For a decade, high housing prices made it hard for people to stay in the state, even if they wanted to. But falling house prices and increased hiring are enticing former Californians to come home, moving company officials said.
"I think the people realize that when we move back to California, we're never going to have interest rates or (house) prices this low," said Linda Oakley, owner of Atlas Transfer and Storage Co. in Poway, affiliated with Allied Van Lines. "We want to live in California, where it's warm and sunny and happy."
Indeed, 2,926 more families moved into California than moved out of it, the third-highest figure of any state or Washington, D.C., according to the combined data of Atlas Van Lines Inc., United Van Lines LLC and Allied Van Lines Inc. For years, California had seen more households moving out than in. In 2007, Atlas' data indicated that trend had reversed, but it didn't turn around in Allied's data until 2011.
U-Haul International Inc., which doesn't provide the same type of data, said it helped move 5.6 percent more people into California than out of it, according to spokeswoman Ashleigh Wagner.
Wagner also had some local data from U-Haul: Between January and November 2011, it helped 1 percent more people move out of Escondido than in, it helped 1.9 percent more people move into Oceanside than out, and it helped 11.5 percent more people move into Temecula than out.
U-Haul, United and Atlas represent 40 percent of the moving market, and Allied is private so there is no market data available, according to Boston-based market analyst Pell Research.
By the raw numbers, California had the third-highest net gain of movers, behind Texas and Florida, but those are all states with large populations. When viewed as a rate, California ranks 13th, with 0.23 moves per 1,000 households. Washington, D.C., ranked first by this metric, with a net of 2.68 incoming moves per household, almost four times that of No. 2-ranked North Carolina (see this article online for the complete table).
Illinois had the highest rate of departing families among the 50 states plus the district, losing 0.91 families per 1,000 households. New Jersey and Connecticut had the next two highest rates.
California has long seen more people leaving the state as the cost of housing skyrocketed. By 2007, the median house price in North San Diego County peaked at $639,000, and it peaked in 2006 in Southwest Riverside County at $420,000, according to a North County Times analysis of transactions in the two counties. Those prices plummeted 38 percent and 50 percent respectively as a real estate bubble imploded and a recession pushed many people out of work. As of December's data, the nation had added more than 100,000 jobs for six consecutive months, and that trend is reflected in California.
"We're seeing corporations wanting to hire again," said David Frank, vice president and general manager of the San Diego office of Alexander's Mobility Services, an Atlas affiliate. "We're seeing technology companies wanting to get ahead of the game. Even if they're not selling product yet, they're hiring designers and those kinds of jobs. We're seeing Qualcomm, and Sony, and some of the other companies doing some of the hiring."
Oakley and other local moving company officials said 2011 had been an up year. Oakley said her business was up 6 percent compared with 2010. Her company moves people all over Southern California, and she said she's been bringing people in from out of state. Paula Nix, office manager for Eckert's Moving and Storage in San Marcos, said business was up in 2011, including local moves, although not always for the cheeriest of reasons.
"A lot of them are losing their homes, or they're just first-time buyers and they're all excited about getting a new deal on their home," Nix said.
Nathan Pletcher, an electrical engineer, has enjoyed the tech resurgence. On Friday, Linda Oakley's movers came to take his belongings out of his Leucadia home to bring them up to Mountain View so he can start work for Google.
He originally came to California from the Midwest. Now he and his wife, Andrea, a teacher, have fallen for California.
"We both like California a lot, we like to do stuff outdoors, we like all the opportunities California offers, oceans and mountains and stuff like that," Pletcher said the day before Oakley's company came to take his stuff away.