2020 Moving Destinations Report

 In 2020, Americans were on the move but the destinations may surprise you. The key results of Updater’s 3rd Annual Moving Destinations Report, which tracks American migration patterns over the past year, are as follows:

  • Americans departed the largest, most densely populated cities in the United States and took to smaller cities.
  • Southern states have been attractive destinations for years but spiked during the pandemic.

Updater’s Moving Destinations Report provides unique and valuable insight into the direct impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on macro relocation trends as well as city-specific population growth and loss. To measure the changes, the report aggregated, anonymized, and analyzed a random sampling of 1,500,000 household moves across the United States that took place from January through November 2020.

“Many industries were negatively affected by the pandemic in 2020,” commented Jenna Weinerman, Vice President of Marketing at Updater. “The moving industry was no different – moving during a shelter-in-place order was perceived to be extremely dangerous in early spring. However, as late spring and summer hit, we witnessed striking new migration patterns. Many of America’s largest, most populated cities experienced unprecedented resident loss, while smaller markets experienced unprecedented resident gains.”

A trend to smaller cities

Not all cities are created equal. Therefore, Updater constructed an index – the Top Inbound City Report, Indexed by City Size – designed to reflect the increase or decrease in a city’s residents based on each city’s population. By analyzing each city’s net gains and losses relative to its population, Updater revealed a host of smaller and warmer cities that increased their population materially during 2020. 

Top 20 Inbound Cities – Indexed by City Size

Details: 1) This index fairly compares cities of varying populations; 2) Index Calculation: Net gain or loss / population size; 3) January 1 – November 30, 2020

CityRank Change
(v. 2019)
1.Greenville, NC+2
2.Las Vegas, NV+6
3.Tallahassee, FL-1
4.Denver, CO+8
5.Spokane, WA+20
6.Nashville, TN
7.Raleigh, NC+20
8.Dallas, TX+16
9.Phoenix, AZ+7
10.Wilmington, NC+18
11.West Palm Beach, FL+36
12.Reno, NV+3
13.Austin, TX
14.Charlotte, NC-7
15.Tampa, FL+20
16.Orlando, FL-12
17.Charleston, SC-6
18.Myrtle Beach, SC+21
19.Knoxville, TN
20.Fort Myers, FL+30

Highlights from the Top 20 Inbound City Report – Indexed by City Size:

  • Three cities in Florida joined the top twenty list for the first time in recent years, making Florida the dominant state on the list with five spots in the top twenty.
  • Two new North Carolina cities (Wilmington and Raleigh) joined the top twenty in 2020, making North Carolina the second most popular state on the list with four spots in the top twenty. Charlotte has been a regular on this list for years and often ranks as the most popular destination in North Carolina – its drop exemplifies the 2020 trend of small city growth.
  • Seventeen of the top twenty cities (all but Denver, Spokane, and Reno) for inbound growth were year-round, warm weather cities.
  • Smaller cities saw more extreme growth than large cities. Only two cities that rank in the top 10 by population size according to the US Census – Phoenix and Dallas – appear on the Top 20 Inbound City Report – Indexed by City Size. Phoenix and Dallas represent the largest cities that also experienced material growth during 2020.  

Warm wins

For years, Updater data has witnessed a trend of Americans moving to warmer cities from colder cities. During the pandemic, that trend accelerated as Americans in the north relocated to the south.  

“As we looked at lists and analyzed them various ways, we kept seeing the trend to warm,” added Weinerman. “People are carefully evaluating their quality of life, remote work culture is accelerating, cost of living adjustments are being made, and some even say they’re headed back to hometowns to be closer to family. Regardless of reason, America’s warm cities top many of our 2020 rankings.”

Who to watch in 2021

“We analyze how many people move into every city versus move out of every city,” commented Weinerman. “Every analysis reveals, of course, that some cities experienced more moves in, some experienced more moves out, and some remained flat. This is data we evaluate regularly, to identify trends and help local officials and businesses verify the anecdotal evidence they may see on the ground.”

Largest Inbound Cities 2020

Details: 1) Cities ranked by largest inbound gain; 2) Index Calculation: inbound moves minus outbound moves; 3) January 1 – November 30, 2020

CityRank Change
(v. 2019)
1.Dallas, TX
2.Phoenix, AZ+2
3.Austin, TX
4.Las Vegas, NV+5
5.Denver, CO+3
6.Atlanta, GA-1
7.Houston, TX+6
8.Raleigh, NC+6
9.Tampa, FL+5
10.Charlotte, NC-4

Highlights from Largest Inbound Cities 2020:

  • Houston, Raleigh, and Tampa moved into the top ten list in 2020.
  • Notably, Washington D.C. (#2 in 2019) and Seattle (#7 in 2019) dropped off the top ten list in 2020.
  • Nine out of the top ten cities to watch in 2021 (all but Denver), are warm weather cities.

The unpredictability of 2020 was seen across many sectors, including real estate. Large and cold-weather cities had the greatest losses with warmer small cities gaining residents at a rapid rate.  

“There are so many factors to consider when you analyze this data, particularly in such an unusual year,” commented Weinerman. “In 2020, people were drawn to new cities for many reasons. With the growth of remote work, many sought more bang for their buck on daily items, a warmer climate to live a safer outdoor life during the pandemic, and cheaper housing to make homeownership more attainable.”


For its Annual Moving Destinations Report, Updater examined data from its own database of relocations. Updater examined a random sampling of 1,500,000 moves between January 1, 2020 and November 30, 2020. 

Traditional inbound and outbound migration studies do not provide clear insight into current patterns because, inevitably, the most populated cities will be at the top of the list from a purely volume perspective. Updater’s model for Top 20 Inbound Cities – Indexed by City Size aims to address the challenges of traditional inbound and outbound migration studies by indexing cities according to population and computing results accordingly.

This is the third year Updater has run an Annual Moving Destinations Report.