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How Has the Pandemic Impacted Moving Trends?

John Russell April 3, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a game-changer for interstate migration. MoveBuddha (an internet based company that advertises it helps coordinate cross-country moving services) conducted a study of over 400,000 relocation queries in 2021 to uncover Americans’ patterns for moving. Another company connected to helping people relocate, United Van Lines, did a survey of their own, tracking state to state migration patterns.

Here are the trends they uncovered.

The MoveBuddha survey found that just 8.4 percent of Americans reported that they were moving at the beginning of 2021, the lowest migration rate among Americans in more than 70 years. By the second quarter, moves were up slightly, with 13 percent of Americans reporting in August 2021 that they had relocated since March 2020.

Certain States saw a sharp increase in net migration flow. While the two studies ranked the states differently, the trends were very much the same. MoveBuddha noted Florida’s ratio of inbound to outbound moves increased 43% in 2020. That means more than twice as many people moved into Florida as left it. Alaska saw even steeper gains in 2020, with a 68% more people moving in than out, and then an additional 38% in 2021. There were three people moving into Idaho for every two that moved out. But the biggest differential was for Montana, with 73% of total moves coming in, which translates into a 4 to 1 ration for move-ins versus move-outs.

United Van Lines’ survey found Vermont as the state with the highest percentage of people moving in (74%). The rest of their top 5 were South Dakota, South Carolina, West Virginia and Florida.

On the flip side, United Van Lines’s survey showed the states with highest rates of people moving out – New Jersey (71%), Illinois (67%), New York (63%), Connecticut (60%) and California (59%). MoveBuddah’s top three states people were fleeing were California, New Jersey, and Illinois.

But when people are relocating to another state, where in that state did they tend to go? The two surveys had two very different results. MoveBuddah’s data showed that when people move out of a big city, they tend to relocate to another large city. When residents departed 30 of the nation’s largest cities, they relocated to a city 30% larger than the one they left.

The United Van Lines’ survey data showed something different; it appeared the response to COVID-19 was a boost to the value of smaller, midsized towns and cities. While part of the reason to leave a high-density area like a major metropolitan area was the risk of infection, many movers experienced a transformation in how they were able to work, with more flexibility to work remotely. The MoveBuddha data helped confirm these trends, showing that the majority of the top 25 cities with the most growth in net migration were mid-size, with populations ranging from 10,000 to 200,000 and an average population of 130,000. This is much smaller than the total list of cities where migration occurred, which averaged 294,000 with an average in the bottom quartile of 177,000.

The MoveBuddha report also revealed several cities that consistently attract more residents every year. These cities saw strong net migration in 2020 and higher inflow rates in 2021: Tampa, Florida.; Fort Worth, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma.; Anchorage, Alaska; and Miami, Florida.

The MoveBuddha survey showed a general trend towards people moving to warmer climates in all but one of those cities, and it did not draw any socioeconomic or political conclusions about migrations.  But there did appear to be a trend towards moves from higher-taxed blue states to lower-taxed red states and similarly from states with more restrictive COVID-19 policies to those that had less restrictive policies.

United Van Lines also conducts an annual survey to examine the motivations and influences for Americans’ interstate moves. This year’s survey results indicated that 31.8% of Americans who moved did so to be closer to family. Additionally, 32.5% of Americans moved for a new job or job transfer, a significant decrease from 2015, when more than 60% of Americans cited a job or transfer. Another obvious trend saw the exodus of Gen Xers, many of whom retired early and “moved to Florida.” The data also confirmed the “return to small town America” trends, as they overwhelmingly favored less-dense cities such as Punta Gorda and Sarasota over population-dense locations such as Miami and Orlando.

Sources: Greater Illinois Title Co. Real Estate Digest, March 2022;