Many want to move to Seattle, few of us want to leave

A national report from Zillow, the online real-estate database company, confirms that more people are competing for Seattle-area homes and apartments, helping drive up home prices and rents, as fewer of us look for other places to live.

By Mike Rosenberg
Seattle Times business reporter
Your suspicions have been confirmed: Barely anyone wants to leave Seattle, but plenty of people want to come here, creating a brutal combination for local housing prices, new data shows.

Zillow crunched the numbers and found that 31 percent of Seattle-area residents searching for homes on its site are looking at houses outside the region. That was the ninth-lowest rate of any place in the country.

In some other high-cost areas — such as San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, D.C. — half of searchers are thinking about moving away for (often cheaper) homes outside their local area.

Fewest home searchers looking to flee their metro area
1. Cleveland: 26%

2. Phoenix: 27.8%

3. Tampa, Fla.: 28.9%

4. Minneapolis: 28.9%

5. Portland: 29.3%

6. Greenville, S.C.: 30%

7. Jacksonville, Fla.: 30%

8. New York: 30.6%

9. Seattle: 31.3%

10. St. Louis: 32.6%

Markets with the most home searches from outsiders (population-adjusted)
1. Palm Springs, Calif.

2. Sacramento, Calif.

3. San Diego

4. Portland

5. San Francisco

6. Fresno, Calif.

7. Jacksonville, Fla.

8. Austin, Texas

9. Seattle

10. Denver

Source: Zillow search data
On the other end, a lot of people from other cities are thinking about coming here. Adjusting for population, Seattle was (coincidentally) the ninth-most-popular destination searched for by people looking to buy a house far away.

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Seattle wound up as one of the few places in the country with so many people looking to come here but so few looking to flee. The two others were Portland and Tampa, Fla. — which also rank near the top of the list of fastest-rising home prices in the country. 

Most other cities across the country had something working in their favor to help with affordability: A lot of people are interested in moving to the Bay Area and Los Angeles but plenty of existing residents there are looking to flee. New Yorkers and Philadelphia natives want to stay but few outsiders want to move there. People in Chicago and Miami want out and few people want to go there.

Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist, credited Seattle’s strong job growth for attracting outsiders and said a key reason people are staying is that, unlike most other high-cost markets, there are still several affordable options within commuting distance of the city.

Previous studies have looked at the migration pattern between the Bay Area and Seattle. But the Zillow data, set to be released in a study on Friday, provides a broader national insight on where exactly new Seattleites are coming from, and where they’re fleeing to.

Of all the people outside Seattle searching for homes here, 15.9 percent are from the Bay Area, which has taken an outsized load of blame for shipping up wealthy techies, driving up housing prices here. After that, nearly 12 percent of outside searchers looking at Seattle are from Los Angeles and 7.6 percent are from Portland. Phoenix, New York and San Diego each have about 3 percent of the outside searches for Seattle. People from most of those cities would find cheaper housing in Seattle.

But looking at per-capita rates tells a different picture. In Yakima, 8 percent of residents are looking at Seattle homes, followed by 5.9 percent of those in Spokane, 3.7 percent of people in Portland and 3.3 percent of the Bay Area. Home shoppers in Bend, Ore., and Missoula, Mont., are also clicking on Seattle listings. 

“In the view of outsiders who just moved here, it might not seem as expensive” as it does for those locals who have lived through recent skyrocketing prices, Gudell said.

What about people looking to ditch Seattle? The most popular destination is the cheaper pastures of Spokane, with 4.7 percent of all home seekers in the Seattle area looking to flee there. That’s followed by Portland (4.4 percent of all searches from Seattle), Yakima (2.3 percent), Phoenix (1.3 percent) and Los Angeles (1.1 percent). Rounding out the list, clocking in well below 1 percent of local searches, were Boise, Idaho, Eugene, Ore., San Francisco, Anchorage and Honolulu.

Just about all those places — particularly the top searched-for destinations — are significantly cheaper than Seattle. For instance, Seattle home values ($591,000) are more than three times pricier than Spokane ($160,000) and Yakima ($169,000), according to Zillow.

They’re also closer. Looking at the national data, most people looking to move away want to go to another city within a couple of hundred miles.

The study’s caveat: Searches for homes don’t necessarily translate to moves. Sometimes people just gawk at listings or fantasize about moving somewhere. Still, it lines up with census data showing Seattle as one of the fastest-growing places in the country.

Mike Rosenberg: or 206-464-2266; on Twitter @ByRosenberg.

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