Smaller American cities see big interest from urban flight

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Now that more Americans can work and attend school from anywhere, they are increasingly looking to leave large urban centers for smaller, less dense cities with cheaper housing.

As different real estate entities try to measure the migration, certain cities are standout destinations.

Santa Barbara, California; Louisville, Kentucky; and Buffalo, New York, are seeing big net inflows. This is the number of people looking to move in minus the number of people looking to leave, according to a study of online home search results by Redfin.

Santa Barbara’s net inflow increased by 124% in the third quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. Louisville saw a 113% increase, and Buffalo a 107% gain.

“Remote work has opened up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to buying a home,” said Redfin’s chief economist, Daryl Fairweather. “Many residents of expensive areas like New York or Los Angeles couldn’t manage to afford rent and save for a home at the same time. So it’s no wonder that these folks are looking to buy homes in much more affordable places like Louisville and Little Rock.”

Redfin’s top 10 list includes El Paso, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa has a program, Tulsa Remote, which actually pays people to move to the city and work remotely. Most of the destination cities have relatively low housing costs compared with larger metropolitan areas.

Santa Barbara is the exception. Its draw is that it is less dense than Los Angeles but close enough to commute if necessary.

Looking at the larger state picture, Florida appears to be the biggest recipient of flight from New York. Nearly twice as many Redfin searchers as last year, or 22,000 more, looked to move into Florida than out in the third quarter. That is the highest net inflow since Redfin began tracking migration three years ago.

Florida, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Nevada saw the biggest net inflow increases since last year.

Another analysis from moveBuddha, a moving company search site, found the top three larger cities people were moving into in 2020 were Denver, Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon.

Seattle had been in the top three in 2019 but dropped far down the list, likely due to high prices and its high rate of Covid-19 early on. The top cities people moved out of: New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

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