The home search patterns of Californians can reveal hidden currents of the housing market. Where are residents hoping to move, and why? Further, what parts of the state are they seeking to leave? Read on for a brief overview of recent home searches conducted on Redfin.

In California, the share of searches that were conducted for homes outside of the searcher’s region in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2019 was:

  • 50% in Bakersfield;
  • 39% in Fresno;
  • 28% in Sacramento;
  • 23% in the Bay Area;
  • 19% in San Diego; and
  • 17% in Los Angeles, according to Redfin.

Inland metros with low job growth saw the most out-searches. For example, half of all home searches originating in Bakersfield during Q4 2019 were for homes outside the region, with roughly half of the out-searches for homes in nearby Los Angeles.

At the other end of the spectrum, Los Angeles had the lowest share of originating searches looking outside its metro area, just 17%. Here, per capita income and job growth are higher than neighboring regions.

Finally, the Bay Area landed somewhat in the middle. 23% of home searches originating in the Bay Area were conducted outside the metro area. Nearby Sacramento was the first choice for out-searches, a less expensive but still relatively close city. This was followed by Seattle, another high-cost city which attracts the same types of workers as the Bay Area. These somewhat contradictory searches highlight the complexity of this part of the state, where job and income growth is high, but the even higher cost of living is stifling.

Another factor to add to the equation: residents of high-cost, coastal cities like Los Angeles find it more difficult to accumulate personal savings, essential for making a move of any sort, let alone a long-distance move. This means individuals in inland areas like Bakersfield, Fresno and Sacramento are more mobile, and thus more able to consider moves out of their metro area than those residents trapped in coastal cities with little saved.

Outside, looking in

What parts of California are receiving the most search traffic originating from non-locals looking to make a long-distance move?

The share of home searches for each metro that originated outside of each area in Q4 2019 were:

  • 68% for Bakersfield;
  • 44% for Sacramento;
  • 42% for Fresno;
  • 23% for San Diego;
  • 10% for Los Angeles; and
  • 9% for the Bay Area.

At first glance, this is quite surprising, as low-cost, inland areas of the state (Bakersfield, Sacramento and Fresno) see large shares of local home searchers searching beyond their borders, as discussed in the previous section. But they also see a large portion of searches originating from outside of their cities (see above).

But it’s less surprising when viewed alongside data showing California regions with lower costs of living have the highest rates of turnover. For example, Bakersfield is the most mobile major city in California for both homeowners and renters. On the other hand, expensive coastal cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen the smallest share of homeowners and renters moving in recent years.

Agents in these inland cities can take advantage of this knowledge by expanding their practice to cater to newcomers to the area, rather than focusing solely on locals. This can be done by building out their online profiles and developing relationships with brokers in nearby metros who can send referrals their way.

Agents who work in cities with higher costs of living need to get more creative and strategize for the long term. To boost turnover in their area, these agents can advocate for more residential construction in desirable areas. Loosening density and parking restrictions is a helpful first step, which can prompt more development in urban areas near public transit. California legislators are already working toward this goal, as they seek to combat the housing shortage that makes living in California’s coastal cities so expensive.