Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Long-distance Movers: Why Did They Move and How?

It is likely that all of us know someone who has moved to a different state or area without knowing it well in the last few years. Some friends text photos of their new pet chickens; others send frustrated messages about bad Wi-Fi or find beautiful landscapes not seen in city center apartments. This blog explores the movers—the reasons why they moved, how their search went, and how they ultimately purchased their homes.

While the median distance moved in the 2022 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers was 50 miles, one-quarter of buyers traveled over 470 miles to find their new home. Traditionally, buyers have stayed close to their past homes. From 1989 to 2021, the median distance moved was just 10 to 15 miles.

Line graph: Median Miles Moved, 1989 to 2022

While buyers overall made a leap of 50 miles, by generation, there are variations. Younger Baby Boomers (born 1955-1964), moved the longest distance at a median of 90 miles. Older Baby Boomers (born 1946-1954) moved a median of 50 miles. Millennials tended to stay the closest to their past residence moving just 15 miles.

Bar graph: Median Miles Moved, by Generation

Based on this generational trend, it is not surprising that those who moved more than 470 miles from their past residence were more likely to be repeat home buyers. Just 11% were first-time buyers. This dispels one potential myth that has abounded in the last year: that first-time buyers are the ones making the move to find their first property far from their rental unit. It does happen, but it is more likely a repeat buyer who is making the distance move.

Bar graph: First-Time Buyer Share: All Buyers vs Buyers Moving Long Distances

The top reasons for long-distance movers to buy varies rather dramatically from all buyers. Moving for friends and family (25%) is the top motivation for making the move, followed by retirement (12%). Twelve percent are moving to be closer to a job or school or transit and 11% for a job relocation. The top factor for purchase for all buyers is traditionally the desire to own a home of one's own. However, this reason is lower among these buyers, likely due to the high share of repeat home buyers in the group.

Bar graph: Reason to Buy: All Buyers vs Buyers Moving Long Distance

Another statement which has been made about long-distance movers is the high share of all-cash buyers. These long-distance buyers may be moving to a more affordable location and are able to pay all-cash for their next home. Long-distance movers do outperform at 25% vs. 22% for all buyers, but this is just slightly higher. For additional points of comparison, 3% of first-time buyers pay all cash for their home compared to 27% of all repeat buyers. It is likely that the data is capturing the oversample of repeat buyers again here. It is also noteworthy that the 2022 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers did show an increase in all-cash buyers overall—up from 13% in the 2021 Profile. But it appears that being an all-cash buyer does not necessarily mean they moved long distances.

Bar graph: All-Cash Share: All Buyers vs Buyers Moving Long Distances

Especially notable differences come up in the search for homes. The latest report showed the typical buyer searched for 10 weeks, and over that course of time looked at five home physically in person and four homes online only. For the buyer who is moving a long distance, they searched for 16 weeks, viewed 10 homes in person and 20 online only. A few trends are striking here: the buyer moving long distances may have had more time to look for homes if they were moving for retirement or to be close to friends and family. One can imagine a buyer who may have even rented a short-term rental and then pondered the neighborhood and home choice before buying. As a personal example: one such friend even explored the best beach towns in the local area to buy in as their family pondered their more than 3,000-mile move.

Also notable is how these long-haul movers toured homes. They were much more likely to use technology as a tool in their online search. This trend should be underlined as it may help REALTORS® customize their listings in areas where they know they have strong migration patterns, such as Sunbelt states. Additionally worth reiterating is that these buyers may be seniors, a group of buyers who are often considered not tech savvy. Dispelling another myth: long-distance buyers, who are often seniors, are, in fact, using technology as a tool to search.

Bar graph: Search Differences: All Buyers vs Buyers Moving Long Distances

Considering this trend, let's look at a second source of data, the REALTORS® Confidence Index. This monthly survey tracks buyers who did not physically see the home before purchasing. The share continues to be a not-insignificant section of the home buying market and the latest reading is at 8%. While the data trendline only began during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears a trend that may be sticky. Long-distance movers are very likely a portion of these buyers.

Line graph: Share of Buyers that Purchases Based on Virtual Tour/Showing/Open House Only, April 2020 to April 2023

The last metric which is interesting when examining long-distance movers is the share who purchased with an agent or broker. Long-distance movers use agents and brokers at higher rates than other buyers. This statistic is especially noteworthy as these buyers are likely not using the same agent to sell their home or even someone they knew before. In looking at the website features these long-distance movers used, they are more likely than others to use a website to find their agent. It is also notable as these buyers will need to rely on their agent in a different way than local movers. While local movers know their favorite coffee shop, park, or place to grab a pint, long-distance movers will rely on the local expertise of real estate agents and brokers. Trust in the real estate agent or broker becomes paramount as they examine the faults and features of various homes and neighborhoods.

Bar graph: Purchase Method: All Buyers vs Buyers Moving Long Distances

This is certainly a trend to watch. Does everyone with a new chicken coop who moved to distant places with beautiful views move back? Are they in their new homes to stay? And will the migration trend persist as Baby Boomers continue into retirement and are looking to welcome in their grandbabies? For more on this trend and others, check out the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.