In the not-too-distant future, it’s not improbable that low-wage laborers in San Francisco will be replaced by ubiquitous machines (the city is already home to the first restaurant run by a robot). And not just fast food workers, either – the jobs of teachers, fire fighters and law enforcement will all be assumed by robots, as NorCal’s prohibitively high cost of living and astronomical home prices spark a mass exodus of families earning less than $250,000 a year.
While this scenario might seem like an exaggeration (and it very well might be), we’ve paid close attention to the flight of Californians who are abandoning the Bay Area for all of the reasons mentioned above, as well as what Peter Thiel (himself a Bay Area emigre) once described as a political “monoculture” that has made California inhospitable for conservatives. And as if circumstances weren’t already dire enough for would-be homeowners (even miles away from San Francisco, relatively modest homes still sell for upwards of $2 million), a report published earlier this year by realtor.com illustrated how a lapse in new home construction has led to a serious imbalance between home supply and the increasing demand of the state’s ever-growing population, leading to a cavernous supply gap.
With this in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that Californians comprise a majority of the residents moving into other states in the American West – even states like Idaho where the culture is very different from the liberal Bay Area. This week, Bloomberg published a story about how Californians constitute an increasing share of out-of-state homebuyers in small cities like Boise, Phoenix and Reno, which are significantly more affordable than California, and offer some semblance of the walkable urban environment that nesting millennials crave.
As Californians sell their homes in the Bay Area in search of roomier, cheaper locales, they’re bringing the curse of surging property prices with them. In fact, the influx of Californians is the primary factor leading to some of the largest YoY price increases in the country, as Bloomberg explains:
About 29 percent of the Idaho capital’s home-listing views are from Californians, according to Realtor.com. Reno and Prescott, Ariz., also were popular. These housing markets are soaring while much of the rest of the country cools. In Nevada, where Californians make up the largest share of arrivals, prices jumped 13 percent in August, the biggest increase for any state, according to CoreLogic Inc. data. It was followed closely by Idaho, with a 12 percent gain.
Even in places like deep-red Idaho, these transplants are beginning to remake the terrain in their own image, as food co-ops and Women’s Marches starting to populate the landscape. Businesses are rushing to Boise to meet every desire of the newly arrived Cali transplants.
D’Agostino, the Bay Area transplant, isn’t ashamed of her progressive views and is finding her place: at the natural foods co-op downtown, the Boise’s Women’s March last year, and with the volunteer group she founded to collect unused food for the needy. But it was also good to get out of her comfort zone, she says. “I can’t remember a time when it’s ever been this divided, so the fact that I can have some interaction with people who might not have exactly the same beliefs as me, that’s fine,” she says. “As long as we can respect each other.”
It’s not new for politics to factor into moving decisions—it’s just that in the age of Trump, tensions get magnified. “What’s different now is how far apart the parties are ideologically,” says Matt Lassiter, a professor of history at the University of Michigan.
Politics aside, businesses are rushing into Boise to fill every West Coast craving. In nearby Eagle, the new Renovare gated community is selling 1,900- to 4,000-square-foot homes with floor-to-ceiling glass and “wine walls” that start at $650,000—a bargain by California standards, says sales agent Nik Buich. About half of buyers are from out of state, he says.
One couple even opened a “boutique taqueria” and another transplant is preparing to start a blog about his experience moving to Idaho.
Julie and John Cuevas left Southern California a year ago to open Madre, a “boutique taqueria” in Boise that would make many of their fellow transplants feel at home. It’s more fusion than typical Mexican fare, with taco fillings including kimchi short rib and the popular “Idaho spud & chorizo.” It would have cost them three times as much to open a restaurant in California, says John, a former chef at a Beverly Hills hotel.
John Del Rio, a real estate agent sporting a beard, baseball cap, and sunglasses, just registered moving2idaho.com, where he’s planning to blog about all the things that make his new home great. He left Northern California two years ago with his wife in search of a place with less crime, lighter regulation, and more open space. Del Rio, a conservative with a libertarian bent, is reassured to see average people walking through Walmart with handguns in their holsters. In Idaho, he says, “nobody even flinches.”
In Boise alone, Californians made up 85% of new arrivals, and have driven home prices up nearly 20% in the span of a year. One realtor described the attitude of transplants as like “they’re playing with monopoly money.”
Nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boise (pop. 227,000) has drawn families for decades to its open spaces and short commutes. It’s been particularly attractive to Californians, who accounted for 85 percent of net domestic immigration to Idaho, according to Realtor.com’s analysis of 2016 Census data. While it has always prided itself on being welcoming, skyrocketing housing costs fueled by the influx is testing residents’ patience. In his state of the city speech last month, Mayor David Bieter outlined steps to keep housing affordable and asked Boise to stay friendly: “Call it Boise kind, our kindness manifesto,” he said.
It’s especially easy for buyers who have sold properties in the Golden State to push up prices in relatively cheap places because they feel like they’re playing with Monopoly money, Kelman says. The median existing-home price in Boise’s home of Ada County was $299,950 last month—up almost 18 percent from a year earlier, but still about half California’s. The influx is great news for people who already own homes in the area, says Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com. “But if you’re a local aspiring to home ownership, it feels very much that Californians are bringing high prices with them.”
And now that Trump’s tax reform package has been implemented, it’s only a matter of time before a whole new batch of Californian home owners, unwilling to forego their SALT tax write offs, start looking for greener pastures in low-cost red states.