Photographer: Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post/Getty Images

Real Estate

To See Where Americans Want to Live, Check Their Search Histories

Denver, we hardly knew ye.

American tech hubs like San Francisco are so tight on affordable housing that many residents have fled to less formidable markets like Denver. Now Denver itself is among the cities likely to see people leave, according to a report by the brokerage Redfin Corp.

One of the trends Redfin tracks is its users’ online home searches. In the first quarter, Denver showed a “net outflow” of those users for the first time. More users living there were searching for homes elsewhere than users elsewhere were searching for homes in Denver. Seattle has seen such net outflows for two quarters in a row.

Where are these bargain hunters looking to live? Los Angeles was top of mind for the itchy Seattleites. One might fear they’d be disappointed, but they seem to know what they’re doing, searching mostly in the greater L.A. market’s more affordable areas, such as Riverside County.

Getting Restless

Percentage of local Redfin users searching for homes outside their cities

Source: Redfin Corp.

Note: Selected examples

It’s brutal out there. Redfin reported last week that the typical U.S. home sold in April went into contract in 36 days, the fastest of any month the company has tracked since 2010. Homes in Denver moved fastest of all, in six days, followed by Seattle, at seven days, and San Jose, California; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Tacoma, Washington, at nine days.

Home searches are a leading indicator of moves, according to Redfin senior economist Taylor Marr, who writes in the report that “we saw this in 2015 in the Bay Area” and that “by 2016 the U.S. Census Bureau showed San Francisco had lost residents.” Denver’s net domestic migrations -- more people moving in than leaving -- peaked at 40,000 in 2015, he noted, citing census data. Increasingly competitive housing markets like Denver and Seattle, let alone San Francisco and New York, are drawing their residents’ attention to cities such as Phoenix and Sacramento.

Heating Up

Percentage of searches from Redfin users outside the city

Source: Redfin Corp.

Note: Selected examples

And if these appealing cities don’t build enough homes for the people moving there, Marr warns, eventually their own residents will be searching for the next batch of affordable markets.

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