The discussion of urbanites fleeing to the suburbs remains full of anecdotal evidence and contradicting data, giving the public a mixed view on what may really be happening in cities. Forbes found that recent data from moving companies are pointing toward a large number of urban dwellers leaving their homes. The data from online mover marketplace HireAHelper found an “abnormally high" percentage of emigration from San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles to smaller cities. One moving company in New York said moves between March and August were up 50% compared to last year.
Admittedly, many of these moves may not be permanent. There are a number of data points that suggest people did relocate at the onset of the pandemic, but only temporarily. Such temporary moves might explain why Scottsdale, for example, ranked so high in HireAHelper’s list of destinations. Regardless, some of the moves are likely to be permanent as evidenced by the number of renters giving up their apartment leases. Zillow data indicates that the national rental market has been disproportionately impacted in major urban centers, implying that renters are swapping one lease for another somewhere else. Such is the case in San Francisco and New York City, where rental inventory is up 96 percent and 26 percent year over year respectively.
Some have cited housing inventory data from Zillow suggesting that there has not been a material increase in suburban demand relative to urban areas. This data, however, is problematic for a number of reasons.