New Yorkers flee for Florida and Texas as mobility surges
America's real estate meccas aren't what they used to be as COVID-19 revives U.S. mobility.
Far more people moved to Vermont, Idaho, Oregon and South Carolina than left during the pandemic, according to data provided to Bloomberg News by United Van Lines. On the other hand, the reverse was true for New York and New Jersey, which saw residents moving to Florida, Texas and other Sunbelt states between March and July.
As August closes Monday with another move-out deadline, signs point to a sharp turn in U.S. mobility. Relocations had reached an all-time low in 2019, according to the Brookings Institution’s tracking.
"We have seen increased mobility across the states — driven by a fear of living in densely populated areas, a realization that the 'old normal' of commuting into a city office is still but a distant possibility, and the realization that remote work can be an effective, long-term option," said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
While official Census Bureau data won't be able to confirm for several months how much mobility has increased, here’s a few measures of how it’s changing during the crisis:
About one in five Americans either have relocated during the virus outbreak or know someone who has, according to Pew Research Center's survey published July 6.
The beneficiaries have been competitors to dense cities that seem too crowded in a public-health emergency. Cities in Florida, Texas, California and North Carolina accounted for just under half of New Yorker relocations, data from United Van Lines show.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld deplored the trend in a New York Times commentary on Aug. 24. "Energy, attitude and personality cannot be 'remoted' through even the best fiber optic lines," he wrote.
Do-it-yourself moves "have increased considerably and consistently over the summer months" for U-Haul International, which rents trucks and vans, said company spokesman Jeff Lockridge, who declined to disclose exact figures.
About a quarter of 2,000 real estate agents surveyed in late June said some homebuyers have altered the location of where they are looking to purchase because of COVID-19. Those who shifted were now looking at suburbs and smaller towns, with fewer people looking at central cities, agents said.
Coronavirus flight is particularly high in New Jersey and New York, where two thirds of United Van Lines' moves are for relocations out of those states.
The number of people looking to move from New York City during the pandemic nearly doubled from a year earlier, while interest in leaving the San Francisco Bay area jumped 31%, said Eily Cummings, spokeswoman for United Van Lines' parent company, UniGroup.
Illinois, Connecticut and California, three other states with big urban populations, were also among those losing out during the pandemic.
The winners among the states, meanwhile, have been less densely populated areas: Vermont topped UniGroup's list. Idaho, Oregon and South Carolina also attracted more people looking to relocate.
Truck-rental prices provide one clue to how desirable an area is for relocations.
A hypothetical move from New York City to Vermont is priced at $773 compared to $236 for the reverse trip, according to a Bloomberg analysis of U-Haul pricing. This price differential is due to numerous variables, one being that more people are moving out of a city than into it.
With many businesses are arranging for employees to work from home and holding meetings via apps like Zoom that can be done from anywhere, William Frey, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and a demographer for the past four decades, agrees with Seinfeld that cities like New York will be back over time.
"These recent population shifts, if real, will be short-lived and change when the pandemic subsides," he said. "Young adult Gen Zers could find cities attractive" anew just as cities gained appeal among millennials after the 2007-2009 recession.