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Major Metros Are Swapping Families for Individuals Through Migration

Urban-to-rural migration continued in the first half of 2021 with individuals replacing the families leaving major metro areas.

August 30, 2021
August 30, 2021
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The pandemic created both desire and opportunity for people to pick up and move -- and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.

Early in the pandemic, facing shutdowns, remote learning, and no vaccines, people left urban areas for rural ones. Even with vaccines and re-openings, that trend increased in the first half of 2021.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) biannual Migration Trends Report, inflow to metropliation area cores stood at 48.5% year-over-year. A value below 50% represents migration loss.

Meanwhile, rural areas are experiencing an inflow, with an inbound move share of 54.6%.

But the urban exodus isn’t evenly spread. While families move to small cities, suburbs, and rural areas, individuals continue to flock toward metro cores.

Families search for more space

In the first six months of 2021, just 24.4% of the moves to metropolitan core areas were made by families.

Meanwhile, families accounted for:

  • 27% of moves to metropolitan high commuting areas (suburbs)
  • 27.1% of moves to micropolitan area cores
  • And 27.1% of moves to small town cores

All of these percentages represent increases from the same period in 2020. It seems the prospect of in-person learning and the availability of vaccines did little to deter families from moving out from major urban areas.

Families are targeting mid-size metro areas where home building is increasing, such as Sarasota, Fla. and Provo, Utah.

Ten most popular destinations for families

Metro area % of inbound traffic from families
Naples, FL44%
Barnstable, MA42%
Cape Coral, FL37%
Sarasota, FL37%
Provo-Orem, UT37%
Myrtle Beach, SC34%
Port St. Lucie, FL33%
Ocala, FL32%
Wilmington, NC31%
Ogden, UT31%

Urban areas remain attractive for individuals

While families search for more space, individuals are moving to metropolitan core areas.

Individuals made up 69.6% of inbound moves to metro cores in the first half of 2021, roughly matching last year’s rate.

Individual movers lost share in every other area category, including small towns, rural areas, and metropolitan suburbs.

The top markets for individual movers are some of the nation’s most expensive housing markets, suggesting that families are being priced out of homebuying and making way for individual renters.

Ten most popular destinations for individuals

Metro area % inbound traffic from individuals
San Francisco, CA74%
Denver, CO74%
Seattle, WA74%
San Jose, CA74%
Portland, OR73%
Baltimore, MD72%
Washington, DC72%
Austin, TX72%
Philadelphia, PA72%
Los Angeles, CA72%

Migration in the future

The question is if urban-to-rural migration will continue even as the pandemic wanes and home prices normalize. One clue is a look at where businesses are moving.

More and more businesses are following people out of urban centers and into suburbs, small metros, and rural areas. According to the NAR, the share of inbound business moves was 47% in urban areas -- a net loss -- and over 60% in low commuting suburbs, high commuting micropolitans, low commuting small towns, and rural areas.

The report concludes the following:

“With both residents and businesses moving out of urban areas, it seems that new business opportunities will present themselves in small and rural areas.”

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