Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Where are Homebuyers Moving?

Utilizing data from the newly completed 2022 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers and with context from U.S. Census and USPS change-of-address data, let's look at where U.S. homebuyers have been moving.

With changing priorities and preferences, increased home prices, and a rapid increase in remote work, Americans during the pandemic largely exited central urban areas for opportunities afforded by larger homes and more space. Based on data from the 2022 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, small towns received the largest increase in homebuyer movement in 2022 from the previous year, with a nine percentage-point increase in buyers. Rural areas follow this with a seven percentage-point increase.

These areas offer larger homes, generally at lower price points, and more space allowing buyers to have more outdoor space, enhanced home offices, and other benefits they may not be able to afford in more central urban areas.

Line graph: Location of Home Purchased, 2017 to 2022

It is important to note that these figures are self-reported survey response data based on perceived location by home buyers and may vary from population data. For example, an individual moving from a large urban area such as New York City could move to a technically smaller city but consider the area a suburb or small town.

U.S. Census American Community PUMS Data

The American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census Bureau provides Public Use Microdata Sample1 (PUMS) data. This dataset includes information on households that moved in the past 12 months by the area's urbanization level (population size). Using the calculations of this data set below, we see some additional context around where U.S. homebuyers have been moving back to 2017.

Table: Home Sales Distribution by Urbanization Level, 2017 to 2021

Based on these calculations, we can see a decrease in the most populated counties. We also see that the most significant increase in households was in suburban areas, further demonstrating the urban sprawl that has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

USPS Change-of-Address Data

The United States Postal Service2 provides data on address changes by zip code. For the purpose of the current analysis, the data was aggregated by urbanization level. While this data includes both temporary and permanent moves, this provides even more context about where Americans are moving.

Table: Share of Inbound Moves by Urbanization Level, 2022, 2021, and 2019

As seen in the above calculations in pre-pandemic times of 2019, zip codes in larger central metro areas experienced the highest migration gains. In 2021, while the pandemic was in full force and homebuyer preferences were shifted, zip codes in rural areas had the most migration gains. In 2022, zip codes in suburban areas have received the most migration gains.

With shifting market conditions, will homebuyer preferences return to pre-pandemic specifics? Will buyers return to urban centers or continue purchasing larger homes in areas with more space? NAR Research will continue to monitor, analyze, and report these trends.