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More Bay Area homebuyers pondering other cities, says report

SF-area “outflow” on real estate site jumps four percent

Sacramento with the tower bridge in the foreground.
Sacramento was the most attractive option for SF Redfin users.
Photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Real estate site Redfin once again puts its eye on what its own users are eyeing and come to the conclusion that more and more Bay Area residents are shopping for homes in other cities, typically in more affordable metros.

This has been the consistent trend every time Redfin has released one of its quarterly “migration reports” like the one released today covering the third quarter of 2018.

According to Redfin analyst Tim Ellis:

In the third quarter of 2018 people continued to move away from high-cost coastal markets like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., in increasing numbers. Meanwhile, more affordable areas like Sacramento, Atlanta and Phoenix continued to draw thousands of potential new residents.

[...] Of all San Francisco Bay Area residents using Redfin, 22 percent were searching for homes in another metro, up from 18 percent during the same time period a year earlier.

For SF the “outflow” rate—i.e., the number of locals shopping for homes in other cities via Redfin greater than the number of people from elsewhere looking at SF-area homes—was 28,143 for the quarter. (Note: When Redfin says “San Francisco,” they actually mean the Bay Area as a whole.)

That’s up from just under 17,000 the same time last year. As always, the most popular competing city with SF users was Sacramento, with Seattle ranking as the most popular potential out-of-state destination.

A series of caveats must accompany these Redfin figures:

  • This only tells us what Redfin users are doing, which may or may not reflect on the general population. And since Redfin doesn’t handle rentals, this also restricts the data to would-be homeowners.
  • Redfin can only tell us what site users are looking at, not how many of them actually buy a home in Sacramento and make a move. However, Redfin spokesperson Jon Whitely tells Curbed SF that, in order to count as outflow, at least 20 percent of a user’s site activity must be spent browsing another city, so casual window shoppers aren’t included in the statistic.
  • Though Redfin has ranked San Francisco as the top outflow city in the U.S. consistently since starting these reports, the city’s actual population continues to grow, largely thanks to still being a destination for immigration.
  • The U.S. Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics are a far more conclusive measure of how many people are moving into or out of SF; however, those numbers don’t update often enough to give us an idea of contemporary trends.
Dark clouds over the San Francisco skyline and bay. Photo by Gagliardi Images

In short, Redfin’s reports don’t necessarily mean that anybody is actually leaving SF.

However, it’s hard to interpret the fact that so many more SF-based site users are increasingly devoting their page traffic to other locales as anything but a sign of regional discontent, and the spike of more than 10,000 people is surely not an insignificant one.

For the curious, the median home price in Sacramento (per the California Association of Realtors) in September was around $372,000. In SF it was more than $1.5 million.