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Apartment List Renter Migration Report: 2019

By: Chris Salviati
June 12, 2019

Welcome to the first edition of Apartment List’s new Renter Migration Report! In this report we’ll be analyzing data on millions of searches to see where our users are preparing to move, shedding new light on the migration patterns of America’s renters. These patterns are of particular importance, as long-distance moves are often motivated by employment opportunities, with research showing that residential mobility is closely intertwined with economic mobility.

We look at which parts of the country are retaining their renter populations and which parts renters are fleeing, as well as which metros are doing the best and worst jobs of attracting renters from other parts of the country. In some cases, the patterns we observe in this data are intuitive, while in others we unearth surprising insights.

Read on for our analysis of some of the key insights we observe and please explore the interactive map at the top of the report to draw insights of your own.

Renters flocking to Tampa and Denver, fleeing Detroit

In order to better understand which metros are attracting the most renters from elsewhere, we calculate the share of inbound searches coming from outside the metro. The following chart shows the nation’s 25 largest metros ranked on this metric:

Tampa, FL tops this list; of all the Apartment List users looking for a place in Tampa, 62.8 percent are searching from outside the Tampa metro area. Many of these searches are coming from the nearby Orlando and Miami metros, but Tampa is drawing in renters from outside of Florida as well -- the New York City metro is the third largest source of inbound searches to Tampa.

Denver comes in second in this ranking as a thriving job market fueled by a years-long tech boom attracts renters from around the country. Baltimore has the third highest share of searches coming from outside the metro, but the majority of those out-of-metro searches are coming from residents of nearby Washington, D.C, who may be looking for a more affordable alternative to one of the nation’s most expensive rental markets.

At the other end of the spectrum, just 21.9 percent of searches in the Detroit metro come from outside the metro, the lowest share that we observe among the 25 largest metros. Detroit has suffered from a decades-long population loss, and although this loss has slowed in recent years, the area has yet to cement a full revival. In addition to failing to attract renters from elsewhere, our data also show that many renters currently living in Detroit are looking to get out. Detroit has the second highest share of outbound searches going out-of-metro, with 49.6 percent of apartment hunters currently living in Detroit searching for apartments outside the metro.

Ahead of Detroit, Orlando ranks first in the share of users looking to leave the metro. However, unlike Detroit, Orlando has a thriving local economy and has been experiencing robust population growth. Despite having a high share of users who are searching outside the metro, Orlando also has a relatively high share of inbound searches coming from outside the metro, indicating that the area is experiencing a changing population rather than a declining population. The three most popular outbound search locations from Orlando are all other Florida metros, however, New York is the second most common location for inbound searches to Orlando coming from outside the metro.

Exodus from San Francisco, but not from the Bay Area

San Francisco has the third highest share of users looking to move outside the metro. At first this may appear to confirm a popular narrative that San Francisco is losing residents to more affordable emerging tech hubs such Denver and Austin, however, a closer look at the data contradicts this interpretation.

Among those users located in the San Francisco metro and searching to move elsewhere, more than one-in-three are searching in the greater Bay area -- 24.4 percent are searching in the San Jose metro, 6.5 percent are searching the Sacramento metro, and 3.9 percent are searching in the Vallejo, CA metro. Previous Apartment List research has shown that the Bay Area has some of the highest rates of super commuting in the nation, with increasing numbers of the region’s workers traveling more than 90 minutes each way to work. These data perhaps say more about what Bay Area residents are willing to sacrifice in order to stay in the region, rather than how quickly they’re fleeing it.

For those San Francisco residents who are looking to leave the region, Los Angeles is the most popular destination. Portland, OR is the most popular out-of-state destination, followed by Salt Lake City and Seattle. Each of these metros have growing tech sectors at varying levels of maturity, but it’s notable that neither Denver nor Austin -- burgeoning tech hubs that are commonly perceived to be drawing away workers from the Bay Area -- crack the top 10 for outbound searches coming out of the San Francisco metro.

As New Yorkers move in, Denver residents turn to more affordable CO metros

While the flow of renters from San Francisco to Denver may have been lower than we expected, the tech boom in Denver is definitely a real phenomenon. We see the Denver metro attracting renters from other major metro areas with highly educated workforces. The New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. metros are the first, second, and fourth most common locations for inbound searches to Denver, respectively making up 4.7 percent, 4.6 percent, and 3.0 percent of inbound searches coming from outside the metro.

Meanwhile, many of the current Denver residents who are looking to leave still want to stay closeby. Colorado Springs is the most popular destination, capturing 15.3 percent of outbound searches going outside the metro. Boulder, Fort Collins, and Greely, CO are close behind, accounting for 10.5 percent, 7.3 percent, and 5.3 percent of outbound searchers, respectively. These outflows from Denver to the more affordable surrounding metros are reminiscent of the pattern we noted above in the Bay Area, and likely speaks to growing affordability concerns in Denver’s housing market -- this similarity between the two metros is one that longtime Denver residents are likely not thrilled about.

West Coast tech workers look to Portland as a more affordable alternative to San Francisco and Seattle

As noted above, Portland is the most popular out-of-state destination for those looking to leave the San Francisco metro. Among all renters looking to move to Portland from elsewhere, 9.0 percent are currently living in San Francisco, making it the most popular inbound search location for Portland. Seattle is the 2nd most common source of inbound searches to Portland, followed by Los Angeles, San Jose, and New York.

It is notable that inbound searches to Portland are dominated by areas that boast some of the nation’s most robust tech sectors. The fact that Portland is attracting so much interest from these areas portends continued expansion of the metro’s already growing tech scene, as a subset of workers in San Francisco and Seattle seek out opportunities in places with more affordable housing costs. While the availability of tech jobs in Portland is no doubt a draw, some of those looking to move to the area may not even be searching for new jobs -- the Portland workforce has the nation’s fourth highest share of remote employees.

Hollywood in Phoenix?

Phoenix is another example of a rapidly growing metro that has thus far retained its affordability, making it an attractive destination for those looking to leave more expensive areas on the West Coast. But while Portland is attracting renters from throughout the West Coast and beyond, inbound searches to Phoenix are dominated by one metro: Los Angeles.

Users currently living in the L.A. metro comprise 18.9 percent of inbound searches coming to Phoenix from outside the metro. Phoenix is the most popular outbound search location for those looking to leave the L.A. metro, ranking even higher than the Riverside metro which borders L.A. In contrast to the Bay Area residents who are moving further and further from the core metro and enduring increased commute times, it seems that L.A. residents feeling the price crunch would rather relocate to Phoenix than super-commute from Riverside.

Atlanta becoming a hub on the East Coast

Similar to Portland and Phoenix on the West Coast, Atlanta has experienced solid economic growth in recent years, and represents a more affordable alternative to the expensive metros on the East Coast. Atlanta sees the greatest share of inbound searches coming from the New York City metro, with Washington, D.C. and Miami following close behind as the second and third most common inbound locations.

Notably, Atlanta is also exporting renters back to these metros and throughout the country. While Athens, GA is the most popular search location for users looking to leave the Atlanta metro, the next most common locations for outbound searches from Atlanta are Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C . These large crossflows between Atlanta and many of the nation’s superstar cities are evidence of Atlanta’s growing influence and importance.

Renters in Northeast head to the beach

Just like Atlanta, Miami is also seeing the largest share of inbound searches coming from New York City. But while New Yorkers make up 6.7 percent of inbound searches to Atlanta, they account for a staggering 17.3 percent of those looking to move to Miami from elsewhere. This is substantially more than the 11.6 percent of inbound searches to Miami coming from nearby Orlando, which ranks second. With D.C., Tampa, and Philadelphia rounding out the top five sources of inbound searches, it seems that Miami may be attracting more renters from the Northeast than from elsewhere if Florida.

On the flip side renters looking to leave the Miami metro are much more likely to want to stay in Florida -- Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville are the three most popular outbound search locations from Miami, accounting for a combined 38% of outbound searches. Just three metros outside of Florida -- NYC, L.A., and D.C. -- crack Miami’s top 10 outbound search locations, and these metros combined account for fewer than one-in-ten searches to Miami.

Detroit failing to attract newcomers from outside the Midwest

While the above examples focus primarily on metros that are attracting renters from across the country, Detroit represents a counterexample of a regional city that is failing to generate inbound interest from outside the Midwest.

As described above, Detroit’s population, while no longer plummeting as it has in the past, remains stagnant, and most users searching for apartments in Detroit already live in the metro. Of those searching in Detroit from elsewhere, 10.0 percent are coming from Cleveland, while the next three most popular inbound locations are the smaller Michigan metros of Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Flint. This failure to attract talent from other parts of the country indicates how far Detroit has yet to come on its road to recovery.

Conclusion

Knowing where Americans are moving to and from is key to understanding the evolution of our nation’s cities. Publicly available migration data from Census tracks these trends, but that data source captures moves that have already occurred and is released with a fairly lengthy time lag. Search data from platforms such as Apartment List can help supplement our understanding of migration patterns by serving as a leading indicator that shows where renters are looking to move before those moves have actually occurred.

It is important to note that Apartment List users are not fully representative of the American population as a whole, and that rental listing searches do not always result in completed moves. That said, the trends we observe are nonetheless informative, and we hope that this data tool will serve as a valuable resource for those looking to understand the mobility patterns of America’s renters.

Methodology

Results are based on searches of Apartment List users occurring between January 1, 2018 and May 1, 2019. We include data from both registered and unregistered users. While registered users are uniquely identified, unregistered users who perform multiple searches may be counted multiple times. For users who search in multiple locations, we consider the initial search location to be the primary one. Each user’s current place of residence is defined by the IP address from which the user is searching. All results are aggregated at the metro level, using Census definitions of metropolitan statistical areas.

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