Which Cities Are Renters Fleeing, and Where Are They Going?


Americans have long migrated from city to city in search of a better life, changing the face of regional real estate markets as they go. Now, internet searches for out-of-town rentals can predict these changes before they occur.

A new study by the real estate listing site Apartment List examined millions of rental searches made on its platform in an effort to identify the U.S. cities that people most want to leave (the ones from which the highest share of searches for out-of-town properties originated), and the cities people most want to move to (the ones for which the highest share of rental searches originated out of town). The study looked at all searches occurring on Apartment List between June 1 and Dec. 31, 2019. Only areas with at least 2,500 inbound and outbound users searching were included, for a total of 157 cities.

In addition to figuring out where people are leaving and going, the researchers went one step further and looked at the origins of inbound searches and the destinations of outbound searches for each city, determining where renters from certain places actually want to go.

Overall, the city most desired by out-of-town renters was Denver, and the largest share of searches for Denver originated from far-off Washington, D.C. In Los Angeles, people searched most for rentals in Phoenix — closer but not exactly next door.

But proximity still rules, with most of the search flow moving to and from relatively nearby places. A lot of Detroit residents searched for Cleveland rentals, and San Antonio searchers looked in Houston.

In other cases, it was a game of musical chairs. People in Portland, Ore., for example, searched most in Seattle, and people in Seattle searched most in Portland, Ore. This week’s chart shows the cities with the greatest share of outbound and inbound searches, and the most popular destinations or origins for each.

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