It’s Time To Focus On Big City Living Again: The Opportunity Is Huge

If you want to make money post-pandemic, I think you've got to focus on big city living again. Big cities are where there will be the most number of job opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities, investment opportunities and networking opportunities.

Further, as companies reduce headcount due to over-hiring, you want to be at the headquarters at big cities where your bosses are. The top income cities have the most job opportunities.

Earning a higher salary is one big benefit of living in a big city. Another benefit is investing in real estate in a big city. Over time, big city real estate tends to outperform the national median growth figures.

Due to the coronavirus and tremendous media hype about the death of big cities, the time is ripe to focus on big city living again. Rents have bottomed and are starting to tick up. Work from home is here to stay, but many big companies are requiring their employees to return to the office again.

I've been living in big expensive cities since 1999 and every time there is a dip, big cities come roaring back with a vengeance. I see the same thing happening in 2023 and beyond.

Some of the wealthiest people I know have been buying real estate in their neighborhood during the height of the pandemic. The idea is to take advantage of fear and rare inventory to build a community for their children and extended family. Smart I say!

Big City Living Is Here To Stay

To build wealth, you must constantly try to predict the future. Because of this, you may often get beaten to smithereens by the masses for thinking differently. However, thinking differently is how you can build enormous wealth.

I haven't been this excited in a very long time. Due to the coronavirus and tremendous media hype about the death of big cities, the time is ripe to focus on big city living again. With two highly efficacious vaccines being administered, there is going to be an explosion in demand for living in

Try and use the media to your advantage. For example, if you want to sell something, highlight the most absurdly bullish article you can find to the potential buyer and vice versa.

Since 2003, I've highlighted articles from various negatively predisposed sites to help me buy real estate at a discount. The strategy has been effective because people tend not to do their due diligence. Instead, they tend to just read headlines and assume it to be true.

Here's the thing though. By the time you read things in the news, the trend is sometimes stale. For example, I've been writing about investing in the heartland since 2017. Only now is there full-blown mania about buying in and relocating to lower-cost areas of the country.

Excited About The Future Of Big Cities

One of my biggest worries as a father is that my children will have a difficult time competing in this ultra-competitive world. With artificial intelligence booming, it's better to live in a big city to get one of those AI jobs. Otherwise, you might get left behind as AI takes your job!

Every agro person seeking to create a fortune tends to migrate to big cities like New York City and San Francisco. This includes people from other countries as well. Big cities have historically provided the most opportunity and will likely continue to provide the most opportunity once the pandemic is over.

Many of the biggest and most innovative companies are headquartered in big cities. Therefore, many of the highest-paying jobs are also in big cities. Just look at the IPO of San Francisco-based Airbnb. It has made thousands of employees millionaires. Despite travel and Airbnb bookings way down, valuations are way up because the demand for hospital and travel is huge.

Once you develop a network of successful friends, your chances of great fortune and opportunity for your children also go up. After generations of wealth-building, it is very difficult to pull roots.

The problem has always been that it is difficult to get a great job paying big bucks at a great firm in a big city. Given my wife and I are average people with average intelligence, our children will likely turn out to be average as well.

Michael Lewis' best-selling book, Liar's Poker, highlights a running elitist joke that you never want to get stuck doing “equities in Dallas.” I've got nothing against Dallas as it's one of my favorite heartland cities. Equities in Dallas is just a saying Lewis coined if you don't land a role at a bank's headquarters.

Big City Living Can Be Tough

I've already gone through the meat-grinder of trying to make it in a big city. I did two years in NYC and 11 years in SF before negotiating a severance.

After 13 years, I just couldn't hack big city work anymore because the hours were too long and the pressure was always intense. That's what happens to average people. We get weeded out. At least I was able to make and save enough to generate enough livable passive income.

Now with two kids, after eight years of trying, I've stated that I'm failing at early retirement. If I don't figure out a way to generate more retirement income within the next three years, one or both of us may have to go back to work. Our monthly unsubsidized healthcare cost alone is $2,400. This cost will likely continue to increase no matter how healthy we are.

It is tough to have to make $300,000+ a year to live a middle-class lifestyle in a big city nowadays. Families are burning out just to run in place. When the March 2020 stock market sell-off hit, it really put a damper on my motivation to earn more to provide.

Therefore, the only other logical solution besides making more money is to relocate to a lower-cost area of the country or world.

However, thanks to the pandemic and the media, maybe we won't have to!

How The Coronavirus And Big Media Is Helping Big Cities

Let's look at all the positive effects the coronavirus and the media hysteria have had on big city living.

1) More opportunities for newcomers.

Out with the old, in with the new. If it is indeed the case that more people are “fleeing” big cities, then this clears the way for more opportunity for folks who've tried to get a choice job in a big city but were rejected. More people leaving also means recent college graduates have more opportunities as well.

For those of you with children, the death of big cities should get you very excited. It means that your children won't have to compete as ferociously because competition will be more spread out across various cities.

2) Less traffic and congestion.

One of my top reasons for wanting to leave the San Francisco Bay Area was traffic. One time during rush hour, getting across the Bay Bridge to pick up my parents from the airport took 1.5 hours, a distance of only about 20 miles. Now, it is a joy to drive anywhere at any time!

The more people who move out, the higher the chance you can find an empty public tennis court. The same goes for getting tickets to a show, getting a reservation at a restaurant, and so forth when the coronavirus is better under control.

City officials are also helping make cities safer for bikers and pedestrians. With fewer cars, some big cities have shut down formerly busy streets to make room for only pedestrians. Bike lanes are being installed on more roads. Old infrastructure is also getting fixed.

NYC Open Streets - Big City Living Is Getting better
67 miles of Open Streets in NYC

3) Less competition for schools.

Our family got rejected by six preschools partly because demand was too fierce. If more families move to the suburbs, new families will face less competition for preschools. There should also be less competition for private school. If we go the public school route, we'll have a better chance of winning the lottery to go to a well-rated neighborhood school, instead of across town.

In the end, we finally got accepted to our target preschool for Fall 2021! We are so thankful that some families moved away to give our unspectacular family an opportunity. See: How To Get Into Preschool Or A Great Private Grade School

There will also likely be less competition for universities located in or near big cities. Competition to get into UC Berkeley or Stanford might go from ludicrously competitive to simply competitive. The same goes for other big-city schools such as Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Columbia, NYU, UCSF, Johns Hopkins, USC, UCLA, and Georgetown.

Just remember, you could still go to Harvard and end up a nobody. So please don't overly stress about having to get into the most prestigious school possible. No matter where you go to school, most people end up doing the same thing and making the same amount of money.

4) More housing affordability.

Instead of having to live an hour away, it may be easier for teachers, social workers, non-profit workers, and holders of other middle-to-low-paying occupations to find more affordable housing in the big city. I tried my best to help two preschool teachers with their housing situation but failed.

When we have a more socioeconomically diverse city, everybody wins. Who wants to live in a city like Monaco where only the very wealthy can afford to live? I certainly don't just want to hang out with techies and bankers all day.

Below is a chart that shows how San Francisco renters could have locked in great deals in 2020. Rents are now starting to rebound strongly. Take advantage of rental opportunities and buying rental properties!

Rent rebound in San Francisco in 2021 and beyond

5) More opportunities to upgrade housing.

In the past, you might have been only able to afford to rent a dark room in a three-bedroom apartment shared with two other roommates in a so-so neighborhood. Now, you might be able to get your own studio or one-bedroom.

In the past, you might have only been able to afford a median priced home, which could cost well over $1 million. But with more supply online, you now have the opportunity to buy a much nicer home for better value.

In April 2020, a month into the first lockdown and when fear was greatest, I saw an ideal property come to market. I couldn't believe this amazing remodeled house with panoramic ocean views came on the market then. Believing that the bottom was in, I decided to make a offer of $200,000 below asking. After much back and forth, I was finally able to get the seller to agree to a $175,000 discount!

I proceed to then rent out my existing property a month later for $6,600 a month and move into my new place. The new property has significantly improved the quality of our lives.

Look at the latest affordability index for big cities below. Notice how cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and D.C., are the most affordable in 2023+! The opportunity is ripe to buy big city real estate now.

Big city real estate like New York and San Francisco most affordable

6) More opportunities to buy more rental properties.

With condominium rents down in some areas of big cities and supply up, the price of rental properties are down. Therefore, if you've been looking to build a rental property portfolio, you can get in at more affordable prices. 

That said, the value of rental income has gone up because interest rates have gone way down. It takes a lot more capital to generate the same amount of risk-adjusted income. Therefore, in actuality, the value of rental properties have also gone way up.

The market just hasn't reflected this reality yet. Therefore, I'm buying more rental property in big cities today.

When there is the inevitable rush back to big city living, you can raise rents and generate a higher return. This double combo is what makes investors very wealthy over time.

Rent prices in select big cities rebounding in 2021 - buy big city real estate

7) More creativity to generate more income.

We've all learned we can't just rely on a day job to survive and retire anymore. Therefore, we will be more creative and find more ways to make money. We will take on more side-hustles. The website we've been putting off starting will finally launch. The consulting business will finally start with your first cold e-mail pitch.

Working in a big city can be tough. However, living in a big city when you don't have to work a regular day job is actually amazing. Once you have more time flexibility, the number of entertainment options throughout the week are incredible. I've experienced the joys of big city living without a job since 2012, and it is great.

There is a reason why tourists from all over the world flock to your big city. There's just so much to do and see. In the past, people were too busy grinding away to appreciate their own city. Now, things are changing.

8) More relative income.

If you stay in a big city, you will keep earning your salary. If you move away from a big city to work remotely, the chances are high that you will get a pay cut.

For example, Palo Alto-based VMWare Inc. joined Facebook in announcing salary reductions for employees who relocate. For example, if an employee relocates to Denver, the employee must accept an 18% salary reduction. If an employee relocate to Los Angles or San Diego, the employee must accept an 8% salary reduction.

Let's say you made $200,000 a year working at VMWare Inc. in Palo Alto, CA. Would you accept a $36,000 pay cut and only make $164,000 to live in Denver? I wouldn't. Not only would you make less money, you'd lose your network, remove yourself from the power center, and have to go through the pain in the butt process of moving.

Instead, it's much easier to stay put and keep on making 100% of your salary. It's easier to achieve financial independence by making more money than saving more money.

With rents in big cities still below the long-term median ratio of rents to income, cities like San Francisco, Washington, DC, San Jose, Austin, and Houston, offer great value.

Rents in big cities are still quite low

9) You will be viewed as more loyal.

Nothing brings people together like hardship. Whether you're competing on a losing sports team or living through a terrorist attack, hardship tends to bond people for life.

Rightly or wrongly, the powers that be who remain in a big city through the coronavirus may look down upon those who leave. They will feel a sense of abandonment, which conjures up feelings of disloyalty. A manger is always stressed about employees leaving to competitors.

Leaving a big city when times are tough may be an indication that an employee won't be able to stick things through with tough clients, tough business cycles, and other hardships.

Therefore, it is only natural for managers to want to promote and pay those employees who stay. Loyalty may be rewarded.

Finally, think about all the wealth mega-millionaires and billionaires who have left places like San Francisco and New York. When the cities need them the most, they leave. They leave behind cities that helped them get rich. Good riddance I say.

10) Better natural disaster defense.

Climate change is likely here to stay. With consistent wildfires ravaging the suburbs of California, some people have started thinking twice about moving to the suburbs or farther.

City codes have made urban environments safer, and in the face of wildfires, it is easier to create safety perimeters around dense urban locations. You very seldom see situations where fires in a big city spread across multiple blocks. Usually, fires are contained between a few homes.

With regards to other natural disasters, again, city codes such as stricter building requirements for earthquakes have made city living relatively safer. Further, with more first-responders and hospitals available, help should come quicker.

If you haven't updated your homeowners insurance policy in a couple of years, you should. Real estate prices have increase and so has the cost to build homes.

11) Less stress overall.

Once you combine less congestion and less competition with more professional and personal opportunities, more schooling options for your children, and higher affordability, you should feel less stressed overall.

One of the biggest problems about big city living is feeling like you're always on this never-ending treadmill. Now, you can enjoy the city more given your cash flow and time have gone up.

San Francisco Bay Area Real Estate Quarterly rent growth in Q2 2021 Making A Comeback

12) Coronavirus positivity rates are way down.

After initially hitting big cities like New York City, coronavirus positivity rates are way down in most big cities. Residents in big cities tend to focus more on health and safety over the economy. Perhaps part of the reason is because big city residents have more work from home job opportunities.

Conversely, smaller cities in the heartland are seeing higher COVID-19 cases. This is mainly due to heartland states emphasizing more the importance of the economy versus safety. Further, heartland states have much lower vaccination rates than coastal states.

Nobody should judge how people want to live their lives. But at the margin, due to higher coronavirus positivity rates, there will be less relocation and less capital chasing heartland real estate. In fact, there should be more people who migrate out of the heartland and to the coastal big cities.

I'm noticing many more people inquire about migrating to California from the South and the Midwest to live a better lifestyle. This is especially true during the harsh winter months. If you can find a better career opportunity, I say take it.

12) A return to power for Democrats.

With Joe Biden winning the presidency, big city residents are feeling hopeful again. Residents in big cities largely vote Democrat. Key cities such as Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Las Vegas were critical for Biden's re-election.

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris is from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her rise to power should be a net positive for her home city. People tend to take care of their own.

13) Lower commuting costs

With the invasion of Ukraine by the Russians, oil and gas prices have skyrocketed. The national average per gallon of gas is now about $4. As a result, commuting costs are much greater for folks who left big cities.

As a big city resident, you can enjoy plenty of cheap public transportation. Buses, subways, munis, and rideshare services are all quite affordable.

Did People Really Leave Big Cities Faster Than Normal?

The more people who leave San Francisco, the more I want to stay in San Francisco. Of course, there is an inflection point where if too many people leave, then the value of my San Francisco real estate might start suffering.

It's Time To Focus On Big City Living Again

The irony is, I would pay MORE for San Francisco real estate and other expenses if more of the population left. Many of my friends feel the same way, which is why we are all looking for real estate deals.

One friend is buying a property for each member of his family and extended family. We're talking three properties for his three kids, one property for his wife, one property for himself, and two more properties for his brother and sister.

He's using this time period to build a real estate empire for his family to increase the chances they'll all stick together over time. He's seen too many families have to scatter due to cost of living issues.

But are people really leaving big cities faster than normal? Based on what I've seen here in San Francisco, it doesn't seem that way. I know there was an initial exodus at the end of March 2020 and April 2020.

However, it seems like the city has returned to normal. The people who left were either people likely going to leave anyway. They mostly consisted of families who wanted to move to the suburbs, or young guys moving back home with their parents.

In fact, I just got an e-mail from one of my tenants who asked if she could use the garage. She bought a new car and is driving back to San Francisco from a small town in Massachusetts.

I didn't even realize she left for three months because she has been paying her rent on time through electronic autopay.

Related: Living In A Big City Can Make You Richer, Happier, And More Empathetic

A Poll Regarding City Dwelling

Back in May 2020, a Harris poll showed only 60% of city dwellers said they wanted to stay in their city. It is now clear in 2021 that predictions of a mass exodus from urban areas due to the coronavirus pandemic were overblown.

As lockdowns lifted, 74% of city dwellers said they are not likely to move out of the city due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only a fourth say they are somewhat or very likely to move, according to the survey of 1,020 Americans from July 31-August 3, 2020. 

“As the risk of catching COVID-19 subsides, city dwellers are reminded of why they love city living,” said Will Johnson, CEO of The Harris Poll, a New York-based market research company. Johnson attributed the improved sentiment to the reopening of city amenities like restaurants and nonessential retail.

Let's Look At Some Job And Demographics Data

Below is a chart that shows most big tech companies during the height of the pandemic concentrated their layoffs outside their Bay Area headquarters. The data is from the California Employment Development Department.

Below is data from Apartment List that shows a 4% quarter over quarter INCREASE in searches for apartments in higher-density cities. Conversely, there was a 3% QoQ decrease in apartment searches in lower-density cities.

Below shows a big difference in searches by San Francisco residents looking to a nearby city like Sacramento versus a 30% decline in the desire to move to a different state.

This makes sense given the proper geoarbitrage strategy is to first look for lower housing within your existing city, then state, then different state, then different country.

Based on the data above, it sure doesn't look like there is a big city exodus just yet. Even prior to the pandemic, there was a movement from larger metros to smaller metros.

Therefore, the wise investor has to figure out whether the trend is accelerating or not. When you read the big media headlines, it sure seems like everybody is leaving big cities. However, the data says otherwise.

A V-Shaped Recovery In Big City Living

There's going to be a V-shaped recovery in the desire for big city living. The July 2021 New York City real estate sales numbers indicate this to be true. There were over 1,500 transactions in July 2021, a 14-year high for NYC.

The problem with leaving a big city is that once you leave, it may be difficult to get back in. Your job and existing housing will have been soaked up by newcomers or the faithful who never left.

Hence, if you are planning on leaving a big city, you should hedge your bets.

You can hedge by telling your company you are always open to moving back if needed. You can also hedge your bets by maintaining your big-city social network. Keep in touch with them regularly. Finally, you can hedge your bets by holding onto your lease or property.

For the majority of you who choose to remain in a big city, then you can hedge your bets by investing in 18-hour cities. By investing in less expensive cities, you can diversify and take advantage of demographic trends as well.

In Search For Good Real Estate Deals

Personally, I'm using this opportunity to buy more San Francisco property and also look for distressed commercial real estate. The NASDAQ rose by over 43% in 2020, making many of us much wealthier. 2021 was another great year for stocks.

Unfortunately, 2022 was a bear market! Thankfully, the stock market rebounded in 2023. Not only that, people are now able to get better deals on real estate. That's a double win!

My mission is to buy as many ocean view single-family homes in San Francisco as I can afford. I believe they have the most price appreciation upside. Besides, homes with views are great for working from home. The combination of rising rents and rising asset values is huge for landlords.

I haven't been able to find deals under $2 million, but I am seeing more opportunities at higher price points.

My concern is regarding the 10s of thousands of actual tech workers who have seen their net worths surge during the pandemic. When some of them finally come around to converting funny money into real assets, I'm afraid my opportunity to upgrade our home will disappear.

Staying Put For Longer In A Big City

Sometimes, the best course of action is to do nothing. I strongly believe the housing market is going to stay strong for another decade. Demographics, like inflation, are too hard of a force to fight. Vacancies are declining and rents are rising.

For so long, I've been planning on escaping San Francisco because it was too competitive, too crowded, and too expensive. With some people leaving and the media instilling fear of a mass exodus, I can now stay put for longer.

To have all the benefits of big city living without the high cost and the crowds would be ideal. Relocating a family is a PITA.

The coronavirus has ironically made big city living better. The key is to take advantage of fear so that when the inevitable recovery occurs, you and your family aren't left behind.

I'm also looking for the SALT cap deduction to be repealed or increased from $10,000 in 2022 and beyond. The Biden administration plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans. But it is also planning on providing tax relief to a large percentage of its constituents that live in higher-cost areas of the country.

Time to buy big city real estate

Diversify Your Real Estate

Although it's time to focus on big city living again, it's also good to diversify your real estate investments in smaller cities with lower valuations and potentially higher growth. You can do so surgically with CrowdStreet by investing in individual commercial real estate deals and build your own portfolio.

Or you can invest in a private eREIT through Fundrise. For most people, investing in a diversified eREIT for exposure is one of the easiest ways to gain exposure. Half the battle to building wealth really is about getting the right amount of exposure to a positive investment trend.

CrowdStreet specifically focuses on 18-hour cities and enables investors to invest directly with the sponsor. Fundrise has various fund products that gives you broader real estate exposure with lower volatility. If you have a lot of capital, you can build you own select real estate fund with Crowdstreet.

Both platforms are free to sign up and explore.

Rents in big cities like New York and San Francisco are continuing to rebound. Now, prices are as well. Take advantage of this multi-year trend.

Building A Real Estate Portfolio For My Family

Personally, I've invested $954,000 in real estate crowdfunding across 18 projects to take advantage of lower valuations in the heartland of America. My real estate investments account for roughly 50% of my current passive income of ~$300,000.

With the craziness of Airbnb's IPO, the demand for travel, hospital, and real estate is there. It was hard to buy Airbnb at its IPO price or earlier to profit. But you can buy real estate and ride the next wave. Airbnb will make thousands of new millionaires in San Francisco.

airbnb and big city living

The demand for big city living is increasing. The pent-up demand to spend money on a better life in 2023+ is going to be massive. The foreigners are coming to buy U.S. real esetate.

Take advantage of buying big city real estate before things get out of control again! Mortgage rates are dipping again. The amount of wealth big city residents have made during the pandemic has been enormous.

Live In A Big City, Invest In Small Up-And-Coming Cities

Stocks are very volatile compared to real estate. Therefore, if you want to dampen volatility and build wealth at the same time, invest in real estate. Real estate is my favorite asset class to build wealth.

I recommend living in a big city for career opportunity. If you can eventually buy a primary residence, do so. Big city real estate should continue to do well over the long term as it faces a domestic and international demand curve.

However, I also recommend you invest in 18-hour cities, smaller cities with lower valuations, higher rental yields, and faster growth. The work from home trend and technological advances should continue. And smaller cities like Austin, Memphis, Charleston, and more will continue to grow in size.

To surgically invest in smaller up-and-coming cities, take a look at my two favorite real estate investing platforms.

Fundrise: A way for accredited and non-accredited investors to diversify into real estate through private eFunds. Fundrise has been around since 2012 and has historically generated steady returns, no matter what the stock market is doing. For most people, investing in a diversified real estate fund is the easiest way to gain real estate exposure. The minimum investment amount is only $10.

CrowdStreet: A way for accredited investors to invest in individual real estate opportunities mostly in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations, higher rental yields, and potentially higher growth due to job growth and demographic trends. If you have a lot more capital, you can build you own diversified real estate portfolio. 

I've personally invested $954,000 in various private real estate funds and deals since 2016. I strongly believe the long-term trend is strong demographic growth in the Sunbelt and Heartland regions of America.

About The Author

105 thoughts on “It’s Time To Focus On Big City Living Again: The Opportunity Is Huge”

  1. Hate to be harsh but buy-to-let property owners are the single biggest contributor, after ultra-low interest rates, to the lack of affordable housing, and rising rates of inequality and homeless in the all the big, popular cities you talk about and invest in. This entire market is a racket created by those who have taken full advantage of record low rates, fueled by gobs of capital by virtue of either i) owning real estate at the right time (pre-2000) ii) gifts from the bank of mom and dad, iii) striking out rich from some dumb social media IPOs and/or iv) those fortunate, privileged individuals to have negotiated a large severance from an investment bank.

    This model does not create any value for society only $$ for greedy buy to let owners who see use property only as a way to generate income at the expense of others. Governments have stood back and allowed this debt-fueled binge binge to happen for too long, and will get their just desserts one day, if and when rates ever go back up (think of the potential shock if China the primary owner of US government decides to stop buying Treasuries, forcing rates to spike, resulting in economic collapse) or the people turn up at the gates with pitchforks (which has basically already happened).

    Enjoy the ride BTL model freeloaders while you can – this should have been stopped years ago – and remember you created nothing of economic value in the process other than fatten your wallets, all the while cities have been hollowed out and become sterile, profit-driven locales. p.s. I used to enjoy SF in the 1990s.

    1. All fair points, and what happens in a capitalist economy where people are trying to build wealth to have more control over their lives.

      But the reality is, America is cheap compared to most other developed countries. I’m not sure Americans really know how good we’ve got it.

      I did an analysis by comparing United States home prices to Canadian home prices. If we were valued the same, the median home price in America would be about 70% higher.

      I’m pretty sure in 10 years, people who decided to round I will find at home prices will continue to be expensive.

      Even though you didn’t benefit from the San Francisco home price for them in the 1990s, hopefully you’ve been able to invest in real estate over the past 30 years?

  2. Hi FS,
    thanks for sharing this interesting article.
    I would be interesting to hear what you think about big city living outside locations that are very tech heavy/accelerated by NASDAQ boom?

    I am looking at European 24 hour city real estate (London, Paris, Munich to a certain degree) and am very hesitant/bearish on buying anything right now due to a variety of factors:
    > Decoupling of rent and purchase prices, usually 30x and higher GRM in Europe and from what i found in my research also in places like NYC, SF
    > Purchase prices literally at all time highs while rents have slipped approx. 8-12% over last 12-18 months (at least in London)
    > Work from home/remote working here to stay reducing housing demand in economic hubs
    > real estate valuations having skyrocketed due to very low mortgage rates (in europe even more than US), which may change (reflation etc)?

    I thought the BURL article you posed last year was a neat concept of thinking about where/whether to buy real estate and would be interested to hear how this aligns with the article you posted above as it sort of suggests to buy in big cities rather than BURL?


    1. Hi Alex,

      If valuations are at all-time highs, I would be hesitant. But prices are down for condos in NYC and the downtown area of SF (while single family homes are hot, see a list I’ve been tracking since March 2020).

      Demographics, an increase in intrinsic value of homes since we’re spending more time in them, low rates, and a desire for stable assets after a 40%+ increase in the NASDAQ in 2020 is all translating to booming housing demand. Then there are inflation fears, which benefits RE as well.

      I’ve definitely buying and diversifying in lowe-cost areas of the country through real estate crowdfunding. Have 14 investment properties worth at least $500,000, and probably closer to $700,000. But if you’ve been on the sidelines forever renting, and want to own prime superstar city real estate, now is the time to buy.

      Some of my wealthiest friends are trying to buy as many homes within their neighborhood as possible for their children.

      What is your current real estate exposure like?

  3. Corrected: As someone heavily invested in a very big city, I am happy you are bullish. I wish I felt the same way, but I have some serious reservations. Crime and declining quality of life are serious issues here and the political class is unwilling to help to the point of hostility. Women feel unsafe after dark in areas that were once considered blue chip and the subways, while cleaner, are more dangerous than I remember them being since I was in college (way too long ago). Additionally the school systems is in chaos bc of Covid and the current administration has implemented a series of radical changes that will undoubtedly send middle class families packing for the suburbs. In this city, people making less than $700k often use the publics since a combination of high housing costs and high taxes means private for a couple of kids is a real financial squeeze. These high earners pay the bulk of the income tax that funds the city (and state) and keeps the trains running on time. Their departure and a return to a world where people leave the city once they have kids could spur a downward self-reinforcing cycle in revenues and services. There is an opportunity here, certainly, and if someone with vision anda technocrat’s ability to manage resources were to become mayor it might turn around. But that looks exceedingly unlikely.

    1. PS–I would add there are reasons beyond cost that people have preferred public for at least some part of their kid’s journey. As the cost of private basically shut out the city’s middle and upper middle class (and as to be UMC in NYC increasingly involved headspinning income) people who are not hedge-fund rich or are self-made found private increasingly uncongenial. The complaint I most often hear is there is this artficial topiary feel to the demographics with a big donut whole in the middle. Having your kid constantly exposed to kids who have 3 houses (complete with 3 sets of American Dolls or whatever) and fly private to travel soccer games makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s not what they came to the city for or if they are from here, it is not what they remember. So crashing publics are a big deal.

  4. It’s been a couple months since this post so I’m curious what your take is on a 2/2 condo in a dense area of Oakland. We want to upgrade to a SFH now but should we ride this thing out for another year or just upgrade now? Are condo prices going to come back in the next year or so? Thanks!

  5. I totally agree with you. Like every single other economic indicator, there’s going to be another great rebound and people flocking to big cities. At the end of the day, that’s where the job opportunities and people are. The network effect is real.

    The more people who leave big cities, the more opportunity there is for the people who stay behind. Big cities become more livable and the people who stay get to dominate.

    The people who can’t hack it will experience her permanently lower level of wealth. And it makes sense that people like John and other people have to move away. Everything is logical in the end.

    Let the loyal, the rich, and the connected get wealthier in big cities. And let the people who can’t make it try to create their own wealth somewhere else.

  6. Samurai – Big cities are dead. I used to live in one and luckily sold my townhouse and moved out 8 months before the pandemic hit. I’ve lived in a nice suburb for 1.5 years and it is so much better in every single way. Housing and childcare is way cheaper and better. Being able to drive everywhere and park hassle free is way easier and more efficient. There is no crime, or terrible smells, or outrageous competition for every basic amenity I need.

    San Francisco and New York City will both look like Detroit within 20 years. People want to live in conservative leaning states with low COI, low taxes that have access to great outdoors amenities.

    California will go into a death spiral. Have you not noticed all of the rich and powerful people and companies fleeing the state? Nobody wants to shoulder the enormous liability of poor liberal policy if they don’t have to (work remote from lower tax lower crime areas)

    1. Got it. Do you recommend I sell one of my San Francisco properties then before we reach herd immunity? It’s gone up about $250,000 in 2020, or 10%.

      It’s just so crazy how much real estate continues to go up for single-family homes in San Francisco. With the NASDAQ up about 40%, so many people have made so much money. I don’t even work for a tech company, and my holdings in Tesla, Apple, and so forth are up well over $1 million this year. I can’t imagine how much wealthier actual tech employees have gotten.

      It’s just so hard to sell, especially with thousands of new millionaires from IPO such as Airbnb, Palantir, and so forth. Even my preschool softball friend who makes $75,000 a year is up about $200,000 in tech stocks and is buying property.

      Check out all these homes that have sold for way over asking. I’ve been tracking them the entire pandemic, and it’s kind of nuts. One house in my neighborhood sold for $705,000 over asking, or 35% over asking.

      I really appreciate your bearishness, and I hope you do enjoy living where you are. I just don’t know if it’ll ever come true with so much wealth being created in big cities. I’m afraid if we exit, we’ll never be able to get back in.

      As a hedge, I have been investing heavily in the heartland of America. So far, it’s done pretty well. Do you have any specific cities and states you would recommend investing in?


      1. Samurai – Real estate has gone up everywhere, and you are paying an additional 10% annually in communist California state tax. Not to mention everything you buy is at least 25% more expensive. I would sell all real estate in California, New York state, and every other high tax liberal states.

        The foundation for every big metro area is high income jobs. People were previously draw to big cities for career opportunities. Very few people actually want to live in expensive, low quality of life big cities. They were forced to because that was the only place to find decent paying work.

        Now that remote work has become a reality, the large metro areas have lost millions of residents to lower COI lower tax areas. Rent is down 30% in San Fran and NYC, and real estate prices will absolutely follow. There has been a temporary bump due low interest rates and ridiculously overvalued tech stocks, but ultimately a perpetually shrinking population can’t be good for RE prices.

        1. Got it. I disagree with your blanket statement on rents being down 30% in SF. I just rented out a 4-bedroom apartment for $6,550/month and the tenants agreed to pay $6,800/month in the second year. There is a significant fanning out to less dense portions of the city.

          In addition to earning $6,550/month, when the downstairs one-bedroom unit is done, it will probably rent for another $1,800 – $2,100/month for a total of over $8,300 a month in rent.

          Can you share where you moved from and to so we can do an analysis of your city? Can you also share you financial situation? I’m trying to understand where all your angst is coming from. Thanks.

          1. Very doubtful John will reveal where he moved to and which city he left. It would expose him to criticism because he knows there are a lot of downsides to where he is living now.

            People like John who are the most upset are the ones who simply couldn’t make it work in a big city. Their careers stalled out. They got let go. They couldn’t save enough to buy a house.

            Think about how much of a failure you have to be to relocate away from a big city if the place you relocate to doesn’t have amazing weather, great food, great culture all year around?

            1. Hope he doesn’t feel embarrassed about sharing where he moved to and where he left. I understand it’s easier to dunk on other people. But to then not share your own story means you’re not proud of where you live in this situation,

              1. I’m locked in to my big city financially and by family ties, but I know plenty of people who left over the years who were not failures and plenty who stayed when they probably should have left (people going slowly crazy with 2 kids in a 1.5 bedroom apartment spending hours a week on alternate side parking so they can get out of the city on weekends to their depreciating second home in the poconos). To quote the song popularized by Kenny Rogers (I see you Don Schlitz), “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold em.” In the time I’ve made money in this urban market I probably could have made as much or more on a percentage basis in Austin or Boise. Might have had a better quality of life to boot.

      2. I think there may be a distinction between the single or even two-family market and the market for condos and coops, at least in my city. Prices are pretty sharply down on apartments here. And SF may have a resilience bc of its natural beauty that other large cities don’t share. Really unclear to me how it will go for my city given the total incompetence in both state and local government and the fact that private will eat such a huge chunk of after-tax income.

    2. John, sorry you couldn’t hack it wherever you were living. You missed out on more gains in your house.

      Enjoy boring suburbia life. Next time, try harder and build better connections if you want to make it in a great city and not have to disrupt your life.

      1. When I read this comment I heard it spoken by the character of Derek in the move Stepbrothers. It’s cracking me up.

  7. Any thoughts on buying a pied de terre in SF? I won’t be able to move back to the city for a decade and would like to have a small 1 br to spend a night or two every other week or so. It seems like small condos have taken the biggest price hit. Are there neighborhoods that have been hit especially hard price wise? I’m hearing SOMA, FIDI and South Beach are weak spots.

  8. I am a frequent reader but missed this post until today. My husband and I took advantage of the last recession and bought several rental units in NYC to build passive income. We bought between 2010-2013. (In hindsight, we should have focused less on CF but more on appreciation, as we didn’t retire and returned to decent paying jobs with W-2 income. This passive rental income became all marginal income taxed at the highest rates. But will save that for another day.)

    I am trying to feel optimistic about NYC and had wanted to add exposure in the beginning of the pandemic. But we are feeling less so after the summer as one of our one-bedrooms rented 15% even below when we bought it in 2010! That’s not counting the one month broker fee we paid, another hit of 8% on a 12 month lease, though we lucked out signing this new tenant on an 18-month lease to mitigate some. In the end, its a total of 30% hit from our departing lease! Certainly this trend will be somewhat reversed when companies require people to go back to work again. But the next leg to drop will be social services. City municipal finances across the nation is taking a hit. And I am now wondering if NYC would return to the fiscal crisis days of the 1970’s. Need to do more DD as you say to be well versed, but not feeling as optimistic at the moment.

    1. Congrats on securing a tenant! That is huge during this time as the alternative is obviously $0 rent for months.

      Where did your previous tenant move to and what type of unit is yours eg 2 bedroom?

      It always feels toughest right before things start to improve. I am pretty positive by the time the 18 month lease runs out, things are going to be better.

      Regarding your statement on focusing on our appreciation, what other areas would’ve appreciated faster than New York City since the time you bought?

      You do make an interesting statement on focusing on cash flow or appreciation and retiring.

      1. Our tenants moved temporarily out of the city. They were an engaged couple whom we would have lost in another year or so as they were looking to buy. The apartment sat empty for nearly three months before it rented. A lot of supply in its part of manhattan. Thankfully we aren’t too levered. We’ve learned a lesson there. Should have listed it below market at first to move it sooner. Might have achieved a higher rent than we ultimately rented.

        Don’t regret buying in NYC just the type of units we bought. Older product with less carry that produced a high cash on cash yield but much less appreciation. In hindsight should have bought in downtown Brooklyn as it became the hot spots. Lots of new condo supply during the time we looked but I couldnt get over the lack of current yield. And that’s at vastly abated taxes which I know for certain will rise significantly in 15-20 years. We were buying to hold as passive income for retirement. But in hindsight should have bought those new condos and flipped in 7-10 years, before the abatement benefits expire.

      2. I would also add that, like the previous commenter, I consider myself a lifelong New Yorker and am staying put. The question is whether I would add more real estate exposure. Being a small time landlord is a lot of work and can be a risky investment given the city’s renter friendly laws. We are considering investing more in equities outside of our 401ks.

  9. I am a life long New Yorker (Manhattan) born and raised. I have lived here for over 40 years and remember seeing it go from 1 extreme to the next. Like you I am also Asian and worked in finance. I lived all over NYC – grew up in the projects and then to moved to some of the wealthiest neighborhoods (Upper West Side and Chelsea) as my career grew.

    Perhaps you are right. NYC real estate crashed 2x in my lifetime.

    First in the 1980s and then again right after 9/11.

    But both SF and NYC have become bubbles. I do not like to bring politics into this but it is unavoidable.

    Cities run by Democrats and liberals tend to become overly bureaucratic and tax heavy. Entrenched red tape makes anything getting done very costly and expensive. Check out Louis Rothman’s series on Youtube about getting anything done with real estate contractors in NYC. $150k quotes just to renovate 1 room!

    And let’s not even begin to go into the safety concerns. SF has begun to attract a lot of bums and welfare recipients. NYC too – our ritziest hotels are now homeless shelters where the government is paying for many mentally ill and dangerous people to stay for $300-400/night.

    1. Cool, will check out Louis Rothman (can’t find it). I agree with you on red-tape and taxes.

      I’m prepared to buy up any good single family homes with ocean views on the west side of San Francisco.

      1. Sorry meant Louis Rossmann. Got the names mixed up. 1 thing I want to add is the landlord/tenant eviction process is a nightmare in NYC. My dad is a landlord and I know all about his problems.

        We have very tenant friendly laws in NYC and that has led to ripe abuse. Now the governments are saying no evictions possible for deadbeats. He has 2 tenants who have not paid in over 4 months. Of course the government is decreeing he cannot evict and they consume over $2k in water and heating bills PER MONTH. He is stuck drawing down his bank savings just to pay for the expenses. He’s not a professional real estate person at all and freely says so. Instead he is a store owner who is just reporting his frustrations with bureaucratic red tape.

        1. Bummer. But at least he was able to earn a lot before the eviction moratorium? Are you not glad your dad has property to provide him retirement cash flow? And that you will be inheriting the property one day? Do you have kids?

          I think about owning rental property a lot more for my kids. It’s a business in it of itself, and it’s also an insurance policy for them.

  10. It’s a chicken and an egg fallacy that I think most people have backwards. The talent doesn’t come here for the jobs, the jobs are here because it’s where the talent wants to be for all the ammnities it offers; culture, weather, other bright and passionate people to be friends with and date, etc. Once COVID is under control do people really think young innovated workers are going to spend 24hr a day in a farmhouse in the boondocks? Sorry once they swipe through the 4 options on Tinder, and get 1 date at Applebee’s, things will be right back where they were. Hopefully slightly less crowded, which might actually help with the bay area growing pains pre-covid.

    A great book to check out on the subject is “The New Geography of Jobs” by Enrico Moretti. It talks about the importance of PHYSICAL proximity/geography for innovation and creativity and is a reason why I’m not worried about remote working impact for the bay area.

    1. I agree, which is why my friends and I are aggressively trying to take advantage of the hype about people moving out and buying real estate in big cities during this time.

      Several are trying to buy properties within a 1-mile radius of their homes for their kids. It’s a smart move 10-20 years from now. Helping family and being close to family is so important… but many people don’t have that opportunity or can’t afford it. Maybe now they can.

  11. Texas tranplant

    Thanks for the article. I’d argue that certain cities will thrive, while others will continue in their secular decline. DFW metroplex and Houston now each boast more fortune 500 headquarters each (22) than the SF Bay area (19), and only one less than the LA metro area (23). I moved to Texas after attending grad school in the Bay Area, and the difference in one’s ability to rapidly build wealth here is staggering. No state income tax coupled with dramatically lower cost of living make a huge difference. As an added bonus, I don’t have to watch out for human excrement and heroin needles on the sidewalk!

    1. Sounds great! Glad you were able to boost your wealth in Texas. I have several real estate investments there and am glad it’s doing well. Very sorry you had to work in an area where there was human excrement. It looks like the media has really played this up. Hopefully you have a better job in Texas that enables you to work in a safer/cleaner part of town.

  12. Haha I have now fallen into the abyss of going through this blog. As a current resident of NYC (in Brooklyn), the city is empty, but there are definitely signs of life. Walking around Brooklyn you can’t really tell the difference, it’s when you go into Manhattan. As a big believer in NYC I do think there will be a resurgence. I’m not convinced that it will be V-shaped, but my tours around different homes looking to buy a property here should indicate that I’m also bullish about the city. To be honest, I feel like it’s a matter of when not if, but that “IF” could take a few years.

  13. Maybe it was just Frank Sinatra’s, “New York, New York,” playing in the background clouding my judgment. But this weekend, as I read Sam’s article, Jerry Seinfeld’s NYT op-ed, and Andrew Bary’s most recent piece in Barron’s about bargains in New York REITs Vornado, SL Green, and Empire State Realty Trust, I became certain that demand for life in the world’s biggest, most exciting cities will never abate permanently.

    Cities innovate. After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, Chicago generally stopped building wooden buildings. What could be more irrationally dangerous than living close to bustling, generally unregulated industry in highly flammable wooden structures? I can’t think of much, and I might take my chances with a pandemic instead. Yet today, Chicago not only endures, it thrives. The desire for genuine human connection—the type you cannot get on a Zoom call—is too strong to keep great cities down forever.

    And this optimistic perspective is from someone who doesn’t always see the value in big city living. I love visiting New York and San Francisco, but I’m a homer for bargains in heartland cities like Cleveland, where I grew up and live currently.

    I think Sam has correctly identified how big cities will eventually rebound fully: addition by subtraction. “The irony is, I would pay MORE for San Francisco real estate and other expenses if more of the population left. Many of my friends feel the same way, which is why we are all looking for real estate deals.” Every crisis is an opportunity. No place is perfect, and New York needs more green space, less trash on the sidewalks, and updated transit infrastructure–like many of its subway stations. I can’t speak to San Francisco as well, but every time I’ve visited, I’ve been underwhelmed by its public transportation options relative to its size. These issues might be more addressable with fewer people in town, making these cities even better in the long run.

  14. First time commenter, long time reader. Originally from the Midwest, moved my young family to SF last year after living in Tokyo for well over a decade.

    I might be biased, but SF is a sh*thole. I can fully understand why people are leaving SF and CA in general and I think the trend will only continue. Homeless everywhere, needles and human sh*t on the streets, almost everything is closed bc of lockdown (and will prob the last in the US to reopen), housing is the most expensive in the US with building/city codes that prevent supply increases, power outages bc of wildfires miles away, a public school lottery system which essentially incentivizes private schooling, the lack of a reliable public transportation system and yet ridic gas prices thanks to the highest gas excise tax in the country, and the cherry on top… the highest state income tax rate in the US, along with the highest base sales tax. It’s a prime example of how consistent, unchecked liberal policy has failed over the past few decades.

    I do like the Goldilocks weather…but that’s really about it. If my work allows full-time remote work over the next year, we plan to leave SF or hopefully even CA. I can only imagine many other transplants feel the same way.

    1. Midwesterner that generally agrees. Living in OAK. Taxes are even worse if you work for yourself (and FTB will come for you in others states too).

      Also, i don’t get the littering. I have never been anywhere but California and seen such prolific littering. Families just leaving trash, people throwing things out the window, etc.

    2. SF is a beautiful, world-class city with great culture and neighborhoods. For some reason, there has always been underlying element of homelessness and drugs, similar to other West Coast port-cities, which is quite sad turns off some.

      I witnessed the first tech bubble first-hand when I lived there in 1994 and sadly like other global cities like London, Vancouver, Sydney and NYC has since virtually lost it’s soul and creative spirit, now populated by self-absorbed type-A Gen X/Y addicted to maximizing profit/income with real estate and stock markets on steroids thanks to nearly 12 years of zero percent interest rates.

      Sure, markets will likely keep rising under these conditions and the Fed continues to prime the pup to help mask over the shortcomings of a completely bifurcated, dysfunctional economy. There is lots of innovation and clearly value generation from tech/fintech startups though likely way overvalued IMO thanks to a flood of capital with nowhere else to go.

      Nevertheless, the medium term outlook for real estate looks pretty dim particularly in the pricey big cities – just wait until interest rates start rising when the economy fully recover, or we see dollar devaluation – house prices will rollover very quickly and the sound of the bubble bursting will be quite piercing. Moreover, arguably the biggest advantage of cities like NYC and SF are the network effects of efficient public transportation which will quickly dissolve if you’ve looked at $16BN deficit alone this year in the NY MTA Transit budget – basic repairs, no upgrades, service shutdowns, layoffs, etc. for years….ugly.

      If you have enough liquidity you’ll be fine of course but don’t get stuck holding the bag as those NY commercial property owners are already starting to find out this year. Stick to the nicer suburbs could be the best bet – places like Contra Costa, CA or Westchester NY where you have easy commuter rail access to the big city if you need it, and you’ll find far better value and schools which don’t cost $50K/yr per kid. Stay safe out there.

  15. I’ve been stalking/reading your awesome website for years and this on point article (… Time to Focus on Bit City Living) made me want to reach out. Particularly on point #3. Less competition for our kids. My husband and I are planning to move back to SF either for the ’21-’22 or ’22-’23 school year. Any advice regarding choice of SF schools from a high school tennis coach point of view? My daughter now plays middle school team tennis and is hopefully aiming for high school tennis when we finally get to SF. (Both father and daugher lives/breathes tennis. ☺)

    We’re coming from Singapore American School. (I know you’ve lived in Malaysia/Singapore and I just feel that a connect.)

    1. Howdy!

      For high school, some popular schools include:

      Lick Wilmerding
      University High
      Sacred Heart
      St. Ignatius

      Based on my experience, it’s more important to find the right personality and style fit with your kids because all the schools cost pretty much the same.

      I did get some negative feedback on Drew, because there was a lot of turnover on the teacher front. So perhaps ask about turnover and tenure of the teachers.

      SAS is great! You sure you want to move back? I just loved my time at ISKL and wish I stayed through middle school.

  16. It makes my heart leap for joy, reading about how Urbanites are delighting in the safety and opportunities in Big Cities. If that were an actual verifiable trend, it would be wonderful. With people actually leaving in droves, the tax base collapsing, police retiring before they can be fired, and typically reprehensible leadership at the helm of these places, I cannot imagine why Big Cities won’t be a wonderful place to be in a few years.

    Sadly, what appears to me to be a mass migration out of Utopia has resulted in a 50% jump in real estate prices where I am, as farms and ranches are being turned into subdivisions around the little towns around me. I had hoped that news reports implying that everyone outside of metropolitan areas sewed their own clothes from worn-out Confederate flags and considered 3rd grade to be “higher education” would keep people from wrecking this quiet, safe, and friendly place, but alass, that is not to be. Unfortunately, while mass media has done a great job of fooling some people, they haven’t fooled them all, and an awful lot are headed here, demanding bike paths across private ranches and higher taxes to provide more free stuff for folks who don’t want to work, and doing their best to impress us with their general superiority in all things. To their credit, they are able to show some humility and appreciation when you pull their electric car home through snow drifts and -20 howling wind rather than letting them freeze to death in sight of their own home. Predictably, though, their superiority blooms like a flower in spring once the snow melts, the car’s charged, and they can get get to Steinmart again.

    Newsflash: We work hard. We play hard. We take care of each other; if you live within 50 miles of me, we’re neighbors. We comply with lawful orders when stopped by law enforcement and as a result, we don’t get shot. We respect private property. We don’t expect anyone to “give” us anything, so we respect our neighbors and we don’t break stuff, we take care of stuff and we volunteer; we do this and keep taxes very low as a result. Based on the many folks who come here as tourists and are staying by the multitudes, I detect very few of those values in the folks fleeing Urban areas and am glad to hear that the tide may be turning and cities may thrive once again. If that makes Urban Folks happy, that makes me ecstactic.

    The only thing I have in common with them is the uniting desire to FIRE, and for me it is not a desire, it is a reality, and it doesn’t take $300K per year to do it.

    1. I’m with you bro. Displaced red stater who lives just outside of SF. These ppl are delusional, vote for insanity, flee the insanity and then vote for more wherever they land. Sam’s not immune to it, with statements such as “the government should require everyone to travel for a year after high school.” They live in a different world.

  17. With the combination of COVID spreading more vigorously in smaller cities and the history of racism, I don’t think many minorities will be willing to leave big cities.

  18. Hi all for those who live in the Bay Area, I need some honest advice. Have been shopping for homes in SF to SSF and got outbid. Do you think is a good time to buy given the low interest rate and higher home price. With my budget I may be forced to move to the east bay which means longer commute. Any thoughts? I don’t want to buy at the highest price like I did with my rental back in 2005.

  19. I definitley think the demise of big-city living is overhyped. I belive big cities will always be popular for their job, healthcare and real estate opportunities. I am from a small city of 200,000 in Australia called Geelong. After I finish my commerce degree, I plan to move an hour away to Melbourne, which has a population of 4.9 million to live the big city life!

  20. The cap rate in SF is still very low and even with the decrease in rental properties’ price, you won’t be able to breakeven with 20% down with the rental income. Curious what’s the rationale behind buying rental properties in sf? Is it mostly for capital appreciation?

  21. Look what’s going on in Iowa.

    Iowa sees record 2,579 coronavirus cases, with 79% positivity rate
    Spike comes as state begins including antigen tests in the results, which state said would have ‘minimal’ affect on rates

    Seems like incomplete reporting, but still seems quite alarming.

    Counties for U of Iowa and Iowa State are getting inundated.

    Something to think about compared to big cities.

  22. I live in the greater NYC metropolitan area. I’ve lived most of my life in places where there was a woods behind my home and if I needed to go some place ten miles away, ten or twelve minutes would be sufficient.

    When I retire, I’m going back to what I’m used to for at least six months and a day each year.

  23. Look what’s going on in Kenosha, WI. Do you really want to move to a place like that? No thank you. I feel much safer in a diverse big city like San Francisco and New York City. Yes, Cost are higher, but protection is stronger and there’s more order for the rules and tolerance for other people.

    People who flee big cities to save money are not only hurting their careers, but their lifestyles as well.

  24. The people who stay loyal to their firms and to their cities will be rewarded in the long run. The people who leave will not be.

    This is definitely one of the greatest opportunities for people who want to get ahead and improve their career and their wealth. It’s like buying stocks in March 2020.

    What a wonderful opportunity for us to take it.

  25. My family and I are permanently leaving SF in a few months, when our lease in Noe Valley is up. We’re moving to property we own (mortgage paid off) in suburbs near Minneapolis vs. paying $6500 a month to rent a 3-bedroom here. If you’re doing the math, that alone saves $78,000, not to mention cheaper gas, food, and everything else in MN.

    Why? My company has gone fully remote for at least the next year, so I can work at home from anywhere. And while it’s probably true that I’ll never get promoted again (at my current company), and they may even lower my salary to the new cost of living, I still come out WAY ahead, considering quality of life together with financials. And if over time, I don’t like my current company’s value proposition, I can find another company, headquartered in Minneapolis … there are plenty.

    IMHO our quality of life in SF has been going down, while prices have been going up, and that was before the pandemic.

    I recognize that the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’; I’m aware this is just one person’s story (although I have a number of highly-paid friends in SF who have already left for good, or are in the process of leaving). I really have no idea if some large-scale migration from 24-hour cities is happening; I do suspect the media has it overblown. But I’d not be at all surprised to see 5-10% of techies migrate permanently from the SF Bay Area in the next two years.

    I do hope my departure from SF makes life better & cheaper for those who choose to remain! Of course, I’m taking my disposable income and the city and state taxes I pay with me; but I’m sure this can easily be replaced by the next guy, right?

    1. This is great! A win-win for sure. Was your home in Minn a rental property? If you have family there, that’s great.

      It’s tough for those without family to relocate to more difficult weather places.

  26. One positive about big cities is that Covid-19 is more contained. Look at NYC, now look at a random heartland city in terms of containment.

    So actually, there might be hesitation to relocate to a traditionally red state or city because there is a little collaboration and trying to contain the virus. We can’t even get people to wear masks when they’re outside in many of these red cities.

    No thank you for moving there.

    1. I do wonder how this will play out.

      If you’re walking around without a mask in San Francisco, you’re not gonna be very welcome.

      But if everybody’s walking around without a mask, you might just stop wearing one. So maybe there’s just a gradual assimilation wherever you go.

        1. Feel free to elaborate. I think it’s not a big deal to wear a mask outside in a public space to protect others and yourself.

          Where are you based and what are your views on wearing a mask in public?

          I do think everything is rational though. So people will do whatever they want to do what is best for themselves.

          Right now, investors are getting extremely rich and don’t mind the extended lockdowns. Maybe if people are losing money in the stock market and are sick of lockdowns, more people will start wearing masks And taking other precautionary measures.

          1. Even if you’re in sustained contact with someone outdoors, such as at a restaurant table, transmission is not likely. When just passing someone walking down the street, it’s effectively zero.


        2. Check our the latest Covid cases tracked by the NYT:

          Michigan State 49;
          U of Michigan 281;
          Notre Dame 473;
          U of Texas 483;
          Texas A&M 500;
          U of Alabama 568;
          Central Fla 727;
          UNC 835;
          U of Alabama Birmingham 972

          Smaller cities and states are seeing the biggest numbers. Something many people should factor in when relocating to save money.

          I would rather stay in a big city and be safe because of better medical facilities, more respect during the pandemic and more.

          1. Interesting information. Perhaps there is simply a different level of fear and trade offs between freedom and death.

            Give me liberty or give me death right? Perhaps there is simply a much greater emphasis on freedom in these cities and states, which is good for some people and not as good for others. So people will naturally self-selecting go where their values lie.

            I’m impressed how New York City has contained the virus.

      1. Don’t even eat til you have $500,000 in your account. I have noticed over and over with my different accounts, they don’t start making money til I reach that level. The hardest part is getting the first $500,000. After that the account on its own goes to a million. Tesla and Netflix put this one account at 547,000 dollars. Now I know I can move to the moon, come back in 4 years and there will be over a million in the account. No brains required.
        The first $500,000 opens the doors. You know this because if you don’t have an acct. with that much, you KNOW you are getting nowhere and it drives you crazy.
        I do not wish you wealth. That is foolish. I wish you $500,000 and the rest will come. Promise

          1. I think his answer is a strange way of saying that after $500k worth in tech stocks with strong upside, they start to appreciate at levels that can build meaningful amounts of wealth comparable to the leverage you would get (with maybe a little less money) in real estate.

            I don’t fully understand the eating comment though. I would suggest 2-3 meals a day or else you will go hungry before you become wealthy!

  27. I don’t believe this news either. It makes sense to leave NYC because it is so dense and you need to use public transportation. Other cities aren’t as dense and you can drive/bike. Traffic in Portland improved a lot as well.
    Life in the city is still better for many people. Once COVID recedes, people who enjoy cities will be back, IMO.

  28. Hi Sam

    I would love some advice and encouragement.

    I’m 31 and married. I’m currently living with wife and my parents in Cleveland at their house. We lived in NYC last 8 years and moved out because of Covid.

    Eventually, we are going to move back because her job is at Hudson yards and mine is in Empire State Building.

    We have good jobs but they both feel temporary and we don’t know where we want to live or work several years from now. Here’s my question:

    Should I go and buy an apartment (or home in jersey) when we go back? Or just keep renting because there will be ‘deals’ and we don’t know how long we want to stay for.

    After seeing what $1M can buy in Cleveland, it feels impossible to buy in NYC …

    1. Do you enjoy Cleveland? If so, stay in Cleveland if you can still make NYC money.

      Given you have family in Cleveland, that’s really half the battle right there.

      The only risk is that once you leave the NYC area for several years, it may be hard to get back in for you and maybe your children if and when things turn.


        I have a quite extensive real estate portfolio in expensive Market. But I’m looking to buy a house in Milwaukie
        I’m not going to sell any of my Vancouver or Tokyo units. But I am going to buy a few Milwaukee duplexes. For investment but also because I enjoy the Midwest and the people.

  29. Vishal Sharma

    Thanks Sam for some excellent articles. I am not sure if you are thinking about Fed printing money and inflation in coming years. This will impact the hosuing market ? It would be great if you have any view

    1. Sure. If there is inflation, you want to own real assets like housing to inflate with inflation. You don’t want to have lots of cash b/c cash will lose purchasing power.

      So real estate is a hedge against inflation as well. In fact, it is an inflation play.

  30. I’m definitely staying as well. This is my time to get ahead by showing my loyalty and commitment to the firm.

    The people who leave are carefully monitored and recorded. Your assumption is that they do not have the grit to stick things out until the virus is under control. They were mainly here for the money.

    The opportunity for people who stay to grow really is tremendous.

  31. It is actually quite amusing. I wrote an article that went live yesterday about the trend of migration from cities to the Midwest from densely populated urban areas citing many factors including the pandemic and the trend to be able to work from home and actually referenced your Midwest article.

    I was concerned with what this would do to investors in commercial real estate, particularly the multifamily apartments I have that tend to be in these larger cities.

    I hope that you are correct in predicting the staying power of urban life and if so then there will indeed be a great opportunity.

  32. Yes, good to keep an eye on. For SF, our mayor reduced police funding by $120 million and redirected the money towards the Black community, partially as a form of reparations. Perhaps good things will come out of this after all.

    Everything is rational, so if crime suddenly surges, the money will be redirected back to the police. Right now, the thought is that the police have too much power, hence the cries for defunding.

    Good info from SF Chronicle:

    Kaylah Williams, co-chair of the AfroSocialists Caucus within the Democratic Socialists of America’s San Francisco chapter, called the budget proposals “smoke and mirrors” — a surface-level swipe at real reform.

    Breed’s proposal, she said, “doesn’t shrink the size of our police forces and falls way short of the mayor’s announced vision to replace police with civilians for nonviolent calls for service. We look forward to working with Supervisor Walton and others to fight for what was promised.”

    The inequities facing Black San Franciscans are stark, as evidenced by a range of sobering statistics.

    • Black people make up around 5% of the city’s residents, but comprise nearly 40% of its homeless population. African Americans are the only racial group that has consistently declined in population in every census count since 1970, according to city data.

    • Black people have the highest mortality rate for nine of the top-10 causes of death in San Francisco. Median household income for Black families is $31,000, compared with $116,000 for white families.

    • And last year, roughly 45% of police use-of-force incidents in San Francisco involved African Americans, though not every incident involved a city resident.

    The Police Department’s budget will shrink by $40 million in each of the next two years, and $20 million will be taken from the Sheriff’s Department.

    Specific details on how the money will be spent aren’t yet known. After examining hundreds of public survey submissions and holding 13 community meetings, the city’s Human Rights Commission has distilled a set of broad initiatives that reflect the Black community’s preferences for how the money should be spent.

    While the spending plan is refined, the money will be distributed to the Department of Public Health, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Human Rights Commission, which will then fund initiatives selected by the community.

    The bulk of the funds — 60% — will be directed to mental health, wellness and homelessness initiatives affecting the Black community. Another 35% will be used for education, youth development and economic opportunities.

    The remaining 5% will be used to develop a plan resulting in protocols that would direct police officers away from responding to noncriminal calls involving the homeless and mentally ill — social workers would fill that role instead.

    The cuts to the Police Department amount to about 6% of its roughly $700 million budget, and 7% of what it would have received from the general fund, based on the budget passed last year. The Police Department additionally receives funding from the airport, which is not reflected in the general fund.

    The $40 million taken from the SFPD each year is nearly double the $23 million, or 3%, proposed by the department earlier this year. That figure was unanimously rejected by the San Francisco Police Commission in June, following hours of public comment demanding the city “defund” the police.

    Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said the cuts are fair, but he remains concerned about leaving positions open in a department that’s already short-staffed. The hit, he said, could further affect emergency response times, proactive policing and officers’ ability to investigate all crimes.

    “By not filling those vacancies, it’s going to stretch our staff even thinner,” he said.

    At the Sheriff’s Department, the $20 million in cuts represent about 8% of its annual $260 million budget.

    The cuts will reduce the overall size of each department, since the bulk of the money will come from keeping vacant positions unfilled for the next two fiscal years.

    The Sheriff’s Department will also have less overtime to offer its deputies. Last year, a report from the city controller’s office found that deputies were performing 20% of their work on overtime, due in large part to chronic understaffing and growing workloads.

    The cuts will almost certainly affect the Police Department’s long-running push to boost staffing levels. The City Charter requires the department maintain 1,971 full-duty officers, but staffing consistently falls short of that.

    1. “Everything is rational.”

      Too much credit Sam. Defunding the piece is irrational from the start, so everything isn’t rational. A lot of damage can be done during periods of irrational policy. Socialism isn’t rational based on history, but that doesn’t stop irrational people from thinking they will be the ones to make it work. I would disagree that everything is rational. Everything used to rational in Venezuela until it wasn’t.

  33. This topic is something I think about a lot, both from an investment perspective and also in terms of whether I personally want to stay close to a big city. For reference, my wife and I live and work in silicon valley.

    Even though our employers will allow us to work remotely after COVID, my guess is at least 80-90% of people at our companies will stay in the area because:
    1) People are inherently social creatures, and I think most genuinely enjoy the face-to-face interaction you get from going into an office vs working from home.
    2) People working remotely will not be considered as much for promotions or advancement opportunities compared to those that work in the main office.
    3) Lots of people are rooted in the area and don’t want to leave their friends, families, and communities.
    4) Most companies will decrease pay for employees that choose to move to a lower COLA, however the % decrease could vary a lot depending on the company and individual situation.

    All that said, even if only 10-20% of people leave, that’s still a big enough amount to have a significant impact on real estate prices. My current thinking is that enough people will leave the bay area for places like Tahoe, or perhaps Hawaii, driving up RE prices there.

    1. Point number two is important. The people who will get paid and promoted the fastest will be the people at Company headquarters. It’s just human nature. More opportunities are given to the people you interact more with.

      At my old firm, the people who got paid and promoted the fastest and the most were always in Hong Kong and in New York City. The employees and satellite offices like San Francisco and elsewhere didn’t. You had to go kiss the ring at headquarters.

      Good point on pay being normalized if employees move away to lower cost of living areas as well, like Facebook has done so far.

      I also agree with you that if there is a 10 to 20% exodus, real estate prices will fall. The question will be, how much? As we know and economics, as price declines, demand increases and then everything balances out again.

      Let’s see what happens. But I’m excited for the opportunity to buy more real estate. So many people in real life I know have net worths that have reached all time highs now. And all my friends who work at big tech are really doing well.

      How is your net worth doing and are you working in tech? What are your peers thinking? I know two families who are buying more real estate for their families to create a cluster in the city.

      1. We both work in tech and are fortunate that our net worth is at an all time high given most of our equity is in company stock or index funds. Most of our peers plan on staying put since they really enjoy living in the area.

        I think there’s a decent amount of 20-something year olds living with their parents in the bay area, and if rental prices drop enough then a lot will move out of their parents’ home into their own place, which would bring prices back up.

        1. Cool. Your situation is what I am seeing ALL around. Everybody’s net worths are at all-time highs, and more and more people I know are upgrading homes with their increased wealth. After all, we’re spending more time in our homes, so might as well get a nicer one.

  34. This article reminds me of Buffet’s saying, “Be fearful when people are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful” or something to that effect. A contrarian way to live and invest, I’m sure somebody on here knows the actual quote and term. I like this.
    When I bought my rental real estate properties beginning in 2010, I was scared. It was a tough time for the real estate market, emerging out of the Great Recession. But, it turned out to be a wonderful time to jump in. Today, I’m so thankful I wasn’t paralyzed by fear to act.

    1. That’s the quote and it’s great!

      Also very skeptical of everything happening in the real estate market…

  35. I was just about to write a post about this but you beat me to the punch.

    A few observations living in NYC right now and why focusing NYC real estate might not be a bad bet:
    (1) Real estate has experienced a nice price drop in most neighborhoods in Manhattan, especially for pricey real estate north of $4 million. Imagine getting something for 30% off compared to peak pricing back in 2016/2017?
    (2) Everyone is wearing masks. New COVID-19 cases hover around 200 a day, a significant drop from the peak.
    (3) More and more businesses are opening back up given the low number of new COVID cases.
    (4) It is less crowded which has its benefits.
    (5) Mortgage rate is low.
    (6) NYC has been a premier world class city for centuries. It survived the 1918 pandemic and thrived after. There are no reasons to believe why it can’t survive this pandemic and then go on a growth trajectory after.

    1. Definitely still write your version, with NYC as the central thesis. I’d love to dig deep into NYC real estate bc it is the one that got away back in 2000. I’ve regretted buying a 2/2 condo with a view of the Chrysler building and peekaboo view of the park.

      I would like to get a pied de terre there. Just need to look at the tax implications.

      1. NYC is resilient. If my networth was high enough, I’d consider the luxury market there right now for sure.

        Sam, you say you want to buy lots of SF real estate. Just like no one predicted a tail event like Covid, how do you protect yourself from a tail event such as an earthquake? Do you insure all of your properties with earthquake insurance? Seems to me these tail events are not so “tail” anymore, but happen about once every 10 years (2001: 9/11, 2008: financial crash, 2019: Covid), and as the world gets more connected, that time range will shorten.

        1. Yes, insurance and diversification of assets.

          You have a risk of dying tomorrow. Therefore, you have life insurance.

          I wonder if there is a really debilitating group of people out there who don’t go out, don’t live life, and never invest because they are too afraid.

          How are you investing and what is your position?

  36. Coming from a landlord’s perspective and having tenants moving out soon, I’m faced with lower rents while I wait for things to get better.
    Great for newcomers but not for me.

    Hoping I can hang on for 2 years with SF property taxes!

      1. On Buchanan at Market, another on Harrison and Beale.
        My agent says it’s tough out there but we haven’t tested it yet as it won’t be empty until next month.

        1. Got it. Yeah, SOMA area and condos will be tough. But you never know. There is a migration out to the less dense west side from what I can tell.

          I think things will come back, so I would hold on if you can.

  37. I live n a 18hr city. Recently a friend from work moved bak 2 NY when his lease exp 2 remote work from parents. He has asked me if i want an FO job there. Thinking it was a long shot I said yes. Come to find out he knows an MD at a large bank. I just bought a house and am married. What do I do?

      1. Should i go for my dream job in NY or should I stay put? This is really stressful. Wife is not happy about it. But ever since i left my tiny town in nowhere SC, i dreamed of a big career in a big city. Just never thought it could happen….

        1. I would pursue your dreams. If you don’t, you will look back and regret that you didn’t. You can rent out your house for a yar or two, pursue your dreams, and come back if it doesn’t work out.

          It is much easier to build your fortune with a higher paying job that provides more advancement. Make your fortune and then downshift I say.

  38. Canadian Reader

    It’s unclear to me if people have left Vancouver. It feels pretty much like normal. In fact, local outdoor amenities have seen surge crowds causing some beach parks to close their gates by 8 am. It’s hard to know if this is much of a gauge or if it just means more local people are using these areas after being pent up. Traffic patterns feel typical. The grocery stores feels the same, but the socially distanced line ups actually make it feel more busy. The mall is somewhat less busy, but some retailers have remained closed. According to the government, foreign students have gone and aren’t coming back in the same volume.

    Since moving here I have realized that pandemic aside, citizens in Vancouver are getting a lot more value for their tax money than citizens in Edmonton or Calgary (these cities would be along the lines of your heartland cheaper living thesis). Housing itself costs more, but literally everything else costs less. Energy, food, restaurants, parking, publicly owned recreation centres, free parks and tennis courts, cheaper public school fees, garbage/recycling and water included in property tax, better infrastructure (metro connected to airport), extensive cycling paths, and a higher personal exemption on income tax. Also if one is lower income, the federal+ provincial child benefit amount is higher. I’m sure there is more to be discovered. The things that cost more are fuel, maybe car insurance, consumer items subject to 7% sales tax on top of 5% federal tax, and booze. But these expenses are mostly discretionary. I guess it all depends on spending priorities.

    Before I moved here the constant narrative being fed is how crazy expensive Vancouver is! If a person has a bit of money and is going to sit on a mortgage free home anyway, it sure makes a lot more sense to do it here. It’s a cheaper hold, plus the upside of making money on your real estate is more likely.

  39. I am actually on the other end of this…leaving NYC and about to buy in the suburbs. More of a quality of life play as I can now work in a remote location and only have to go into the city once every 2 weeks or so. While prices in the burbs are moving, they are still off considerably over the last decade plus…(at least in Greenwich)
    For me, not having to go into the city is a massive deal and I think will dramatically increase my level of happiness and involvement as a father without any commuting time etc.

    Avoiding the city tax each year and being able to utilize public schools while keeping the same income, prices would have to dramatically underperform for this to financially not work out…

    While the city will def. “come back” I have to imagine there will be tons of other people like me who can now work from home or a satellite office and will not want to raise a family in NYC if they no long have to be in the city for work 5 days a week…which, should narrow the delta in prices over time…But what do i know?

  40. Chelsea Liu

    I love big city living but not big city living in SF. I lived in NYC before moving to SF for a tech job. For me and many of my friends, SF is merely a place that has jobs that we have to live in, but the pandemic has changed this forever. My company went fully remote, and we are all moving to different cities. I don’t know how these various sites are measuring, but people are leaving SF. I see it in my friends group, in the apartment complex I live in, I am moving myself at the end of this week.

    SF itself without the tech bubble is a terrible city to live in unless you are ultra rich and can afford nicer areas. The city has almost no public transportation, not to mention the prevailing, ever worsening homeless problems. Even at the reduced price now, a house built in 1920s with a back yard in a decent neighborhood still costs more than $2.5M which is just outrageous. I am 29 years old and do not want to be slaves to mortgages for the rest of my life. Me and my partner both work in tech and have combined yearly income of over $400K but still somehow feel like we do not have enough money here. But with this money in San Diego, we can buy a super new, nice house sit on top of the canyon overlooking the ocean for one million while still having access to beach, hiking, and all the great outdoors California has to offer.

    Will people return to big city living after this is all over? Maybe. Do I ever see myself returning to SF? Unless the city figures out these deep rooted socioeconomic, housing shortages problems, the answer will be a hard no.

    1. For sure, it’s hard for a 29-year-old to buy a house and raise a family without any help or bigger incomes. And it is good that you are moving to a place that is more affordable. It’s a win-win because it helps you afford life easier, and it helps people who stay enjoy a more lovable big city.

      San Diego is a great city to start a family. And I hope you enjoy it there! Everybody is winning!

      Let me know after a year how you feel about SD too. Thx

      1. Very empathetic to the original poster here. It’s perfectly rational to look at SF and wonder “why do I live here?” – it’s also depressing to see the lack of responsiveness from our elected officials (across an array of issues).

        Adding to this – what happens if/when the big tech companies see where their employees go (or, which cities organically emerge as hubs) and then just move other employees to those places. It’s not like these firms haven’t done that in the past anyway (e.g., “your job is now in Austin”) and if you can reduce salaries due to cost of living, seems like a no brainer for the company. Pinterest cancelling its new lease this week seems to be very much in line with this… I don’t think these companies truly let everyone work at home 5 days a week for the long term – and if they do, why not outsource the jobs?

        Moreover, to all the positive posts about a huge economic rebound in 2021, even more demand for housing, etc… I have trouble seeing that. Where is it coming from? We had years of buying demand in the past few months, which you’d think would reduce demand in the future, and we have 10 percent unemployment – I know many of those might not be the same folks that are buying property, but it’s still a very significant number. It just feels like folks might be swinging for the fences and that becomes high risk and not something you do over and over and over…happy to be proven wrong!

  41. I have ~$1,000/month net income on a rental property in SF (a condo in a 2-unit building). Current tenant is breaking their lease. Debating whether I should still keep renting it out (most likely taking a hit in rental income in the near-term) versus sell the condo and see if I can upgrade to a SFH. My property taxes on the condo are relatively low since I bought the property almost 15 years ago, so I’m a bit hesitant to sell. Any advice is welcome.

    1. Is the SFH to buy to live in or rent out?

      I’d test out the rental market first before selling and then make a decision.

      Many parts on the western side of San Francisco are pretty strong because of a migration west. Where is your property?

  42. Anecdotally, I live in a ski town and real estate has been going crazy all summer and school enrollment is way up with Californian newcomers. We have high quality public schools, clean mountain air, skiing and mountain biking out the front door or a very short commute away, little traffic outside of ski season, low crime, cool neighbors with interesting backgrounds, good kids’ and adults’ sports programming, good (but expensive) food, great recreational facilities (including tennis courts) and trail systems funded by hotel taxes and second home owner taxes, a surprisingly good music scene for the size of our town. But by all means, enjoy big city living!

    1. For sure. I own property in Lake Tahoe and I’m noticing the same thing. Kids eventually have to graduate, which is why I want to hedge and will keep properties in both areas.

  43. I’m also really happy that there’s less congestion. And if more people can move out of San Francisco, the better for us. We are currently looking to upgrade our home after making over $600,000 in Apple stock this year alone.

    This is truly one of the best things that has come out of the pandemic.

    I know so many people who left San Francisco and New York and could never get back in.

  44. Oh wow that picture of NYC streets with bikes is cool. Makes so much sense cuz I wouldn’t want to get around on the subway, taxis or buses bc of the pandemic. And everything is flat!

    It’s funny how so many tech companies migrated into SF in recent years and now most of their employees are all working from home so their huge skyscrapers are empty downtown.

    I’d love a less congested SF. Traffic got insane in recent years. Now it feels similar to the good old days. I do hope we get out of this pandemic though.

    Anyway intriguing data points! Thanks!

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