Americans are moving homes more than ever, but where they’re going is surprising

Americans have relocated at record numbers over the past two years, as the pandemic made people reconsider city living, and remote-work options became more widely available to white-collar workers.

Between 2020 and 2021, many major cities posted either their slowest population growth or largest decline in over a decade, according to U.S. census data.

Many people opted to go to more affordable and livable areas in tax-friendly and job-rich states like Arizona and Texas. Cities in these states experienced big population booms during the pandemic, with most new residents arriving from far-off coastal cities.

But a new study conducted by OJO Labs, an online real estate site and personal finance tool, found that the vast majority of recent home seekers are unwilling to relocate extreme distances, and are instead looking to buy much closer to their current homes.

It suggests that while buying a home in another state may have become a popular move for some during the pandemic—especially for high earners—most people looking for a new home right now are not venturing too far.

Most movers are staying closer to home

The OJO Labs study, published at the very end of March, surveyed more than 500 prospective homebuyers about their experience over that month. Of these, 41% were limiting their search to within six and 50 miles from their current home, while 36% were interested in buying a new house only if it was fewer than five miles away.

Only 11% of respondents were willing to move more than 500 miles away from their current address.

The findings push back on the pandemic-era narrative of New Yorkers and Californians moving to more livable cities in states like Arizona, Texas, and Florida.

“The reality is that people are moving in the same way they always have been,” OJO Labs CEO and founder John Berkowitz wrote in the study.

Berkowitz suggested that moving somewhere close to a current address is what is desirable and achievable for most Americans.

It’s worth noting that housing prices have surged during the pandemic—and buying a home in a booming smaller city may now be only achievable to higher-income home seekers.

A skewed housing market

Throughout the pandemic, wealthy and white-collar workers left large cities and began house-hunting in smaller towns in the South and the Sunbelt, starting bidding wars that sent home prices soaring and outpriced many locals from the housing market.

But many of these buyers were not looking to move permanently. Between 2020 and 2021, demand for second and vacation homes was rising more than twice as fast as demand for primary residences, trends that continued well into 2022.

Many of these vacation-home buyers kept their urban rental homes, splitting their time between the rural or suburban home they own and the one they rent in the city. And they do not reflect the middle- and working-class homeowners who are moving into a different primary home.

"[T]alk of the Great Migration shows the separation of reality in how we focus more on the rich, and the middle
and lower classes are often forgotten," OJO’s Berkowitz wrote.

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