Bay Area residents still want to stay in California despite 'mass exodus' myths

The data doesn't back up the hype

SF Gate | Tessa McLean

Zumper’s first ever migration report uses search data to analyze patterns and trends across the U.S. to see where renters are most interested in moving to and where renters are most interested in leaving. Photo: Zumper

There’s been a lot reported about San Francisco residents fleeing the city, causing rents to plummet and SF home sales finally embracing transparent pricing. But when looking at data from online real estate platforms, most of the real estate searching is still happening within the metro area and throughout California.

According to Zumper, if you look at where people in San Francisco are searching to move on their site, in April and May 2020, the San Francisco Bay Area metro was still the #1 most searched for area, taking up 72% of total searches. This was followed by Sacramento, Los Angeles, Sonoma County and Seattle-Tacoma, showing that people seem to want to stay in California and definitely on the West Coast if they can.

Redfin data shows a similar trend, with most Bay Area residents searching the real estate site within the Bay Area itself. Sacramento is the second most searched city, followed by Los Angeles and Seattle.

“We’re seeing that people want more space and more land during this time,” said Redfin lead economist Taylor Marr. “Homebuyers are increasingly searching for only single-family homes. For people who may only commute into the office one day a week and work from home the rest of time, I think it will cause some of them to move to the suburbs, exurbs and second-cities like Sacramento, that are a long commute away from the Bay Area but still within a two-hour drive."

A recent study done by Apartment List showed there may actually be less people considering moving out of the Bay Area than before the pandemic. There were 37.1% of San Francisco users considering leaving the region altogether and moving to a different metro now as compared to 39% prior to the pandemic.

The share of San Francisco users looking to move to suburban parts of the metro increased from 20% prior to the pandemic to 21.8% from April through June. There has been a nine percent quarter-over-quarter increase San Francisco residents searching for apartments in nearby secondary cities, such as Oakland and Berkeley, but interest in leaving the Bay Area, and especially leaving California, has declined substantially, according to the Apartment List study.

Most notably, the share of users searching for apartments in lower-density cities remains stable, signaling that for many San Franciscans, moves are motivated by the search for more affordable housing, rather than a decreased interest in an urban lifestyle.

“People have always left the Bay Area for less expensive places,” Marr said. “As more companies follow in the footsteps of Facebook, Twitter and Slack in announcing permanent remote work policies, some tech workers are moving to different parts of the country — but most of them have other reasons to stay put, like friends, family and culture. I think with remote work being an option for more people, the trend of leaving the Bay Area will accelerate slightly but not dramatically.”

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