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Who’s Moving Where?

By Richard Westlund

© Florida Realtor, the Business Magazine of Florida Real Estate, June 2001

Every day, approximately 850 newcomers move to Florida. They come from all over the world to take new jobs, retire, enjoy a seasonal vacation or be closer to family members. And with another 500-plus Floridians moving daily from one county to another within the state, you have the basic ingredients for one of the nation’s most dynamic real estate markets.

For real estate professionals, understanding these changing migration patterns is essential in marketing a seller’s home or reaching out to potential buyers. Since new Floridians usually stay in close touch with the family and friends they left behind, a few satisfied customers can multiply and create a new business niche. In fact, it’s common for Florida subdivisions and condominium Buildings to be filled with people from the same region, all drawn by positive word of mouth.

With Florida’s unique blend of retirement buyers, relocating families, and seasonal buyers from around the world, it would take a book to cover all the demographic angles. But knowing where new-to-market buyers are coming from helps real estate professionals focus their marketing efforts and maximize the results.

Shifting Migration Flows

A close look at recent migration patterns using Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Census Bureau data shows some surprising shifts in Florida’s traditional migration patterns. Analyzing the 1998-99 migration data, economist Hank Fishkind, Ph.D., president of Fishkind & Associates in Orlando, says Florida will continue to attract newcomers, although the overall pace of in-migration will fall during the next decade.

During the peak years of the late 1980s, Florida drew about 350,000 newcomers a year. That number fell to about 320,000 annually in the 1990s, and will decrease again to 300,000 a year during the first decade of the 21st century. “That’s primarily due to demographic reasons,” Fishkind says. “The number of people reaching retirement age is smaller this decade than in the past. There is also more competition from other states trying to get a bigger share of the smaller retiree pool.”

 Florida is still the heavyweight king in the retirement category, drawing primarily from the Northeast and Midwest “snow belt.” As the state’s East Coast has become more urbanized, retirees from the Northeast have discovered Midwestern havens like Naples/Fort Myers and Sarasota. In fact, New York is the No. 1 state for in-migrants in every major Florida market except Jacksonville — a major change since the 1980s.

On the other hand, migration patterns to urban markets like Miami-Dade, Tampa and Orlando are now primarily driven by new jobs and industries. That’s one reason why a surprising number of Californians are moving to Florida — a flow that may increase if technology-related jobs continue to grow here. “Florida is attractive to Californians because of our warm weather and lack of income tax,” says Fishkind. “You don’t see Californians migrating to New York, for instance. Another factor in our favor is that many of our companies have strong corporate ties with the West Coast as well.”

Florida has a fairly large share of the national relocation market, according to Pat Butler, vice president of business development, Arvida Realty Services in Deerfield Beach. “In 2000, we saw the largest number ever of corporate transfers into Florida, mostly to the southern half of the state, from Tampa Bay on down to Miami,” he says.

International migration is also expected to be a stronger factor in the next decade, especially in Miami-Dade, where more than half the county’s population is foreign born. Migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean have already discovered Broward and Palm Beach counties, as well as the Orlando and Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile, Europeans are buying seasonal and retirement homes in Southwest and Central Florida. However, the number of Canadians is expected to decline, unless currency exchange rates become more favorable.

Historically, most of Florida’s migration has come from states east of the Mississippi River, following the interstates, says Brad Hunter, director of consulting services, American Metro Study in Boca Raton. On the East Coast, the I-95 corridor has carried migrants from the Northeast, while Midwesterners follow I-75. In the Panhandle, I-10 has brought buyers from the Gulf States. “But the old rules are changing,” he says, “especially as more visitors to Florida now arrive by air.”

Here’s a closer look at Florida’s diverse regions.

 North Florida

From Pensacola to Jacksonville, newcomers to Northern Florida tend to come from nearby Southern states. In Duval County, for instance, Georgia, Virginia and Texas are the top sending states. Military installations along the northern tier also bring an ongoing flow of service personnel.

“The volume of migration into Florida’s ‘First Coast’ is increasing,” says Linda H. Sherrer, president and CEO, Prudential Network Realty in Jacksonville, who expects continued growth for the next few years. “We are a business center, not necessarily a retirement community. Our current corporate feeder markets are Georgia (specifically Atlanta), the Carolinas, New Jersey, Texas and South Florida.”

That flow from the south continues onward to the Daytona Beach-Cocoa area as well. However, the technology companies based along the “Space Coast” typically attract workers from California and the Northeast as well.

 Central Florida

Although Central Florida traditionally attracts Midwesterners especially seniors looking for quiet, affordable retirement homes — the region’s migration flow has broadened in the past decade. New York, for instance, is the largest sending state for new households in Orlando and its surrounding counties.

“We’re seeing a strong flow from the Northeast,” says Glenda Philpot, vice president, relocation, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate of Florida in Longwood. “There’s also quite a few from California, because of our connections with the theme parks and the entertainment industry, as well as our high-tech companies.”

Fishkind adds that the Orlando area’s international market has grown in the past few years, including Europeans buying second homes, and a new inflow of Puerto Ricans into Osceola County. “We’re seeing people move from Orlando to the surrounding counties as the suburbanization process continues.”

Miami-Dade and Broward are also strong feeder markets for Central Florida, as longtime residents retire to a less-urban setting. “People prefer the less-expensive, less-crowded retirement communities,” says Fishkind. “That often means places like Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.”

 Southeast Florida

With its strong international inflow, South Florida is the most demographically diverse region in the state. New York and New Jersey are the top sending states for all three metro counties, although newcomers are also moving north from the Caribbean and South America. “In Miami-Dade, the foreign inflow is greater than anything else,” says Fishkind. “Right now, we’re seeing a lot of new migrants from Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.”

Metro Miami draws both international and corporate buyers, according to Nancy Hogan, managing broker, Arvida Realty Services’ Coral Gables office. “Miami has a lot of dimensions. We’ve had people moving back to Coral Gables from Broward, because they were tired of a long commute.”

Broward is drawing an increasing number of corporate transfers from New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, says Robert S. Lydzinski, vice president, The Keyes Co. in Miramar. “We also see people moving up from Miami-Dade to be closer to the jobs here. There’s a growing Caribbean influence in the area.”

Southeast Florida also has a significant internal flow northward, with Miami-Dade and Broward residents moving to Palm Beach County or the quieter Treasure Coast region.

 Tampa Bay

On the west side of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg has been a favorite retirement destination for more than 75 years. On the east side, Tampa has always been an industrial and service-oriented community with a different migration pattern.

“Migration flows to Tampa are related to the labor market,” says Fishkind. “That typically means more newcomers from the Southern states, while St. Petersburg has drawn more from the Northeast and Midwest.”

To the south, Sarasota draws a different mix of affluent retirees and second-home buyers. “We get a lot of buyers from England and Germany,” says Philpot. “There’s some corporate business there, but not as much as in other parts of the state.”

Southwest Florida

For the past 20 years, Southwest Florida has drawn more Midwesterners than any other group, according to Laura Kopple, broker, Laura B. Kopple Inc. Realtor in Venice. “Now, we’re seeing more people from upstate New York, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont,” she says. “We’ve also worked with quite a few clients from Bermuda, mostly in gulf front and country-club properties.”

One reason for the growing popularity of Naples-Fort Myers in the past decade is that Southwest Florida remains one of the few regions in the state that still offers new waterfront condominium complexes and master-planned country-club communities.

“Because most of Florida’s east coast is built out, Southwest Florida is increasingly attractive to those in the Northeast,” Fishkind says. “If someone from up North is looking for a new bayfront condo, they will probably consider this area.”

Southwest Florida accessibility from Miami and Fort Lauderdale has also increased its visibility to Northeasterners. “People drive over on Alligator Alley and think about moving there,” says Hunter. “They tell their friends, and it just builds from there.” 

Top Feeder States For Florida's Metro Areas

12-month period, 1998-99 States and Households

 Jacksonville (Duval County)

    Georgia            1,323

    Virginia                759

    Texas                   599


Tampa (Hillsborough)

    New York          1,341

    Georgia               987

    Texas                   767


St. Petersburg (Pinellas)

    New York            1,453

    Ohio                       842

    Pennsylvania        740


Fort Lauderdale (Broward)

    New York           4,050

    New Jersey       1,648

    California              986


Naples (Collier)

    New York              387

    Massachusetts     376

    Ohio                       313


Cocoa (Brevard)

    New York           813

    Georgia              327

    California           322


Miami (Miami-Dade)

    New York           2,550

    New Jersey       1,298

    California           1,178


Fort Myers (Lee)

    New York           824

    Ohio                    623

    Illinois                  436


Orlando (Orange)

    New York           1,936

    Georgia                 806

    New Jersey              803


West Palm Beach (Palm Beach)

    New York            3,892

    New Jersey        1,696

    Massachusetts      830


Sarasota (Sarasota)

    New York                528

    New Jersey            358

    Ohio                        351


Daytona Beach (Volusia)

    New York                750

    New Jersey            347

    Georgia                  267


Sanford (Seminole)

    New York                572

    Georgia                  282

    New Jersey            264

Note: Figures do not include international migration. Actual numbers of households may be higher than these reported totals due to the methodologies employed by the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Census Bureau.

Data compiled and provided by Fishkind & Associates, Orlando.

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