In hindsight, Donald Trump could have looked to his own industry for clues about how the November election might unfold.
Throughout his presidency, a steady migration of home buyers was underway from blue-leaning to red-leaning regions, some of which played a decisive role in the 2020 election. Waves of Los Angelenos and New Yorkers, for example, have hunted for homes in swing state metros like Atlanta and Phoenix, search data over the past few years shows, and likely played some part in shifting the electoral map.
“The biggest trend that we see is people from large populous dense states—and New York and California are prime examples—moving to places that are less dense,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at listing portal realtor.com.
Between mid-2017 and October 2020, nearly half of all house hunters searching in the Phoenix area, for example, were from out of state, with the biggest cohort from Southern California, according to search traffic on realtor.com. To be precise, one in eight views across Maricopa County listings was a person based in Los Angeles County.
The county, Arizona’s most populous, played a pivotal role in flipping the state blue for the first time in 24 years in November and handing President Joe Biden 11 more electoral votes. Ultimately, Mr. Biden recaptured a county that Mr. Trump won by about three percentage points in 2016, according to Wall Street Journal election results.
The influx of home buyers resettling from cities around the West Coast likely played some role in the state’s liberal shift, said Kelly Khalil, a Phoenix-based agent with Redfin.
“We’ve always been a purple state, now we’re looking blue,” Ms. Khalil said. “We have a lot of money coming in from Oregon, California, Washington, and they’re kind of changing the politics.”
The changing atmosphere is so visceral that it’s not uncommon to see T-shirts or bumper stickers plastered on trucks with the slogan: “Don’t California my Arizona,” the agent said.
Orange County, California, just south of Los Angeles, and Cook County, Illinois, home to deep-blue Chicago, rounded out the top three regions driving search traffic to Maricopa listings. And there’s no sign migration from such locations is letting up in Phoenix, a trend that may have long-term political implications.
“It’s inevitable to see some changes to the political landscape when you have that many people relocating from other, often more liberal, parts of the country,” Ms. Khalil said.
Luxury agents in Atlanta saw the stream of out-of-state interest in their own market surge in 2020.
A booming film industry and corporate moves into the city have drawn a growing cohort of house hunters from the Northeast and West Coast, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated movement to a market where buyers can get more space and land for their money, said Debra Johnston, an Atlanta-based luxury agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.
“I have not stopped working really at all price points,” Ms. Johnston said.
“Before the pandemic, we were just starting to see some out-of-state buyers move into the Atlanta area,” she added. “Now it’s really gone into overdrive.”
She estimated she’s working with 50% more out-of-state buyers than she was a year ago.
Fulton, home to Atlanta, and its surrounding counties became an hour-by-hour news story, as absentee ballots were slowly tallied in the days after election night. The region, the state’s liberal nebulous, was instrumental in handing Mr. Biden his razor-thin 0.24% win in Georgia. Democrats also won both of Georgia’s Senate run-offs earlier this month.
While the area was already left-leaning, Mr. Biden won Fulton County by nearly 6 more points than Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic gains in neighboring Cobb and Gwinnett counties were even more dramatic—part of what pundits have coined the “suburban revolt” against Mr. Trump.
Ties to Los Angeles and New York have certainly strengthened with the city’s growing entertainment industry, which has earned Atlanta the moniker “the Hollywood of the South,” Ms. Johnston said.
Many have even brought their West Coast tastes with them, scouring the Atlanta area for newer development with the kinds of amenities, like walk-out poolside terraces, typical of Southern California homes, she said.
“There is an expectation for a newer, fresher, more transitional style,” she said.
Still, it’s a little harder to intuit how the wave of newcomers will shake out in Georgia politics; and there’s certainly a cohort of affluent newcomers who are choosing the state for its more conservative, business-friendly environment, she added.
From August 2017 up until November 2020, roughly one-third of all listing views in Fulton came from out of state. But the Atlanta area—unlike Phoenix and Las Vegas, where Los Angelenos dominate the market—attracts a far more diverse set of buyers from out of state. Los Angeles tops the list, but still accounted for only 3% of out-of-state home shoppers in Fulton County, which also drew significant interest from people in Miami, Chicago, North Carolina and New York City, according to realtor.com search data.
Las Vegas proves that a wave of incomers from blue states does not necessarily yield a Democratic shift.
Los Angelenos have dominated the housing market in Las Vegas, accounting for one in five listing views across realtor.com from August 2017 until November 2020. And yet, the city’s greater Clark County did not make the kind of sharp left turn Phoenix did. Instead, the final tally showed Mr. Trump doing slightly better there than in 2016.
“Maybe these are people who are relatively conservative,” Ms. Hale said, noting a realtor.com survey in the fall that found that a majority of Americans thought it important to live in a place where people shared their political views. (Mansion Global is owned by Dow Jones. Both Dow Jones and realtor.com are owned by News Corp.)
Another migration magnet Austin, Texas, has seen a flood of interest from San Francisco and Silicon Valley transplants in recent years. Travis County, of which Austin is the seat, was already the state’s liberal focus, but it and its surrounding suburbs shifted significantly more Democratic in the 2020 presidential vote than in 2016.
Mr. Trump ultimately won Texas by five points, but fast-growing metros like Austin are helping turn the Republican stronghold into a swing state.
“People say God misplaced Austin in Texas,” said Kathryn Scarborough, a luxury agent with Engel & Volkers. “Austin is a blueberry in a big red apple.”
The county’s growing tech industry has spurred an influx of home buyers from California. From August 2017 until November 2020, around 30% of all traffic to Travis listings came from out-of-state, with Los Angeles and Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara topping the list of out-of-state views, according to realtor.com.
But demand from out of state accelerated sharply in 2020, as more people fled the dense areas in and around San Francisco.
“I definitely have never seen the level of millionaire and billionaire clientele that we are now,” Ms. Scarborough said. Outsized budgets have caused median sales prices in the city to soar and are pushing home values out of reach of local buyers, she said.
“They’re coming in droves: a lot of New York, a ton from Silicon Valley and a lot of people from Orange County, but mostly from the Bay Area,” she said.
Despite their origins, some of her out-of-state buyers have skewed conservative, so Ms. Scarborough can’t predict how the booming migration might change Austin’s politics, she said. “We’ll see what happens with that.”