It is no secret the coronavirus pandemic has brought new residents from Los Angeles to Kern County. With a booming housing market and 1 percent apartment vacancy rate in Bakersfield, it seems like everybody has heard a story about LA residents seeking more affordability with the new ability to work from home.
But a Californian analysis of Internal Revenue Service tax return data shows a steady increase in LA expats seeking new homes in Kern over a five year period from 2013 to 2018, according to the most recent data available. Along with a general increase in new residents, the data reveals Kern County as an attractive destination for not only residents of surrounding counties, but residents of coastal counties like Ventura and Monterey are increasingly turning to Kern for their next move.
Local real estate agents say the pandemic has merely accelerated a trend that had been taking place prior to COVID-19. And with a housing crunch leaving new homeowners juggling multiple offers, Kern County residents are just now beginning to take notice.
“Affordability is the name of the game right now,” said Ronda Newport, president of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors. “I think it was under the radar and we are noticing it more now.”
From 2013 to 2014, the IRS data says 415 households moved from LA County to Kern County. By 2018, that number had increased to 1,653. Total migration into the county also increased from 234 to 1,517 over the same period.
“Folks do not want to spend time driving five miles per hour during rush hour,” said Richard Chapman, president and CEO of the Kern Economic Development Corporation. “Then the opportunities, the housing choices, are much more varied here than in LA. Five people are going to live in an apartment versus you can buy your own home here in your 20s.”
Local realtor Jeanne Radsick says the potential negative opinions of Bakersfield change when people from places from the Bay Area actually make the move to the city.
“They pinch their nose, just like everybody else, and say, ‘oh my God, I’m moving to Bakersfield.’ And yet, they get here and they say, ‘what was wrong with Bakersfield?’” she said. “We paint ourselves as being the bad guys. We don’t stop and say, ‘yeah, but what’s right?’”
The Kern County residents who do leave appear to be looking outside the state for their next destinations. Both Clark County in Nevada and Maricopa County in Arizona are popular destinations for locals leaving the state, the data reveals.
But far from an exodus due to rising home prices or a general distaste for California politics, observers say a variety of reasons lead to people choosing to leave the Golden State.
“Most of our buyers and sellers are staying within Kern County,” Newport said. “That hasn’t changed. There’s always going to be that move-up buyer. And the first time home buyers are out in droves, which is good.”
Looking to the future, Kern County is well positioned as an expansion site for new businesses, according to Chapman, who notes that the Inland Empire was once the go-to spot for such projects.
Now, the eyes of CEOs are turning to Kern.
“Here you have these shovel ready sites,” he said. “We don’t have that political divisiveness that shows up in areas where you have a project and then a lot of NIMBYs show up.”
While it’s hard to say whether or not the trend of LA newcomers will continue, many would not be surprised if it does.
“It really comes down to this,” Chapman said, “we’re the fifth most affordable housing market and we’re next to the most expensive housing market in the country.”