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Where Are We Going? ‘Follow The Money’

Or at the very least, follow the moving trucks to see where the money is going

Lew Sichelman headshot
Lew Sichelman
Where Are We Going?

Deep Throat was the pseudonym used by screenwriter William Goldman in the blockbuster film “All The President’s Men,” but the famous words, “Follow the money,” were never said by the Watergate source who would be revealed 30 years later as Mark Felt.

While the phrase was in the movie recreating the Watergate scandal, it was not in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book or any documentation of the event that led to Richard Nixon becoming the first American president ever to resign.

Actually, those three crucial words were first uttered during a 1974 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. But the point here is that the mortgage sector would, indeed, do well to follow the money — and, more specifically — the migration trends taking place across the land. After all, where people are moving to is where the business will be. And conversely, where they are moving from — well, let’s just say there won’t be as much activity as there used to be. Or maybe there will.

According to the Census Bureau, between 2010 and 2020, the nation’s urban population increased by 6.4%. That doesn’t indicate a rush to the big city as much as it is a result in the way the government now classifies urban areas, which are defined as densely developed residential and urban areas and accounted for 80% of the nation’s population at the turn of the decade.

Interesting, perhaps, but not particularly useful. After all, a lot has happened since 2020 — a pandemic, for one thing — that has changed the course of human behavior, perhaps forever.

Domestic Migration

More recently, Census reported that between 2020 and 2021, 251 of the country’s 384 metropolitan statistical areas — about two-thirds of them — experienced population increases, albeit small ones. Almost that many exhibited positive net domestic migration and 92% showed positive net international migration.

Again, interesting, but not terribly helpful to lenders, brokers and agents trying to get ahead of the flow, or at least go with it. However, in what could be an indication of people eventually looking for larger places to live or places more in tune with raising families, 213 MSAs — 56% — registered natural population decreases, meaning there were more deaths than births.

To dig deeper into the natural order, consider the latest statistics from United Van Lines, which claims to be America’s No. 1 mover of household goods. Released early this year, the 46th annual national movers study confirmed what many others have said, mainly that folks are heading to lower-density areas.

The report, which tracks only United’s state-to-state migration patterns, found that for the second consecutive year, Vermont saw the highest share — 77% — of inbound residents. Oregon was next at 67%, followed by Rhode Island, South Carolina, Delaware, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., South Dakota, New Mexico and Alabama.

Of these top 10 inbound states, four — Vermont, Oregon, South Dakota and New Mexico — are among the least densely populated states in America, with fewer than 100 people per square mile. And two others — South Dakota and New Mexico — are among the top 10. Regionally, Southeastern states continued to see the highest percentage of in-bound movers.

More Goodbyes Than Hellos

On the flip side, for the fifth straight year, the study found that more residents moved out of New Jersey than any other state. Two-thirds of United’s moves in “Joisey” were outbound. That’s down a tad from the five-year trend, but still — Wow!

Other states where more folks were waving goodbye last year than saying hello: Illinois, New York, Michigan, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Louisiana and California. (For what it’s worth, Census says California is the most urbanized state in the Union, while Vermont is the most rural.)

The moving company also reported that Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and GenXers (1961-‘81) were its most frequent clients, accounting for 55% of all inbound traffic. Most cited the desire to be closer to family as their main reason for moving, whereas taking on a new job declined as a driver post-pandemic

However, the two youngest generations — GenYers (1977-‘94) and GenZers (‘95-2012) — likely can’t afford the tariff when it comes to moving their families from one place to another. Though there appears to be no statistics to back this up, only intuition, younger movers tend to turn to friends and family to help with their changes of address than hire an expensive moving outfit.

For yet a deeper dive, we turn to U-Haul, which says it’s the “No. 1 choice” for do-it-yourselfers with more than 23,000 locations nationwide. The company also is the third-largest self-storage operator. And its latest report, which is based on more than 2 million one-way transactions, also confirms that migration to the Southeast and Southwest is a thing among its clientele, too.

Still, U-Haul’s list of top destinations for its one-way U-Haul clients last year is a little different. Texas, California and Florida were the most frequent terminuses. The Lone Star State was the No. 1 growth state for the second consecutive year and the fifth time since 2016. Florida, which ranks second, has been a top-three growth state seven years in a row. Rounding out the company’s top 10 gainers were South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Idaho.

On the flip side, California and Illinois were 50th and 49th, respectively, for the third year in a row for seeing the most demand for equipment leaving their borders. New York was another big loser.

More Trends

But U-Haul is more than a truck rental agency. Indeed, Media Manager Jeff Lockridge tells me the company sees itself as a full-service moving provider. “We tend to believe U-Haul checks the box on both categories, at least in part, by offering services at the point of sale for U-Haul customers needing local moving labor assistance on either end, or both ends, of their residential move,” he said.

Because of its breadth of services and wide geographic footprint, the company claims to be “the authority” on migration trends. Its findings do not correlate directly to population or economic growth, but they are “an effective gauge of how well cities and states are attracting and maintaining residents.”

Better yet, its annual report drills down to the city level. And on that score, the company says four Florida destinations were among the top 25 last year, with Ocala heading the list as the top growth city in the country.

The company’s figures are based on the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks arriving in a city or state, versus departing from that city or state. But Ocala may be something of an anomaly.

U-Haul dealers there often receive trucks from people moving to neighboring communities such as The Villages, Leesburg and the Orlando suburbs, reports Ed Hatcher, the district vice president who oversees operations across Northern Florida. But then, that reflects positively on the entire Central Florida region.

Last year was the third time in this decade that a city in the Sunshine State claimed the top spot on U-Haul’s list. In 2020, it was North Port; in 2021, it was the Kissimmee-St. Cloud corridor. Others on the latest top 10 list, in descending order, include some surprising choices: Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.; Madison, Wisc.; Palm Bay-Melbourne, Fla.; Auburn-Opelika, Ala.; North Port, Fla.; Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Surprise, Ariz.; Huntsville. Ala., and Charleston-North Charleston, S.C.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine March 2023 issue.
Lew Sichelman headshot
Lew Sichelman,
National Mortgage Professional Contributing Writer

Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing and mortgage sectors for 52 years. His syndicated column appears in major newspapers throughout the country. He also has been the real estate editor at two major Washington, D.C., dailies and spent 30 years on the staff of National Mortgage News, formerly National Thrift News.

Published on
Mar 06, 2023
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