Redfin Report: Seattle Reclaims its Migration-Destination Status

Updated on December 2nd, 2019
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More People Look to Move to the Emerald City than Leave for Third Quarter in a Row as Denver Secures its Spot on the ‘Moving Out’ List

Twenty-five percent of home searchers looked to move to another metro area in the fourth quarter of 2018, compared to 23 percent during the same period last year. The national share of home-searchers looking to relocate has been inching up slightly since Redfin began reporting on migration in early 2017 and currently sits at its highest level on record. The latest migration analysis is based on a sample of more than 1 million users who searched for homes across 87 metro areas from October through December.

Moving Out – Metros with the Highest Net Outflow of Redfin Users

San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Denver topped the list of metros people looked to leave, posting the highest net outflows in the fourth quarter. Net outflow is defined as the number of people looking to leave the metro minus the number of people looking to move to the metro. A net outflow means there are more people looking to leave than people looking to move in, while a net inflow means more people are looking to move in than leave.

Table: Top 10 Metros by Net Outflow of Users and Their Top Destinations
RankMetro*dateNet OutflowNet Outflow LYPortion of Local Users Searching ElsewherePortion of Local Users Searching Elsewhere LYTop DestinationTop Out-of-State Destination
1San Francisco, CA2018-10-0129,12217,16823.8%18.9%Sacramento, CASeattle, WA
2New York, NY2018-10-0122,00215,47434.7%33.5%Boston, MABoston, MA
3Los Angeles, CA2018-10-0114,64714,24016.6%15.5%San Diego, CAPhoenix, AZ
4Washington, DC2018-10-015,5274,44310.7%9.9%New York, NYNew York, NY
5Denver, CO2018-10-012,577-2023.8%17.4%Seattle, WASeattle, WA
6Chicago, IL2018-10-012,5351,7869.4%8.3%Los Angeles, CALos Angeles, CA
7Milwaukee, WI2018-10-0169424738.5%36.9%Chicago, ILChicago, IL
8Orlando, FL2018-10-01608-23346.9%35.0%Miami, FLWashington, DC
9Houston, TX2018-10-0143737626.5%24.2%Austin, TXLos Angeles, CA
10Rockford, IL2018-10-01324NAChicago, ILMadison, WI
*Combined statistical areas with at least 500 users in Q4 2018
†Among the one million users sampled for this analysis only

Outflows on the upswing

In San Francisco, New York, Denver and Washington, D.C., outflows were up dramatically from a year earlier. Of all San Francisco Bay Area residents using Redfin, 24 percent were searching for homes in another metro, up from 19 percent during the same time period a year earlier.

Denver made the biggest move up the list from a year earlier, flipping from modest net inflows and outflows throughout 2017 to solid net outflows through late 2018. Last quarter, 24 percent of Denverites on searched for homes outside the area, up from 17 percent a year earlier.

Moving In – Metros with the Highest Net Inflow of Redfin Users

A year ago, we thought Seattle might have passed its peak as a migration destination when it posted a net outflow for the first time at the end of 2017. That trend stuck for just one more quarter before reversing, with Seattle posting a net inflow again in the second quarter of 2018. Since then, Seattle’s net inflow has surged to make it the fifth-most popular migration destination in the fourth quarter, behind nearby Portland and the relatively affordable metros–Sacramento, Phoenix and Atlanta–that have long dominated this list. Although the number of home sales in Seattle was sharply declining at the end of the year (down 22 percent in December), search interest is still high. Washington State’s lack of an income tax may be helping Seattle to continue attracting people, as new tax policies enacted just over a year ago favor areas where homebuyers can avoid hitting the $10,000 SALT cap.

“In both Seattle and Denver prices were growing rapidly in 2017 and early 2018 to the point that buyers backed off in the second half of 2018,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “However, people looking to leave high-tax metros for a city with mountain views and top-notch hiking are more likely to pick Seattle over Denver because Washington State doesn’t have an income tax. In fact, the top destination for Denverites looking to leave is Seattle.”

Net Flow of Users Searching on Redfin
Net Flow of Users Searching on Redfin

In Sacramento, which has been at number one or number two on the inbound migration list every quarter since our inaugural 2017 report, “the biggest thing is the affordability of homes here, especially compared to markets like the Bay Area,” said Redfin agent Jim Hamilton. “The market has softened in the Bay Area, but not as much yet in Sacramento, so buyers are moving here to capitalize on their equity and put a substantial down payment or even pay cash.”

Table: Top 10 Metros by Net Inflow of Users and Their Top Origins
RankMetro*Net InflowNet Inflow LYPortion of Searches from Users Outside the MetroPortion of Searches from Users Outside the Metro LYTop OriginTop Out-of-State Origin
1Sacramento, CA5,8794,58642.1%21.9%San Francisco, CASeattle, WA
2Phoenix, AZ5,2873,54933.1%16.4%Los Angeles, CALos Angeles, CA
3Atlanta, GA4,6583,09726.8%10.2%New York, NYNew York, NY
4Portland, OR4,0571,70020.1%11.9%San Francisco, CASan Francisco, CA
5Seattle, WA3,638-14613.8%11.0%San Francisco, CASan Francisco, CA
6Las Vegas, NV3,1813,58342.0%23.5%Los Angeles, CALos Angeles, CA
7San Diego, CA3,1203,77625.0%19.7%Los Angeles, CASeattle, WA
8Austin, TX2,9821,60929.3%14.4%San Francisco, CASan Francisco, CA
9Miami, FL2,8931,10528.5%15.2%Orlando, FLNew York, NY
10Dallas, TX2,8242,07424.1%12.3%Los Angeles, CALos Angeles, CA
*Combined statistical areas with at least 500 users in Q4 2018
†Negative values indicate a net outflow; among the one million users sampled for this analysis only

Find Your City

Below is an interactive tool to see where people are looking to move and where people are coming from for 80 U.S. metros. Find your city by clicking on the drop down menu:

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Senior Data Journalist / Real Estate Analyst

Tim Ellis has been analyzing the real estate market since 2005, and worked at Redfin as a housing market analyst from 2010 through 2013 and again starting in 2018. In his free time, he runs the independently-operated Seattle-area real estate website Seattle Bubble, and produces the "Dispatches from the Multiverse" improvised comedy sci-fi podcast.

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