profound migration—with some places losing and others gaining. And this smaller group of movers is having an enormous impact, since newcomers remain the lifeblood of big housing markets, keeping builders busy and home prices rising.
The realtor.com® data team analyzed migration trends to find the metropolitan areas* gaining the most new residents, and those seeing the biggest population declines. During the recession, Americans flocked to the biggest cities where finding a job was easier. But in the rebounding years, these meccas, such as New York and Los Angeles, have seen housing costs soar and people relocate to more affordable destinations.
“Right now the numbers are showing [people moving] to the West and South, and away from the Northeast and Midwest,” says demographer Ken Gronbach of KGC Direct. “Cities where taxes are low and housing [costs are] reasonable will see a huge influx of people over the next five to 10 years.”
Just because a place ranks high for losing residents doesn’t mean plenty of people aren’t moving there—it’s just that more people are moving out of that market than are coming in. We came up with our ranking by analyzing recently released U.S. Census Bureau population data from 2012 to 2016. We calculated the net migration for every metropolitan area** by measuring the difference between the numbers of residents moving in and those moving out.
So let’s start with the cities attracting newcomers like floodlights attract luna moths!
Cities gaining the most residents
1. Phoenix, AZ
Median list price: $329,975 Increase in new residents**: 37,188 Top place of origin (out of state): Los Angeles, LA
After years of watching his commute get longer and the price of just about everything in San Bernardino, CA, go up, police officer Brent Wood, 45, had enough. So he and his family sold their modest 1,200-square-foot home; in August, they moved into much larger, three-bedroom digs in Phoenix at the end of a cul-de-sac, all for about the same price. It even came with a large backyard, a big plus for the family and their three dogs.
“Everything has been great since we moved,” says Wood. Phoenix has “clean freeways, friendly people, amazing weather, lower gas prices, and lower food prices.”
The Phoenix region has become a top destination for folks fleeing high-cost West Cost cities.
Phoenix has long been known for its huge retirement communities like Sun City, a 55-plus active community built in the 1960s with golf courses and one-story homes with gated back yards.
But new residents aren’t just retirees and snowbirds. The region’s strong local economy is seeing a number of employers relocate to the area and bring a younger workforce with them. These workers are buying reasonably priced condos within walking distance to light rail.
Median list price: $389,050 increase in new residents: 30,943 Top place of origin (out of state): New York, NY
Charming two-bedroom home in Riverside
For a lot of Americans, spending $400,000 for a single-family home in the suburbs with a garage and a small yard might sound like a lot of dough. Not for Californians. Riverside has seen a slew of transplants from nearby San Diego and Los Angeles, where median prices are way higher—$657,000 and $725,000, respectively.
“We’re inexpensive in relation to other parts of Southern California,” says Matthew Rundle, a mortgage banker at Westin Mortgage in Riverside. Many of the new residents are midcareer or close to retirement who are cashing out at peak real estate prices.
Aside from reasonable real estate prices, Riverside touts its ample amount of shiny, new homes: New construction makes up 7.7% of all listings here, compared with 4.6% in San Diego.
3. Austin, TX
Median list price: $349,950 increase in new residents: 29,192 Top place of origin (out of state): New York, NY
The capital of Texas has done something that very few tech hot spots have managed to pull off lately: keeping home prices from reaching astronomical heights. While locals may bemoan high price tags, they’re still just a fraction of those in Silicon Valley, where the median for homes is $1.1 million. Helped out by lots of new construction, prices here have fallen 4.1% year over year.
The jobs and affordable homes are attracting hordes of millennials and Gen Xers. They’re coming primarily from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston.
And they’re snapping up new condos near downtown as well as newly constructed single-family homes out in the suburbs. In Manor, TX, just 20 minutes outside of Austin, buyers can find plenty of new, four-bedroom homes priced under $250,000. More than half are new, which is one of the reasons realtor.com named it one of America’s 10 fastest-growing suburbs.
4. Houston, TX
Median list price: $310,050 increase in new residents: 29,098 Top place of origin (out of state): New York, NY
Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston, causing billions of dollars in damages. But that destruction hasn’t slowed the number of folks moving to the nation’s fourth-largest city for its many good-paying jobs, particularly in the oil and gas industries. In fact, the Houston metro added 111,200 jobs in the 12 months following the storm.
“They’re not moving here for the climate or the scenery. It’s for work, “says Greg Nino, a real estate agent with Re/Max Compass in Houston.
The vast majority of newcomers are millennials or Gen Xers, who are buying big $300,000 to $400,000 new, single-family homes in the city or surrounding suburbs. The ones who still want to live it up a bit are snagging three-story townhomes near downtown priced around $350,000.