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Americans flocked to Idaho in 2020: Here are the other states that gained (and lost) the most people

Imagine a “larger space with a backyard, home office, and room for the kids to run around.”

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Twenty/20

Nearly 9 million Americans moved in 2020 — and a lot of them settled in Idaho, according to new moving trends and relocation research. 

Moving contracts from Atlas Van Lines show that of the people who settled in a new state during the pandemic, many opted for a suburb or an area with more space over a popular but expensive big city. The researchers analyzed 64,858 interstate and international moves to identify "inbound" vs. "outbound" states.

Inbound states are where, of the total number of people who moved statewide, more moved in rather than away. Outbound states are the opposite: A larger share of the total movers left the state.

"If homeowners had been putting off a move from the city to the suburbs for more space or lower costs," says Warburg Realty real estate agent Steven Gottlieb, "living through a pandemic with everyone working and learning on top of one another at home might have pushed them."

Imagine living in a "larger space with a backyard, home office, and room for the kids to run around — and it costs less," he says. "It makes a ton of sense."

Americans left New York and California and headed to Idaho, North Carolina, and Maine

Idaho claimed the top spot on Atlas' inbound list for the 4th time since 2016. Of all the moves to or from the state, from January to December 2020, 66% were people moving in.

People also moved to North Carolina, Maine, and New Hampshire in droves. Those states saw incomers at 64%, 62%, and 61%, respectively. Alabama, New Mexico, and Alaska each pulled in new residents at a rate of about 60%.

More people moved into than out of Kentucky for the 1st time in a decade.

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California, on the other hand, set a different record: A total of 57% of its moves were people leaving the state in 2020. Last year was the 1st time the Golden State was classified as an outbound state since 1995.

Lots of people moved within states, too, and even within metro areas. In New Jersey, more than 60% of the relocations last year were people leaving cities but staying nearby. Likewise in the Chicago area.

"City life no longer afforded the perks that [some Americans] were paying for," says Gottlieb. "Paying the high living expenses typical of city life can be tougher to rationalize without restaurants, sporting events, concerts, theater. Accepting more living expenses for a shorter commute had been a major draw for city life. With so many people working from home, the commute disappeared, and some homeowners felt they were paying for perks that they no longer enjoy."

American suburbs have been surging

The overall moving trend has leaned towards suburbs, since they can be less dense and less expensive and offer larger homes. Houses with space are particularly useful in the Covid crisis, since at least 40% of the American workforce was fully remote in December. Over 70% of homebuyers and sellers expect they'll be able to keep doing working from home.

The National Association of Realtors collected March 2020 to October 2020 change-of-address data from the U.S. Postal Service. Williamson County in Texas, a suburban area near Austin, had the largest inbound gains in the 1st 7 months of the pandemic. Almost 4,000 more people moved in than out. Suffolk County, New York, another suburb, also saw a fresh influx.

Paying the high living expenses typical of city life can be tougher to rationalize without restaurants, sporting events, concerts, theater.
Steven Gottlieb
Warburg Realty

In contrast, New York County (Manhattan) and Texas' Travis, Harris, and, Dallas Counties (where Austin, Houston, and Dallas are), lost over 25,000 movers combined.

"Housing seems to be the primary reason people move during the pandemic," says Nadia Evangelou, the NAR's senior economist and director of forecasting. A number of the firm's realtors recently said that most buyers are looking for a bigger home or home features that could function as a space to use for remote work, like a basement or den.

Many of the people who moved last year didn't go very far. More than half of those who fled New York settled in New Jersey, and 12% went to Connecticut. Most San Franciscans who relocated moved within 60 miles of their old address.

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"Many people who might have moved to lower their expenses and gain square footage didn't necessarily want to move too far away from the familiar things, like family and friends," says Gottlieb. "There is a sense that pandemic life isn't permanent, and we will all once again return to our offices and schools. Thus, moving too far away might not make sense."

Evangelou, however, sees a future where Americans are freer to move farther: "We may see an increase of people relocating to areas further from their previous residence later this year. They may also seek for a longer-term change in their life and move out to areas even farther away. Meanwhile, teleworking will likely continue long after the pandemic, even if it's 2 or 3 days a week."

Move for 'the right reasons' and 'understand the costs'

The 8.93 million Americans who moved at the beginning of the pandemic is an increase of about 94,000 people who relocated than during the same period in 2019. And there seems to be no slowing down: A third of adults polled in a recent Redfin survey said they would consider moving if they could work remotely indefinitely.

The Atlas research supports that. "The pattern [in 2021] will be similar to what we saw in the past year," Barry Schellenberg, the president of Atlas, told CNN Business, explaining that similar migration patterns will continue into at least the first 6 months is the year. "People will be moving away from coastal areas where there is a higher cost of living and going to places like Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee."

Housing seems to be the primary reason people move during the pandemic.
Nadia Evangelou
senior economist, NAR

If you're saving up for a home, take a measured approach, experts say. Determine how much you need for a down payment and stash away a bit of money at a time until you get there. While a bigger place in the suburbs can sound appealing, it's smart to consider the full picture.

Find out if you can still work from home or if you'll need to land a new job when you move. And since different cities have difficult cultures, it makes sense to rent for a short time first, to see if your lifestyle matches with your new city.

"Moving is expensive, whether or not there is a pandemic," Gottlieb says. "There are friction costs with buying and selling real estate, and it's tough to put a price tag on the headache of packing up a home and then unpacking again. At any point, I advise people to make sure they are moving for the right reasons, and that they fully understand all the costs."

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