Thomas Elias | Contributed
For most of the last decade, California has seen a steady outmigration to other parts of America, one that has somewhat outnumbered the also steady in-migration.
No place matches once-conservative Orange County in the number of migrants departing for more politically conservative places like Texas, Idaho, and the windswept plains of Nebraska.
Many of the 190 daily emigrants leaving California daily for Texas since 2011 claimed to move because of higher taxes and a poor business climate in California, spurred by a succession of Democratic-dominated state administrations that gave new privileges to undocumented immigrants while instituting many measures to fight climate change.
But a look at real estate prices in California and the favorite destination states reveals that the most likely reason migrants take off is simple: cash: Real estate the migrants buy is usually much cheaper and much larger than what they sell off when they leave.
This is particularly true for folks leaving Orange County for major areas of Texas.
The median home price in Orange County as of mid-2021 was $1.09 million. That means half the homes sold there went for more than $1.09 million, and half for less.
Meanwhile, the median home price in Texas at mid-year was $375,000. But most Californians who move to Texas don’t head for the more rural parts of the state, where prices are lower. Rather, the most popular destinations, according to the StorageCafe real estate website, are Collin County in suburban Dallas, home to cities like Plano and McKinney; Tarrant County (Fort Worth), and Denton County, where the significant cities include Denton and Frisco.
The average Orange Countian moving to Collin County pays a median $400,000 less for a new house than their former home brought, calculates StorageCafe. Plus, the new home, on average is 940 square feet larger. So an Orange Countian moving to Collin County will have money to bank, besides adding space equivalent to a normal two-bedroom apartment.
In Fort Worth, where the average price differential is $547,000, California emigres find themselves with 379 extra square feet, equal to many one-bedroom hotel suites.
In Denton County, the numbers are similar, with median home price differentials with Orange County running at $458,000 and homes averaging 747 square feet larger.
These are powerful motivations to move, even though new Texas residents quickly pay far higher electric and natural gas bills. Power outages also are more common in suburban Texas areas than anywhere in California.
Things aren’t much different in Star, Idaho, 17 miles northwest of Boise. Star is the fastest growing city in America largely because of ex-Californians.
Here’s what folks can get, based on autumn real estate listings in Star: The most expensive home available was a five-bedroom, 3.5-bath home with 6,284 square feet on 1.16 wooded acres for $1.34 million. That’s far above the Orange County median but cheaper than anything comparable in pricier parts of the OC, like Irvine, Laguna Hills, and Newport Beach.
More typical was a three-bedroom, two-bath home of 1,773 square feet for $524,000, almost $500,000 below the Orange County median.
And folks moving to equally conservative, less fashionable Kearney, Nebraska could find a five-bedroom, three-bath, 2,471 square-foot home for $424,000.
If these prices seem higher than expected, it’s because median home prices all across America have been dragged upward over the last few years by hot real estate markets in California, New York, and the Washington, D.C., area, especially its Virginia suburbs.
But the movement is still primarily from California to Texas. Even Texas urbanologists concur that money and not politics is the big motivator — many folks prefer to cash out and get financial security even if it means leaving California’s salubrious climate, beaches, and national parks.
Said William Fulton, director of an urban research institute at Houston’s Rice University, “There’s no question the main driver is housing prices in California. When housing prices there go up, so does migration to Texas. When housing prices in California go down, migration to Texas does, too.”
So never mind what some emigrants may say about taxes or liberal politicians, these moves now and always have been mostly about the money.
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