Leaving California: How to Move 3 Kids, a Dog, Cat, Turtle and the In-Laws to Another State (During a Pandemic)
Do you know someone – or are you someone – who is leaving California for another state? You’re not alone.
The California exodus is well underway, with new data showing more residents on the move or thinking about moving since the pandemic began raging last March.
The Bay Area, particularly San Francisco, is one of the top regions Californians are ditching. S.F. departures accounted for 58% of all one-way U-Haul traffic from March through June, according to the truck rental company. The ratios in Oakland and San Jose were similar.
While we hate to see you go (we really, really do!), we also want to help you make a smooth transition. We found the best way to answer questions about how to move to another state is by sharing some real-life experiences and tips from ex-Californians themselves.
Here is one family’s story about why, where, and how they moved their whole kit and kaboodle across the country in the midst of a pandemic.
Meet Krista and Analisa – They led with research, then followed their hearts
Abio Properties marketing director Krista Loewen and her wife Analisa left the Golden State with their three young children (4, 6, 10) and many pets in December. They sold their house in Martinez during a whirlwind two-week period and bought a double-the-size, half-the-price house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, all without ever seeing it in real life. Analisa, a registered nurse practitioner, found a medical center job. Krista continues to work for Abio remotely.
Why did you decide to leave California?
Analisa: I was born in San Francisco and always loved the Bay Area. But California has changed. It’s expensive. It’s crowded. Then the fires and power outages of the last few years pushed us over the edge. It’s not like there weren’t brush fires before. This is a whole different beast, and it was getting more frequent and scary. In the fall of 2019, a grassfire forced us to evacuate. And the bad air quality from wildfire smoke was becoming such a frequent issue that our kids got used to asking us what color the air quality index was before going outside to play. “Are we in the red? Are we yellow? Can we go outside?”
The best part of growing up in California is being able to be outside year-round. We are a family that loves to hike and camp. But the predictions say fire season will only get longer and worse.
“We’ve been told we’re brave, but I really think we’re just crazy!”
Krista: It was a tough decision. We loved our life in CA and we knew that by going anywhere else, we might not be able to have the same kind of outside year-round lifestyle. We had to ask ourselves if paying high California taxes is worth it if we can’t enjoy the things we once loved about the state.
The last straw was that Labor Day weekend when the sky was ominous and dark with smoke.
Once we decided to leave, we needed to talk with Analisa’s mom and sister. Because we are so close, we weren’t going to move away if they weren’t on board to join us.
Analisa: They weren’t hard to convince.
How did you choose which state and city to move to?
Analisa: We had spreadsheets – a lot of spreadsheets. We had so many categories. Clearly, climate change was an issue we researched. Krista found this amazing study that ranked states and counties around the country based on climate change projections and sea-level rise for the next 10-20 years.
Krista: A lot of people asked us why we didn’t go to Austin (a popular destination for Californians, especially those looking for a city with liberal politics.) But I saw this report and said, “No way. In 20 years, that place is going to so hot and humid that you literally cannot go outside.”
“Ask yourself what are the things you will miss the most about California?”
Analisa: Another major criteria was local politics, voting patterns. We wanted a liberal area. We considered how they are with LGBT families, racial equality, racial equity within the schools. We got it narrowed down to Denver, Philadelphia, and Burlington, VT, where we were married.
Krista: We originally ruled out any state that wasn’t blue. That really limited us to the coasts and the northeast. Then somehow things just clicked and pointed to North Carolina. Once we settled on North Carolina, we looked at Charlotte, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill.
Because of the pandemic, you couldn’t really travel to see these towns for yourself. What helped you decide?
Analisa: It was all about connections. I asked colleagues and friends and friends of friends if they knew people who lived in these cities. For each place, I had phone conversations or a Zoom with these connections and asked all kinds of questions – the kinds you don’t get answers to from reading and researching online. You really need to talk to somebody who lives in that place about the neighborhoods, schools, health care.
It’s about using your connections and being open to having honest conversations with strangers – who all turned out to be amazing. I am still in contact with many of them.
So, Chapel Hill was the winner – a university town with relatively mild weather and a blue attitude. Analisa, you found work at a community medical center – congratulations! And, Krista, you got approval to work remotely for Abio. The next step was house-hunting – from 2,600 miles away. How did that work?
Analisa: We’ve been told we’re brave, but I really think we’re just crazy! Seriously though, we looked at a lot of home listings online and found this three-bedroom house, 3,500 square feet on 5 acres. It was love at first sight.
Krista: I saw the big back porch, and that was it for me. Cameron (Platt) of Abio connected us with a local Realtor, who toured the house for us, along with some of our friends who lived in nearby Raleigh. We FaceTimed with them while they walked us around the property.
The listing also had a Matterport 3-D tour available online, which really helped us see room dimensions.
We used Google street view maps to “walk” around the neighborhood. We basically scoured and used every resource we could find online.
“The Chapel Hill house literally cost half of what we sold our Martinez house for.”
How much is a 3-bed, 3,500 sq. ft. home going for in North Carolina these days?
What’s the buyer competition like there? Anything as intense as the Bay Area?
Krista: There were two other bidders. We submitted a buyer’s letter, and our Realtor told us that’s what helped us edge out the competition. We did a little research about the seller and saw we had several things and common, like she worked in health care and had two adopted children from another country. We made sure to weave those things into our letter describing ourselves and why we fell in love with her house.
What was your experience selling your Martinez home?
Krista: We sold our 2,550 sq. ft. home in Martinez for $1.2 million. It took less than a week.
Wow! Okay, the next challenge was packing and hitting the road.
Krista: If I could do it again, I would have the movers pack for us. It was non-stop packing every night, all while keeping up with the daily routine of three children. Even if you are just thinking about moving, my advice is to start now – purge, purge, purge!
When it was time to leave, we packed the minivan to the gills. We had everything we needed for a nine-day cross-country drive with stops at three national parks. The dog in the back, the cat in her carrier, and the turtle in a plastic bin. Helga (the turtle) had to be misted with water frequently and placed in a tub every night.
Analisa: The cat was probably the lowest maintenance of all of us! The kids were amazing.
You have been tucked into Chapel Hill for about two months now. Pros and cons of leaving California?
Analisa: I took a nearly 40% pay cut with my new job. But this house literally cost half of what we sold our Martinez house for. Property taxes are almost half of California’s. Gas is cheaper. We have a well and septic system, so no water bill. Electricity is cheaper. Trash pick-up is included in our taxes. Car and homeowners insurance cost less. There’s no crowding, no rush-hour.
Krista: It has way exceeded my expectations. I miss California’s perfect weather days, but those were fading anyway.
“Don’t try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Do what works for your family. Make sure the move fits into your family’s rhythm.”
How are the kids adjusting to the move?
Krista: Their first question when we told them about the move was “Does it snow there?” And yes, they did get a snow day!
Moving was exciting and a little sad. They are so close to Analisa’s mom and sister. But they will be following us soon. Analisa’s mom just closed on a house three miles away, and this summer we are building an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) on our property for her sister.
Analisa: School is still virtual like it was in Martinez, so that’s allowed them to ease into the community. The community has been so welcoming. Teachers sent welcome cards, and neighbors brought us housewarming gifts.
What else should people consider when moving to another state?
Analisa: If you are going to do this, don’t try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Do what works for your family. Make sure the move fits into your family’s rhythm.
Krista: Talk to people who have done it. That was key for me! Also, ask yourself what are the things you think you will miss the most? You’ll probably find that most things can be replaced or easily found somewhere else. One thing I really love about N.C. is that we still have mountains and ocean within an easy driving distance. That was a must for us.
We are so happy that you found your new home-sweet-home!
Resources and Links They Used
- Sperling Best Places – Compare cost of living, crime, cities, schools, and more
- Climate Change Maps – ProPublica’s investigative journalists analyzed predictive scientific date to create detailed maps of future weather transformations in the United States.
- State-by-State Relocation Rankings Map – Click on each state to see cost of living and job market info (a.k.a. buying power) and its political leanings. Read the accompanying Orange County Register article that ranks the states.
- Voting Patterns – If living in a politically like-minded community is important to you, this resource provides in-depth voting records, down to the neighborhood level.
- Old School Connections – Ask friends, co-works and acquaintances if they know anyone living in a city of interest. Get their contact info and call or email. Don’t be shy!
- Facebook – Search Facebook groups for your city of interest. “Moving To (fill in the city name)”
- Video – Once you partner with a real estate agent in your desired area, ask them to take you on live FaceTime tour.
- 3D Tours – Many property listings these days include immersive 3D tours and schematic floor plans using software like Matterport. They help you visualize and measure spaces.
- Google Street View – This technology works with Google Maps and Google Earth to provide interactive panoramas from positions along many streets in the world. Type in an address and “walk” around the street.
This is the first in an occasional Abio Blog series where we share the stories of clients and friends who are part of the California and Bay Area exodus. If you’d like to share your story, please reach out: 888-400-ABIO (2246) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Haven’t moved yet but thinking about it? We also can answer all your questions about selling your Bay Area home.