Each year, millions of Americans relocate to somewhere else in the country, whether it is for retirement, college, or a new job. Yet 2020 offered some Americans a new reason to move – the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared a national emergency in mid-March. Many people moved away from virus hotspots or left cities because they lost their jobs amid the pandemic. Many Americans likely looked for somewhere they could stretch their savings, relocating to places where the cost of living is relatively low.
To identify America’s cheapest cities where everyone wants to live, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed cost of living, housing affordability, and population growth from migration for 110 U.S. metro areas. We ranked cities based on the net incoming searches relative to outgoing searches for homes in each metro area among prospective buyers on Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, during the first three quarters of 2020 (January through September) as a percentage of the 2019 population. Population data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population and Housing Unit Estimates program. Though some of the relocation to these cities is likely due to COVID-19, the migration patterns seen in 2020 in many of the metropolitan areas on this list mirror patterns from earlier in the decade, as southern cities continued to grow significantly due to migration. Of the 20 cities where Americans are looking to move, 16 are in the South. Conversely, in many more northern cities, particularly in the Rust Belt area, employment had been on the decline already before the pandemic, likely driving people elsewhere to find economic opportunities.
20. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI
• Pct. of potential movers from outside Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI: 51.5%
• Top area people are searching from: Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor, MI (34.9%)
• Cost of living: 7.8% less than nat’l avg.
• Median home value: $199,400
• Median household income: $65,739
Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the only Midwestern city to rank among the cheapest cities where Americans are flocking to. Of all those who looked for a home in the Grand Rapids metro area in 2020, slightly more than half, or 51.5%, were from outside the area. Of these potential movers, nearly one-third were from the Detroit metro area as well as other Midwestern cities like Chicago.
Those who look to move to Grand Rapids may be attracted by the area’s relatively low cost of living which can help stretch incomes. The cost of living is 7.8% lower than the nationwide average, yet the median household income is nearly the same as the U.S. median of $65,712.
19. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC
• Pct. of potential movers from outside Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC: 37%
• Top area people are searching from: Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, DC-MD-VA-WV-PA (48.8%)
• Cost of living: 3% less than nat’l avg.
• Median home value: $255,900
• Median household income: $69,329
The Virginia Beach metropolitan area around the Virginia-North Carolina border is one of 16 Southern cities on this list. Though the area’s cost of living is lower than the national average, its median household income is over $3,000 higher than the U.S. median. Nearly half of all people searching for homes in Virginia Beach from outside the metro area are from the Washington, D.C. region, which is just 150 miles away.
18. New Orleans-Metairie, LA
• Pct. of potential movers from outside New Orleans-Metairie, LA: 30.4%
• Top area people are searching from: Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA (9.6%)
• Cost of living: 5.9% less than nat’l avg.
• Median home value: $211,900
• Median household income: $55,710
Like in most other cities, most people looking on Redfin for a new home in the New Orleans metro area already live there. Still, more than 30% of searches for a place to live in the area are by people living outside New Orleans. Those who were searching for homes in New Orleans came from a variety of places. No one metro area accounted for more than 10% of searches from outside the metro area, with Los Angeles-area residents accounting for the highest share, at 9.6%.
17. Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC
• Pct. of potential movers from outside Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC: 47.3%
• Top area people are searching from: New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA (18.6%)
• Cost of living: 9.6% less than nat’l avg.
• Median home value: $186,800
• Median household income: $58,621
The Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin metropolitan area is one of several places in the Carolinas that have attracted new residents for years, and continued to do so in 2020. Between 2010 and 2019, the metro area’s population increased by 11.7%, mostly the result of migration. The metro area in 2020 continued to be a popular destination for people looking to relocate, with the New York metropolitan area accounting for the largest share of potential buyers searching for property in the Greenville area.