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Americans are Leaving Big Cities for More Affordable Cities in the South and Northwest

By Annie Radecki

U-Haul moving truck price disparities usually indicate domestic migration trends long before official migration does. In light of that, we compared the costs of renting a truck each direction to and from 16 cities and learned that:

  • People are leaving New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia in droves (and are being partially replaced by foreign immigrants).
  • People are flocking to Portland, Seattle, and the many more affordable markets in the South.

Assuming that U-Haul moves are priced based on the availability of or shortage of trucks in a given city and that cities with high in-migration have a surplus of trucks available for rent, we discovered a correlation between high in-migration via U-Haul and higher-performing housing markets.

  • Hot markets. For example, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA, have the highest premiums for inbound vs. outbound moves. On average, it costs $2,455 to drive a truck to Portland from the 15 cities we tracked but only $952 to drive a truck from Portland. We currently assign a Hot rating to these Pacific NW markets in our monthly market rankings.
  • Cold markets. We rate much of the Northeast and Midwest as Cold, and DIY movers pay a premium to leave due to truck shortages in cities in those regions.

We used average truck prices to a set of cities to rank the hottest cities for migration in real time. We discovered that pricing between single-city pairs demonstrates these trends even more clearly.

  • Movers are fleeing San Francisco for less expensive tech cities. A move from San Francisco to Portland costs over seven times as much as a move in the opposite direction. A move to Seattle costs over five times more than a move back to San Francisco. U-Haul is heavily discounting trucks in the Pacific NW to get them back to San Francisco.
  • But San Francisco is attracting movers from other large financial clusters. Rentals to San Francisco from NYC, Chicago, and Boston have significant cost premiums. Otherwise, it costs more to leave San Francisco.
  • Movers are also leaving New York City for lower-cost large cities with higher job growth. The largest price disparities between NYC and other cities are for moves to Dallas and Atlanta. On average it costs $2,212 to rent a truck from NYC to Atlanta but only $522 from Atlanta to NYC.

In summary, despite what we hear about the urbanization of America, more Americans are heading for the newer, more affordable housing markets than the expensive, mature urban centers.