Author Topic: Durable Shift From Urban Areas to Suburban/Xurban/Rural Areas: Show me the data?  (Read 2411 times)

caleb

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Reading the national news, one might be excused for thinking that most people are part of a straight white couple between the ages of 30 and 35, who met at Brown, are currently expecting their first child, and just moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley.  (Let me know if you need a link.)

Conclusion: The cities are dead, and everyone is moving out to some place with a massive lawn.

Woah, woah, woah.  This is a massive claim about how Americans will live in the future.  There must be a ton of evidence behind it, right?

For all of the anecdotal stories that have been written about beat reporters' peers (straight white people in their 20s and 30s who went to selective undergrad institutions), there's an astounding lack of data being presented to back up the argument that there's a durable, national demographic shift from cities to less-dense areas.

Is there actually any data at all showing a nationwide trend away from population density in a way that we would expect it to be durable, like homeownership?  I'm not finding it.

Is there really a durable trend away from cities, or is this just a set of local anecdotes assembled to get by-lines?

« Last Edit: February 20, 2021, 06:33:39 PM by caleb »


FINate

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Nice straw man you're fighting there :)

I don't think serious people are saying cities (implied all) are dead. Instead, the very expensive "superstar" cities are in for a period of difficulty. Are they dead? Not necessarily, though how bad things get depends on how things play as they respond to challenges. Some cities have seen migration to the burbs, whereas others have had migration into the city itself. In other words current migration patterns aren't necessarily rural vs. suburban vs. urban, but rather region vs. region. SF Bay Area to Sacramento (as well as outer suburbs) and CA to TX/TN/AZ/etc. and so on. Many smaller "second tier" cities are actually experiencing boom times.

Want data? Look at how much rents fell in SF and other parts of the Bay Area. The U-Haul data above is also a good indicator.  Another is from United Van Lines which probably reflects a more affluent demographic (e.g. in large part the demographic you highlight, more on this below).

For all of the anecdotal stories that have been written about beat reporters' peers (straight white people in their 20s and 30s who went to selective undergrad institutions), there's an astounding lack of data being presented to back up the argument that there's a durable, national demographic shift from cities to less-dense areas.

So remember, we're not just talking about cities here, but expensive superstar cities. Which demographic is most associated with the relatively recent renewal of the urban core in expensive cities? Yup, the above bolded. The reason SF worked so hard to attract tech companies to the heart of the city after the Great Recession was that they desperately needed the tax revenue and business investment. While some are celebrating the exodus, I wonder if the sentiment will remain during the next round of budget planning cutting. Difficult times ahead for some cities, though they will probably eventually muddle through.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2021, 09:28:36 PM by FINate »

trollwithamustache

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lots and lots of anecdotal data sure, but like you asked for, not a lot of hard big data.

it will probably show up in the census 10 years after its done happening! :)


FINate

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So I'll go ahead and turn the question back on OP: Why do they believe the data isn't durable? Or is this just a semantic move to tell a different narrative? To be clear, I'm not claiming that all or even most of the pandemic-migration people will stay put long term. Rather, this simply isn't knowable until after the fact. The data is what it is, moving is expensive and a major pain in the rear (I know, we recently moved), so it's a big deal when people decide to uproot their lives. IMO, it's incumbent upon OP to provide evidence that this is a temporary trend.

BDWW

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I think the disconnect is based on how small the numbers have to be to have a very noticeable and sizeable effect. It doesn't take a large percentage of people moving from very high population/density areas to low population areas to dramatically move things.

Montana for instance has a total population of around 1 million people. California has 40 million. A very small percentage of Californians (New Yorkers, et al) moving to Montana (Idaho, Nebraska, et al) has a dramatic impact on these lower population areas.

So yes, I think "The cities are dead" is ridiculous hyperbole, but that's not to say the situation doesn't have some significant consequences.

From my backyard:

https://kemc.substack.com/p/trying-to-buy-in-a-montana-boomtown

https://missoulian.com/news/local/missoula-economy-housing-prices-see-largest-spike-in-two-decades/article_533d098e-43a7-5cdc-9440-d1e71712c4c7.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-11/the-zoom-town-boom-in-bozeman-montana

https://mtstandard.com/news/local/economic-outlook-real-estate-market-on-fire/article_d91a3505-85a1-599d-8c5b-d1a21bc0ffe1.html



« Last Edit: February 22, 2021, 01:56:26 PM by BDWW »

Telecaster

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Here is an article in the Seattle Times discussing this issue with data:

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/people-arent-fleeing-seattle-they-just-arent-moving-here-anymore/

It is Seattle-centric, but there is a net out outflow of people in many urban centers, especially the Bay Area.   Seattle is about neutral.

One thing the article touched on, but didn't explore in depth is that many companies aren't moving people due to COVID.   If you got a new a WFH job you probably haven't been in the office yet (my wife is this category).

Edit:  For whatever reason, rents here have been dropping but house prices are rising. 


« Last Edit: February 22, 2021, 02:05:16 PM by Telecaster »

PMJL34

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There's sufficient evidence that tech capitals (SF, SJ, SEA) lost significant in-migration due to COVID/WFH. We all understand and expected this. It's a slightly reassuring that out-migration is not as high as feared.

Looking forward, I do worry about city "homes" more than I previously did. Urban homes are simply smaller in square footage and smaller in lot sizes (which is basically all of them in my area). I have a soon to be vacant unit and even the renters are demanding larger spaces over everything else (no one cares about the stainless, open floor plan, light fixtures, flooring, or upgrades at the moment...they just want space). Once you enjoy a lifestyle inflation of more space, it is harder to return to the smaller "city" size. As an owner of multis, this worries me.

All that to say, I think cities will be fine as jobs and entertainment will be there. But the smaller homes/lots in these cities could be in trouble (although they are currently selling like hot cakes).

That's my two cents.   

PMJL34

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Edit to add

Denser housing is needed in many major cities. But the only way to do this is to build high rise condos and multis. But are future purchasers and residents going to want to live in them post covid if they got used to more space? if not, then what?

Does anybody have any data from international cities like paris, london, tokyo because they would presumably have similar challenges.

caleb

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So I'll go ahead and turn the question back on OP: Why do they believe the data isn't durable? Or is this just a semantic move to tell a different narrative? To be clear, I'm not claiming that all or even most of the pandemic-migration people will stay put long term. Rather, this simply isn't knowable until after the fact.

I'm inclined to think the trends may not stick because even the anecdotes I'm seeing are about people leaving rentals to go elsewhere.  One of the primary reasons to rent (and best!) is to be able to move rapidly in response to changes in the labor market.  If the rental market weren't super volatile right now it would be weird. 

What I don't see is any evidence of widespread changes in the market for single family homes at a national level.  Yes, there's an outflow in coastal California and the Acela Corridor.  But those markets have been out of whack for a long time, in a way that most cities haven't.  They aren't representative of the American housing market in much of any way.

I don't know what the future holds, I just think that when someone makes a claim that American life is undergoing a fundamental change the onus is on them to provide data to back it up. 

I'm generally inclined to think that American life has a strong tendency to snap back toward normalcy after a shock, rather than to change dramatically.  Think back to reporting from ten or twelve years ago: we were going to become a nation of renters and multigenerational households in the aftermath of the housing crisis.  And then ... people bought single family homes again in the same areas they were buying before the housing bubble burst, and American life in 2021 looks a heck of a lot like American life in 2006. 

The chattering class chronically overestimates the impact of shocks on our way of life.  Generally, things go back to the way they were because people like them that way.  Maybe this time will be different, but I'd like to see some evidence.

caleb

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we're not just talking about cities here, but expensive superstar cities.

I think that's basically the nut of it.  A handful of superstar cities are spitting out a subset of their population that happens to overlap socially with reporters.  Reporters do what they do and write stories.

My annoyance is that in order to get the stories to matter, the reporters are trying to make the case (or very heavily imply) that there's a big demographic shift at work.  A story about New York and the Bay Area is regional.  A story about national demographics is, well, national.

I think we're being bamboozled into thinking that a regional story with a short half-life is really some grand national shift.

lhamo

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Did you bother to look at either the Uhaul or United Van Lines data?

Seems like you are doing the same thing you complain the reporters are -- getting an idea in your head and fixating on it as fact rather than trying to dig deeper.

PMJL34

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Caleb,

I mostly agree with you. However...

"The chattering class chronically overestimates the impact of shocks on our way of life.  Generally, things go back to the way they were because people like them that way.  Maybe this time will be different, but I'd like to see some evidence."

I think COVID is more than a "shock." Shock to me is like 3-6 months. I'm assuming the vaccines will take all of 2021 to be administered. Even after vaccines, I would assume that masks are still normal for a while (at least in CA). So we could be well into 2022 before life can back to the good old days (large gatherings, international travel, etc.). I hope I'm wrong, but the point is covid started in 3/2020 and it will be a full 2 years of dramatically different behaviors/lives.  I think there are going to be some fundamental differences going forward. Again, as an investor in the bay area, I hope I am wrong.

FINate

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I'm still not convinced. Sure, the media sensationalizes things for profit, but that doesn't mean there isn't a kernel of truth to it.

The SF Bay Area is what I know well and pay attention to. I know very little about NYC or other major metro markets so take the following with that caveat in mind.

IMO, long term effects come down to three things: jobs, jobs, and jobs. People came to the Bay Area primarily for the jobs. Then they started leaving when given the option of working remotely. So whatever happens with these jobs (continued remote work, or back in the physical office) will largely determine the durability of the shift. People put up with a lot of shit (literally and figuratively) in exchange for high compensation. Somewhere around 50% of people in the Bay Area said they wanted to relocate elsewhere before the pandemic hit.

Anecdotally, we were some of those people. Our new-to-us house was in contract when everything hit the fan last March. Traffic, cost of living, low crime, good food, clean streets and parks, mountain biking, fishing, hiking, hunting, quick access to affordable skiing... our quality of life after moving has significantly improved for a fraction of the cost. The only thing I can point to that may be a negative for some is the four season climate. Yet we love the variability and don't find it at all disagreeable. I'm honestly a little perplexed after years of hearing transplants to CA complain about winter climates. Really now, what's the big deal? Put on some layers, push a little snow off the slidewalk, and enjoy the beautiful winter wonderland.

But that's just me, and maybe I'm completely wrong. Wouldn't be the first time :) If you're convinced that it's all overblown then it should be a great time to pick up some multi-family rental properties at a discount. Heck, in a way I hope I'm wrong as it would relieve some of the demand driving up prices in my new city.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2021, 08:40:08 AM by FINate »

maizefolk

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My annoyance is that in order to get the stories to matter, the reporters are trying to make the case (or very heavily imply) that there's a big demographic shift at work.  A story about New York and the Bay Area is regional.  A story about national demographics is, well, national.

I disagree with you in two ways.

Firstly, the stories I've read have made it clear they are talking about outflow from the super-cities not every urban area.

Secondly, if the elite educated, highly compensated folks really are dispersing to other cities across the country and the change has staying power, that actually would have big national implications, not only regional ones.

Elites, by definition, have an outsized say in our nations politics and economy. Right now, if you're a smart person who gets into an elite college, the odds are quite good that are afterwards you end up doing one of six things in six cities: banking, consulting, technology, law, medicine or academia in New York, SF, Boston, DC, Seattle or Los Angeles. That's skewed the property markets in those cities, but it's also skewed the our nation's politics and economy. Most worrying, I think it has given many of those elite a really skewed view of the lives of the people live in the rest of the country (and allowed the rest of the country to develop a skewed view of the lives of those elites living in the those six-ish major cities).

If, when the dust settles a significant percentage of the people with money and education and power who currently live in that small number of expensive and crowded cities end up living in other cities like Cleveland or Des Moines or St. Louis or Kansas City or New Orleans or Atlanta or Albuquerque or Tucson or Lansing or Missoula or Salt Lake City or Coeur d'Alene, I see that as good for the economy, good for our politics, and good for our nation. Seems like a national story... at least to me.

caleb

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Did you bother to look at either the Uhaul or United Van Lines data?

Yes, both are state-level data.  That's not what we're talking about here at all.  People moving from California to Texas or even Idaho isn't clear evidence of de-urbanization.  It's just evidence of people leaving states with a higher cost of living for a lower cost, which is not the question I'm asking at all.

Looking at most midsize metros around the country, the urban cores have gained value at about the same rate as the surrounding area, perhaps lagging by 2-3% over the last 18 months.  Maybe that's a slight uptick in suburban interest, but not all that much.

I haven't seen any national summary stats of urban/suburban/rural price appreciation, so this is really just looking at newspapers from a handful of cities that aren't superstar metros.

caleb

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My annoyance is that in order to get the stories to matter, the reporters are trying to make the case (or very heavily imply) that there's a big demographic shift at work.  A story about New York and the Bay Area is regional.  A story about national demographics is, well, national.

I disagree with you in two ways.

Firstly, the stories I've read have made it clear they are talking about outflow from the super-cities not every urban area.

Secondly, if the elite educated, highly compensated folks really are dispersing to other cities across the country and the change has staying power, that actually would have big national implications, not only regional ones.


Perhaps the questions we're circling are twofold. 

The first is whether there's a national de-urbanization.  Nobody seems to want to make that case.

The second is whether an exodus from a handful of cities Matters in a capital-M sense.  Your position as I understand it is that it does matter in a big way because as they relocate they'll impact the culture and economy of their new homes more than the average joe.  If people do end up relocating to a broad array of cities, from Cleveland to Memphis to El Paso, I think you'd probably be right.  And I agree that the outcome of a diffusion of former Bay Area employees around the country broadly would be good.

An alternative, though, is that the diffusion is focused and ends up creating permanent Zoom Towns in warm/dry/sunny locations where wealth can cluster, run the schools/local government/culture, and ultimately create something of a private playground.  If that's the outcome, the diffusion is probably more of a local issue with minimal national importance.

waltworks

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I think, like Maizefolk, that if elites dispersed widely through flyover country, that would be a good thing. It would revitalize lots of local economies/tax bases that have fallen behind and let both sides maybe see each other a little more as actual people.

But the rich-person-playground thing is probably more likely. Lots of people with money who like to mountain bike are moving to Park City and Carbondale and Durango and Bozeman. Those places were already isolated patches of blue/elites in seas of red to various degrees, they're just getting much more expensive. Nobody is moving to a small town in Kansas, or Fargo, etc. where they'd actually encounter, say, people who drive trucks with gun racks.

Point being, I don't think anyone is actually going outside their comfort zone all that much.

-W

maizefolk

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If we instead see the same folks all clustering in a set of remote rich-people playground towns, I would argue that's also an issue of national importance, just take what I wrote above and flip it around: the powerful elites get even more detached from the day to day lives and humanity of the rest of americans, and the rest of americans develop even further skewed versions of the day to day lives and humanity of those same elites.

Perhaps the questions we're circling are twofold. 

The first is whether there's a national de-urbanization.  Nobody seems to want to make that case.

Could you point to some of the news articles you have read where reporters are arguing that there is a national trend towards people moving out of all cities? If no one is defending it, and no one is saying it in the first place, it isn't clear to me why this is a question worth circling?

caleb

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Could you point to some of the news articles you have read where reporters are arguing that there is a national trend towards people moving out of all cities? If no one is defending it, and no one is saying it in the first place, it isn't clear to me why this is a question worth circling?

Here's three random ones I pulled from the first page of my news search.  I could probably find another 50 in a hurry that state or imply a widespread demographic shift up front, only to then rely on really limited evidence or just anecdotes from a handful of overpriced metros.

Here's Price Waterhouse Cooper with an article titled, "Great American Exodus": https://www.pwc.com/us/en/industries/financial-services/research-institute/blog/move-to-the-suburbs-real-estate-market.html  It opens with, "Millennials are leading a Great American Exodus from many major cities. Theyíre getting married, having kids and finding their downtown apartments increasingly cramped, particularly since the pandemic has stranded everyone at home. These families seek not only more space, but affordable homes and lower costs. In August, total sales inventory across New York City reached its highest data level since 2010."  Millennials, it turns out as you read further, reside in New York or California, which are indeed parts of America.

Here's NPR from last July: https://www.npr.org/2020/07/08/887585383/new-yorkers-look-to-suburbs-and-beyond-other-city-dwellers-may-be-next  It's a story about New York that opens with, "Trends often start in New York. The latest: quitting the city and moving to the suburbs."  This is the NPR equivalent of our dearly departed/deposed leader's "people are saying..." conversation starter: maybe it's a trend.  I don't know, but some very smart people have been talking about it.  They're probably right.  Let me tell you about my friends Geoff and Emma...

Here's Business Insider from November with an article titled, "Millennials and Gen Z are fleeing cities and buying up homes in the suburbs amid the coronavirus pandemic": https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-gen-z-leaving-cities-for-suburbs-amid-pandemic-2020-11  Turns out that there's a slight uptick in young people in the 'burbs, but they may also just be living in their parents' basements for now.  There's actually zero evidence in the article of a trend of the named demographic groups buying homes in the suburbs.

The case that some big shift is afoot isn't being made at all, it's just being implied.  The stories, and so many more like them, are a whole lot of headline with very little to back it up.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2021, 03:26:55 PM by caleb »

Michael in ABQ

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Albuquerque is a mid-tier city of about 800,000 in the metro area. Anecdotally home prices are rising faster than normal (up 13% YoY) and there is limited supply (average DOM down from 37 to 20 in the last year - from 3,000 listings to 1,200). New homes are still going up at a pretty good clip and we have plenty of land to build on. How many of the people moving here are coming from larger more expensive cities because of telework? Hard to say. Santa Fe, NM which is a much smaller city (100,000 or so) has historically attracted a lot of wealthy people coming from LA or NYC - though often as retirees or as a second home. There's probably a subset now that can work remotely and still afford that $600,000 house on the edge of the city on a couple of acres near some celebrity's second home.

As others have pointed out, it doesn't take much to shift the balance in a small market. Albuquerque typically sees about 10,000 - 15,000 home sales per year. If a couple thousand people in HCOL markets sell their homes or bring a high-income from working remotely they can easily afford to bid up the prices of the median home here ($259,000 in 4Q20).

maizefolk

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The case that some big shift is afoot isn't being made at all, it's just being implied.  The stories, and so many more like them, are a whole lot of headline with very little to back it up.

Okay. So since it sounds like we both agree no one is actually making a real the case that people are moving out of all cities rather than a few of the biggest, richest, and most expensive cities, why put effort into arguing against a position no one seems to be arguing for, either in this thread or generally?

caleb

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The case that some big shift is afoot isn't being made at all, it's just being implied.  The stories, and so many more like them, are a whole lot of headline with very little to back it up.

Okay. So since it sounds like we both agree no one is actually making a real the case that people are moving out of all cities rather than a few of the biggest, richest, and most expensive cities, why put effort into arguing against a position no one seems to be arguing for, either in this thread or generally?

Well, the assertion and implication of a general trend is widespread, even among reputable news outlets.  There are three examples above of a trend being asserted, only to have perhaps some piecemeal evidence for the claim.

It's not that there aren't claims, it's that the evidence is lacking for the claims.  Without evidence, it's not much of an argument.  But the claim is being made and seems to be now generally accepted.

It was so generally accepted and parroted that I was hoping someone here would have real data to support it, or at least inform it.  On that front, we've seen some moving van rentals and crickets.

Michael in ABQ

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The case that some big shift is afoot isn't being made at all, it's just being implied.  The stories, and so many more like them, are a whole lot of headline with very little to back it up.

Okay. So since it sounds like we both agree no one is actually making a real the case that people are moving out of all cities rather than a few of the biggest, richest, and most expensive cities, why put effort into arguing against a position no one seems to be arguing for, either in this thread or generally?

Well, the assertion and implication of a general trend is widespread, even among reputable news outlets.  There are three examples above of a trend being asserted, only to have perhaps some piecemeal evidence for the claim.

It's not that there aren't claims, it's that the evidence is lacking for the claims.  Without evidence, it's not much of an argument.  But the claim is being made and seems to be now generally accepted.

It was so generally accepted and parroted that I was hoping someone here would have real data to support it, or at least inform it.  On that front, we've seen some moving van rentals and crickets.

Quarterly Vacancy and Homeownership Rates by State and MSA
https://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/data/rates.html

I'll leave the interpretation to you, but just a quick glance at some larger cities like NY and LA versus smaller metro areas does seem to show increasing vacancy in large cities and decreasing vacancy in small cities.

There might be some other census data that would provide the data you need. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/surveyhelp/list-of-surveys/household-surveys.html The problem is, these trends may not be fully reflected for another year or two.

maizefolk

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The case that some big shift is afoot isn't being made at all, it's just being implied.  The stories, and so many more like them, are a whole lot of headline with very little to back it up.

Okay. So since it sounds like we both agree no one is actually making a real the case that people are moving out of all cities rather than a few of the biggest, richest, and most expensive cities, why put effort into arguing against a position no one seems to be arguing for, either in this thread or generally?

Well, the assertion and implication of a general trend is widespread, even among reputable news outlets.  There are three examples above of a trend being asserted, only to have perhaps some piecemeal evidence for the claim.

Your articles are either explicitly talking about only major cities, or explicitly talking about NYC specifically, or in the last case about a very small long term shift that was evidenced pre-covid.

You seem to be taking these stories that talk about specific trends which are supported by evidence (high income/high education people moving out of the biggest and most expensive cities at the moment), generalizing to an argument that all types of people are abandoning all cities (which is not in the articles you linked to), and then complaining that the articles don't contain data to support a trend which the articles don't claim is happening in the first place and which you also agree isn't happening.

It's that internet. So you can certainly do that if you want to. And it doesn't particularly hurt anybody. I just, personally, don't see the point.

caleb

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Your articles are either explicitly talking about only major cities, or explicitly talking about NYC specifically, or in the last case about a very small long term shift that was evidenced pre-covid.

You seem to be taking these stories that talk about specific trends which are supported by evidence (high income/high education people moving out of the biggest and most expensive cities at the moment), generalizing to an argument that all types of people are abandoning all cities (which is not in the articles you linked to), and then complaining that the articles don't contain data to support a trend which the articles don't claim is happening in the first place and which you also agree isn't happening.

Meh, I don't think we're going to see eye-to-eye here.

In my mind, certainly any place with more than a million souls is a major city.  I guess if to you there's just NYC, SF and the hinterlands, we're starting from different places.

If you don't think the headlines above go well beyond the evidence the articles present, we're not going to agree on what constitutes compelling evidence.

waltworks

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I tend to agree with Maizeman that you've created your own straw man to beat up on here.

It's true that NYT trend articles about Brown graduates don't necessarily mean much about the broader economy. But we do have data about big elite cities and rent/housing prices, both of which indicate those cities have seen at least some outward migration in the last year. We have a ton of anecdotes about people moving to suburbs/mountains/resorts/Costa Rica, too. At some point someone (probably the census folks) will have some really good data on this, but in the meantime, you're going to have to make do with Uhaul and big city rent numbers, really.

-W

deborah

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There is definitely a shift from cities to more rural areas happening in Australia.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-02/abs-data-confirms-city-exodus-during-covid/13112868

talks about ABS data for it (our official bureau of statistics - usually runs the census). While this isnít the US, it might be interesting.

Shane

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In 1918 and 1919, ~675K people died from the Spanish Flu in the US, out of a population of only ~100MM. Proportionally, that's >4X the number who have died from Covid, so far. Since the Spanish Flu didn't kill cities, I don't think Covid will, either. Didn't the Roaring '20s come shortly after that pandemic ended? Bigger picture issues like climate change seem much more important than Covid-19, IMHO. If Americans hope to have any chance of meeting our goals of reducing carbon emissions, we're going to have to work harder to encourage almost everyone to move closer to where they work, go to school, shop, and recreate - not further away. Americans are going to need to live in smaller homes, not larger. My family and I spent >20 years living in the country. It was a great experience for us but, in hindsight, moving from our little studio apartment in town that was walking distance from work out to an acreage 25 miles away was, pretty much, the worst possible thing we could've done for the environment. We're city people now. I can't imagine ever living in the suburbs or countryside again.

Paper Chaser

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Did you bother to look at either the Uhaul or United Van Lines data?

Yes, both are state-level data.  That's not what we're talking about here at all.  People moving from California to Texas or even Idaho isn't clear evidence of de-urbanization.  It's just evidence of people leaving states with a higher cost of living for a lower cost, which is not the question I'm asking at all.

If you're comfortable with state level evidence that people are moving from HCOLs to LCOLs, and it's generally accepted that the cities are the highest COLs in their respective states, then doesn't it seem likely that there's some outward flow from dense population to less dense? Perhaps not direct evidence, but it is suggestive. My anectodotal evidence says similar, with my urban-living, Millenial friends cashing out equity in their hip neighborhoods to gain more space for growing families in the burbs in the last 5 years.

I'm not clear if you're specifically looking at migration due to the pandemic, or more sustained trends that existed before, but many of the stories that I can dig up indicate that on a state level the 2020 data is mostly just continuations of previous trends : South and West regions seeing gains, high tax states (CA, NY, IL, etc) seeing losses.

If you're interested in trends before COVID, here's a big 'ol spreadsheet with county level migration for all 50 states from 2014-2018 according to the census bureau:

https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/demo/geographic-mobility/county-to-county-migration-2014-2018.html

This site shows a map of county level migration by decade, but it only goes through 2010 because it uses census data:

https://netmigration.wisc.edu/

Sibley

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I think it's far to early to tell if there is a widespread shift away from cities. A lot of companies still haven't pulled people back into the office yet. It'll be much more telling in a year or two, once vaccines have been widespread and some sort of normalcy has been established. FWIW, I just did a job search and yes there were a handful of fully remote positions, but most everyone was remote for now and we're still figuring out the long term.

Fru-Gal

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I live in a HCOL city and think that a little out migration and loss of commuters has been absolutely fantastic for the livability here. Personally I don't think deurbanization is happening, but also it depends on your stage of life. People awash in tech cash in their 30s considering having kids may well move somewhere where they can own a house and yard. We married young, bought the house/yard, had kids, but within our city. Of course now the house is worth a mil. Insane! Anyway we're not going anywhere, and the city has improved SO MUCH. At least for those of us who stay, we see cities getting better and better. While those who leave probably think the opposite.

This is the eternal (as in since Socrates) debate, city vs. country. Native Americans too distrusted tribes that lived in hills vs. those who lived in valleys. Same as it ever was. Plus urban centers experience cyclical economic growth/contraction.

That said, I hope for the planet's sake we do not see any acceleration of car-dependent suburbanization.

ebella

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I live in what many would term a second-tier city in an area that hasn't had many Covid precuations (think TX, FL, AZ, NC, TN, GA).  I own a condo in the major in-town commercial and residential area where, in pre-Covid times there were many renters and white collar or service sector jobs.  All that has evaporated and there is a massive supply of untis for sale and we are unable to get any interest in ours and may have to take a loss on what we paid 2/3 years ago to buy it.  Many shops and restaurants have gone out of business around us and there's lots of vacant commercial space.  There's also more crime and increased homelessness.  I suspect this is not uncommon in other cities like ours which may be experiencing a boom in people relocating here from the first-tier cities or who lived in my area but are able to now WFH or are willing to sacrifice commute for single family homes farther out from urban core.  This is consistent with the data for real estate listings and closings in my market and nationally.  So I think it's more nuanced than simply people fleeing cities but fleeing urban centers that (either by price or geography) have less space because of changes in work habits/commutes/priorities.

waltworks

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A lot of companies still haven't pulled people back into the office yet.

I know a bunch (like, easily triple digits if you add up college friends, industry friends, neighbors, family, etc) of well compensated white-collar office/tech folks. A common story goes something like this:
-Corporate HR starts making noises about bringing people back to the office.
-Almost every employee makes it clear that they will just resign if this happens, they expect to be able to work remotely if they want, forever, and they can get another job somewhere else, thanks very much.
-A few days/week passes in silence while gears churn.
-Company announces plans to sublet or sell office space and nothing further is heard about bringing people back to the office.

Higher end white collar workers (the people buying houses for cash in Boise) are not going back unless they want to at this point. They have the leverage, too, because a lot of them are riding high on their huge investment portfolios, and their disdain for the office seems to be near-universal, so they have overcome the collective action problem of bargaining with their employer.

-W

maizefolk

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Waltworks, because of my field of work I have had far less first/second hand exposure to the types of workers in the position of relative economic power you describe, so it is fascinating to hear about the dynamics you are seeing and hearing about.

waltworks

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Waltworks, because of my field of work I have had far less first/second hand exposure to the types of workers in the position of relative economic power you describe, so it is fascinating to hear about the dynamics you are seeing and hearing about.

There is definitely a strong chance of sampling bias since I know too many mountain bikers and climbers and such who happen to have tech jobs, so who knows.

I know if I was able to work remote and had a high end white collar job, I'd laugh in HR's face if they told me to come back to the office.

We'll see!

-W

FINate

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I know quite a few folks that moved to major tech hubs like SF and NYC mainly to get FANG and a couple promotions on their resume. The longer term goal was always to leverage this to write their own ticket somewhere more sane. It helps that they were able to save a good amount of FU money along the way. Yeah, they'll tell HR to pound sand. No idea what the actual stats are for this.

Telecaster

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I know a bunch (like, easily triple digits if you add up college friends, industry friends, neighbors, family, etc) of well compensated white-collar office/tech folks. A common story goes something like this:
-Corporate HR starts making noises about bringing people back to the office.
-Almost every employee makes it clear that they will just resign if this happens, they expect to be able to work remotely if they want, forever, and they can get another job somewhere else, thanks very much.
-A few days/week passes in silence while gears churn.
-Company announces plans to sublet or sell office space and nothing further is heard about bringing people back to the office.

Higher end white collar workers (the people buying houses for cash in Boise) are not going back unless they want to at this point. They have the leverage, too, because a lot of them are riding high on their huge investment portfolios, and their disdain for the office seems to be near-universal, so they have overcome the collective action problem of bargaining with their employer.

-W

My wife works for a big tech company and this is absolutely what is happening.  Co-workers on her team are doing this.   Proximity to the office isn't measured in commute time for these workers.  It is measured in time zones.  They can move to Boise or a wherever suits their lifestyle for a fraction of the cost.   And it is still "close enough" to the office to make it work.  And if the boss says they need to start coming into the office they will just get another job. 

This is an aside, but I think the open office concept is one of the stupidest things ever invented.  Many of the tech companies have already formally announced working from home forever (Twitter), or mostly working from home forever (Google).  I think their analytics are telling them that their employees are just as, if not more, productive at home than in the hellscape of the open office. 

jeromedawg

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I know a bunch (like, easily triple digits if you add up college friends, industry friends, neighbors, family, etc) of well compensated white-collar office/tech folks. A common story goes something like this:
-Corporate HR starts making noises about bringing people back to the office.
-Almost every employee makes it clear that they will just resign if this happens, they expect to be able to work remotely if they want, forever, and they can get another job somewhere else, thanks very much.
-A few days/week passes in silence while gears churn.
-Company announces plans to sublet or sell office space and nothing further is heard about bringing people back to the office.

Higher end white collar workers (the people buying houses for cash in Boise) are not going back unless they want to at this point. They have the leverage, too, because a lot of them are riding high on their huge investment portfolios, and their disdain for the office seems to be near-universal, so they have overcome the collective action problem of bargaining with their employer.

-W

My wife works for a big tech company and this is absolutely what is happening.  Co-workers on her team are doing this.   Proximity to the office isn't measured in commute time for these workers.  It is measured in time zones.  They can move to Boise or a wherever suits their lifestyle for a fraction of the cost.   And it is still "close enough" to the office to make it work.  And if the boss says they need to start coming into the office they will just get another job. 

This is an aside, but I think the open office concept is one of the stupidest things ever invented.  Many of the tech companies have already formally announced working from home forever (Twitter), or mostly working from home forever (Google).  I think their analytics are telling them that their employees are just as, if not more, productive at home than in the hellscape of the open office.

What's ironic about this is that the head of tech at the company I work for (a big bank that has been plagued with scandals in recent years... take a guess LOL) is *insisting* that co-locating all his teams in core locations across the country is the best idea ever...whenever things get back to "normal" LOL. He started on this initiative pre-COVID but is still insisting on going back to this model even to this day. The crazy thing is that a majority of the bank (besides those working in branches or in other office locations where they absolutely need to go in, etc) has been on a WFH model for *years* so all of the sudden co-location is going to fix all the problems that have plagued them in recent years? Right... currently the buzz-phrase is "cutting budget or reducing costs through promoting attrition" and there are rumors of impending lay-offs every other day or week. So I guess if that's what they're aiming for (people to quit on their own volition) then pushing for co-location and or requiring people (who have been WFH for years) to relocate for work in a shared open space office is actually a great idea right? This will encourage many people to want to leave the company! Anyway, I think the writing is on the wall for me and probably many others but I'm likely going to just say put for the time being, or at least until I'm laid off. I'm pretty tired of working and need to go on a sabbatical or something. And I don't feel like my skills can easily translate/transition to another position as they have lapsed and my 'career path' trajectory has plateaued. WFH has been great but the work is just dull to me.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2021, 09:49:22 PM by jeromedawg »

caleb

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Here is an article in the Seattle Times discussing this issue with data:

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/people-arent-fleeing-seattle-they-just-arent-moving-here-anymore/

It is Seattle-centric, but there is a net out outflow of people in many urban centers, especially the Bay Area.   Seattle is about neutral.

One thing the article touched on, but didn't explore in depth is that many companies aren't moving people due to COVID.   If you got a new a WFH job you probably haven't been in the office yet (my wife is this category).

Edit:  For whatever reason, rents here have been dropping but house prices are rising.

Good article, and one element that's easy to forget is that the urban core of big cities has always been in a cycle of emptying out and refilling.  If that refilling hits pause but the normal outflow continues, we can wrongly look at the outflow as a cause instead of the lack of inflow.

Whether the inflow returns is obviously an open question.  However, if you (that's the proverbial you, not you specifically) were hiring a 22 year old with no real professional experience, would  you want to hire them as fully remote, WFH?  On the other side, if you (and again that's the proverbial you) were to be talking to a young person looking for a first adult job, would you advise them to take a WFH position?

In my industry, the answer would be a hard no to both, but I realize others here have very different work cultures. 

Whether companies and institutions can maintain their talent pipelines over the long haul with a WFH culture is a question they can likely put off for a few years, but not forever.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2021, 03:03:27 PM by caleb »

lhamo

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However, would you (that's the proverbial you, not you specifically) were hiring a 22 year old with no real professional experience, would  want to hire them as fully remote, WFH?  On the other side, if you (and again that's the proverbial you) were to be talking to a young person looking for a first adult job, would you advise them to take a WFH position?

In my industry, the answer would be a hard no to both, but I realize others here have very different work cultures. 

Whether companies and institutions can maintain their talent pipelines over the long haul with a WFH culture is a question they can likely put off for a few years, but not forever.

My DS was in this position, except he's 19.   He graduated with his BS in Computer Science last spring.   He is taking a gap year before pursuing a Ph.D. and took an internship with a tech startup founded by some of the CS professors/grad students he had done research for as a student.  Fully remote as most tech companies in Seattle are right now.   He is basically running a huge chunk of a multi-million dollar contract that is one of the things positioning them for a big buyout.  He's doing such a good job the co-founders asked him to defer grad school for a year and offered him a FT job with benefits. 

If work is doable in a home setting and structured so that the quality/amount of the product is the focus and not all the stupid butt in seat stuff is the focus, then any kid coming out of a good undergrad degree program where they have been academically challenged and learned decent problem-solving, time management and interpersonal skills wants to make a contribution can WFH just fine - assuming they are interested in/engaged by the work. 


maizefolk

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My DS was in this position, except he's 19.   He graduated with his BS in Computer Science last spring.   He is taking a gap year before pursuing a Ph.D. and took an internship with a tech startup founded by some of the CS professors/grad students he had done research for as a student.  Fully remote as most tech companies in Seattle are right now.   He is basically running a huge chunk of a multi-million dollar contract that is one of the things positioning them for a big buyout.  He's doing such a good job the co-founders asked him to defer grad school for a year and offered him a FT job with benefits. 

If work is doable in a home setting and structured so that the quality/amount of the product is the focus and not all the stupid butt in seat stuff is the focus, then any kid coming out of a good undergrad degree program where they have been academically challenged and learned decent problem-solving, time management and interpersonal skills wants to make a contribution can WFH just fine - assuming they are interested in/engaged by the work.

That's awesome, lhamo! Congratulations to your DS.

I agree that WFH is good for people who are motivated self starters and get stuff done.  In your son's case he was hired by people who had worked with him in the past and so, presumably, knew he had those characteristics. One of the big roles I think research programs at universities play (independent from the research itself) is that we provide a place undergrads get experience with a "real job." A lot of the undergraduates I hire are working for pay for the first time. Some turn out to be those motivated self starters from the beginning. Some don't start out that way but learn strategies that work for them so they actually get their work done, and once they make that transition they thrive. Some people really don't and the position doesn't work out, but since it starts out as an hourly position there are face saving exits available on either side ("I'm too busy with classes next semester","We don't have the funding to continue the project next semester").

Anyway, this is a long rambling lead in to me saying that a lot of students graduating from college already have useful work experience and the ones who did well in those sorts of "training" work from home jobs should have no trouble transitioning to work from home in a professional setting. I've definitely seen the self starters and the people who aren't natively self starters but found a way to act like a self starter who came through my lab have no trouble at all finding good jobs after graduation. So I think it's more likely that employers put more emphasis on experience working remotely before graduation in deciding to hire than that they reopen their offices and call the majority of their staff back (losing a lot of their best people in the process) in order to be able to onboard new employees in a conventional office environment.

PMJL34

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This is all interesting and I'm enjoying everyone's input.

Somethings that stick out...

-Yes, we all know those who are refusing to return to offices. But these are the tenured/experienced folks. Not everyone can do this. I also think a 22 year old me would not want to work from home. I'd wager most younger/starting tech employees would love to be in the office and to network and socialize. a 22 year old me living in small town would still want to travel to a major city, even if it's only for a few years.

-Broader question: what percentage of the work force are we talking about here in terms of permanent WFH? We discussed that only a small number of those earning big bucks need to relocate to have potentially big impact, but again, how many are we talking about?

-I still think this is an overall good thing for the mega cities because housing prices are insane and tech folks aren't necessarily the most neighborly so them dispersing and decreasing the pricing is a welcome to many around me.

Michael in ABQ

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This is all interesting and I'm enjoying everyone's input.

Somethings that stick out...

-Yes, we all know those who are refusing to return to offices. But these are the tenured/experienced folks. Not everyone can do this. I also think a 22 year old me would not want to work from home. I'd wager most younger/starting tech employees would love to be in the office and to network and socialize. a 22 year old me living in small town would still want to travel to a major city, even if it's only for a few years.

-Broader question: what percentage of the work force are we talking about here in terms of permanent WFH? We discussed that only a small number of those earning big bucks need to relocate to have potentially big impact, but again, how many are we talking about?

-I still think this is an overall good thing for the mega cities because housing prices are insane and tech folks aren't necessarily the most neighborly so them dispersing and decreasing the pricing is a welcome to many around me.

The last time I saw numbers for my area on "tech" employment it was only a few percent of the work force. Now obviously tech/knowledge workers represent a much large proportion of the employment in places like San Francisco, NYC, LA, etc. - those high-paying jobs are one of the drivers of the high cost of living.

Albuquerque has a population of about 800k and a workforce of around 435k. Office-using workers are about 185k, with almost half of that representing government (NM economy as a whole is very heavily over-weighted in government with four military bases, two national labs, and several regional HQs for federal agencies). So that's about 42% of the workforce that are in offices - albeit not all can necessarily WFH. The DMV employee, many of the R&D workers at the national labs, etc. Even if just 10% of office-using workers started WFH that would be almost 20,000 people in just a mid-sized city like Albuquerque. Also, that's 20,000 workers, so with their families it could end up being 50,000+. If you had the same proportion of people moving from San Francisco that could amount to a couple hundred thousand which would definitely move the needle in a lot of places - even if just a fraction of them moved to a place like Albuquerque or Boise.

chemistk

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I've been following this discussion, and I'll chime in with a datapoint and a question to the OP:

It's not just techies (whether they work for FAANG type corps or hold a tech job in a 'regular' co.) that are going to be WFH - in my own workplace, HR/finance/marketing/etc. are all WFH in perpetuity and based on the background work HR is doing, it looks like many if not most of those 'desk' jobs will be offered the opportunity to WFH forever if they choose. Even more, our company's corporate offices are all located in the same small town and >80% of all the white collar positions are located here. Even a couple years ago, it would have been unheard of for more than a dozen people to be on a permanent remote work program and even then, corporate would have worked toward bringing them into the 'small town' with the corp. headquarters. It now looks like for future hires, HR is considering folks anywhere in the country, with some of them not even being asked to relocate. The company I work for has been around for well over a century, so you can imagine the culture, up until covid, would never have offered this.

To the OP, or to the folks who are concerned in this thread:

Every time I read updates to this discussion, I ask myself "why do you care"?

I mean, if you're interested in big-city real estate or already hold rentals in the city, I can see why this would be a concern, but if you don't then what does it matter?

BDWW

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Every time I read updates to this discussion, I ask myself "why do you care"?

I mean, if you're interested in big-city real estate or already hold rentals in the city, I can see why this would be a concern, but if you don't then what does it matter?

I have several friends who are currently living in apartments and condos that are, as of the last year, renting well below market rates. The homeless shelters and section 8 housing have ~18 month waiting lists. My wife and I have cleaned up the spare bedroom and made it ready in case we have to host housing refugees. Several of these folks would literally have no where to go if their rent gets brought up anywhere near market rates. At least the two friends I'm most worried about each have family about an hour away, so they likely would be able to stay there and commute to save their jobs.

unccnick

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Figured I'd jump in with my own perspective. Primarily, because I believe this thread is overlooking and/or undervaluing a significant reason people move to cities (from Charlotte and Austin, to DC and San Francisco). It isn't just jobs. It's a lifestyle. And as much as this thread (and the MMM forum, in general) has a a bias (think, commute-hate, outdoor living, etc.), many folks have an equal bias for more urban-centric activities/ways of life. And BTW, my commute has never exceed 6 miles or 30 minutes despite living and working in/around DC.

Certainly, my own context exposes my bias - wife and I moved from Charlotte (a city that primarily lives as county-sized suburb) to DC 7 years ago. For 6 years we chose to live in the most dense and high $/square foot neighborhoods. When we gave in to the desire for more space, we landed in the closest single-family home neighborhoods we could afford. After 7 years here and working from home for the last year (and no real plan to ever return to the physical office more than 1-2 times/month), we still couldn't imagine moving away.

There's a reason we moved in the first place, and money/career wasn't the primary reason. It was restaurants, density, entertainment, and surrounding ourselves with people with people with similar values.

Paper Chaser

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This is "state level" data once again, so not ideal for this discussion but I found it interesting none the less


Housing supply in NY is close to flat from the year before. DC and Hawaii are both seeing significantly more homes available for purchase. Pretty much everywhere else is seeing far fewer homes on the market, especially large swaths in the middle of the country.

Shane

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Figured I'd jump in with my own perspective. Primarily, because I believe this thread is overlooking and/or undervaluing a significant reason people move to cities (from Charlotte and Austin, to DC and San Francisco). It isn't just jobs. It's a lifestyle. And as much as this thread (and the MMM forum, in general) has a a bias (think, commute-hate, outdoor living, etc.), many folks have an equal bias for more urban-centric activities/ways of life. And BTW, my commute has never exceed 6 miles or 30 minutes despite living and working in/around DC.

Certainly, my own context exposes my bias - wife and I moved from Charlotte (a city that primarily lives as county-sized suburb) to DC 7 years ago. For 6 years we chose to live in the most dense and high $/square foot neighborhoods. When we gave in to the desire for more space, we landed in the closest single-family home neighborhoods we could afford. After 7 years here and working from home for the last year (and no real plan to ever return to the physical office more than 1-2 times/month), we still couldn't imagine moving away.

There's a reason we moved in the first place, and money/career wasn't the primary reason. It was restaurants, density, entertainment, and surrounding ourselves with people with people with similar values.

This makes sense to me, too. The initial reason we moved to our current city in 2019 was so that our tween daughter could attend what sounded like pretty a cool alternative school that we had read about on the internet. Because of Covid, the school thing kind of fell apart during the first year, but we're still here anyway. The reasons we're staying have nothing to do with work or school. After a couple of decades of living on a farm, 25 miles from the nearest town, being able to walk out the front door of our house and within 5 minutes easily access a world-class art cinema, several amazing brew pubs, great restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, theaters, etc., has been life changing. There's no way we're ever going back to living a car-centric lifestyle in the suburbs or countryside.

norajean

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Real estate is local so the best you can do is look at your area of interest and see what the trends are like the last 12 months. I canít tell if you are planning to buy,sell or trade into or out of an urban area.