In December, almost 1 in 6 outbound searches from colder climes went to metros with warm winters. But while Florida continues to be an alluring area to retirees and many warmer areas are also home to hot job markets, the ranks of house hunters seeking warmth do not swell in winter as much as you might think—unless they live somewhere really cold.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that as the weather cools and home searchers in the nation’s chilliest locales hunker down for the winter, we might see a winter surge in searches originating in colder climes and ending in warmer places. One might also expect this surge to be driven largely by recent or soon-to-be retirees looking to trade their snow shovel in for a pair of shorts and some sandals.

But conventional wisdom isn’t always right. The reality is nuanced, and seasons don’t seem to have a large impact on our cold-to-hot search behaviors. Generally speaking though, metros with the coldest winters do see bigger seasonal bumps than those that are less chilly. Additionally, while retirees likely make up a bulk of those looking to flee the cold and embrace the sun in the winter months, it’s also likely that many younger home searchers looking to leave colder climates may be attracted just as much by hot job markets as they are by warmer weather.

How Cold is Too Cold?

In December, 15 percent of home searches originating from metros where the average January temperature is below freezing went to places where the average January temp is above 50 degrees – up only 1.5 percentage points from the 13.5 percent of similar searches executed in the humid dog days of August. In comparison, the equivalent seasonal gap in 2017 was 2.3 percentage points and in 2016 it was 2.4 percentage points. So the small, nationwide snowbird bump that does exist seems to be on the wane.

But there’s a difference between enduring a merely “below freezing” winter in the Mid-Atlantic region and surviving a positively frigid cold season in places like the Upper Midwest. And the deeper the freeze, the larger the bump in seasonal cold-hot searches. The percentage-point gap between August and December cold-hot searches is almost four times wider in places where the average December temperature is 5 degrees Fahrenheit or below than it is among metros where the average temperature is “only” between 23 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take Green Bay, Wis., for example. From August 2018 to December 2018, the share of all non-local search activity going specifically to warm metros in the south increased from 14.4 percent to 18.3 percent. Of those searches directed at warmer areas, the jump in interest in Tampa, Fla. was particularly strong, going from 14 percent of warmer searches to 25.1 percent.

Work and Retirement

The places that attract the most interest from home searchers seeking warmer real estate appear to be traditional retirement destinations and areas with rapid job growth. We compared the age structure and job growth of cities at the origin of these searches with those at the destination, as well as those of the neighborhoods targeted by an outsized portion of those searches.

Among cold-to-warm searches, 62.6 percent end up in a metro with an older median age than the source metro. At the same time, 71.2 percent of all cold-to-warm search activity ends up in a metro with higher employment growth. There is plenty of overlap between these two flavors of destination: metros with both an older population and stronger employment growth – potentially the best of both worlds for both groups of potential warm-climate seekers – pull in 45.6 percent of all search activity.

The Sunshine State

Nearly seven in 10 cold-weather searches end up going to markets in the Sunshine State itself – Florida – and of the top 10 most sought-after warm weather destinations, every last one is in Florida. Many, if not all, of these Florida destinations are also well-established retirement hot spots. As of 2017, 20.1 percent of Florida’s population was 65 or older, versus 15.6 percent nationwide.

Top Warm Housing Markets with Biggest Share of Searches From Cold Areas
# U.S. Metro Share of all Searches from Cold Metros Median Home Value
1 Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 43.3% $338,935
2 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 39.7% $232,401
3 North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 35.8% $259,403
4 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, FL 29.5% $274,671
5 Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL 27.4% $200,154
6 Port St. Lucie, FL 26.4% $225,360
7 Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 26.2% $210,920
8 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 24.8% $212,876
9 Ocala, FL 24.6% $149,978
10 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 24.1% $235,276
Note: Table only includes largest 200 Metros. Only metros with an average December temp of 50F or higher were considered “warm”.

Within the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area, the Truckland neighborhood in Fort Myers attracts more than half of all search activity from far-off, frigid lands. Looking toward the east coast of the state, the Halifax Estates neighborhood in the Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach market drew 51.9 percent of its search activity from up north. And a common theme among most of the neighborhoods listed above is that their median age is well above that of the larger metros of which they are a part. The median age in the ZIP code containing the Halifax Estates neighborhood is 56 years old. The overall median age in the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area, of which Halifax Estates is a part, is 48. Similarly, the Halifax Estates neighborhood falls in a ZIP code whose median age is 56 – well above the metro median age of 47.

Of course, Florida isn’t the nation’s only warm winter refuge, nor its only retirement destination – the American Southwest is a big draw, too, and in particular Arizona. The Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz. metro areas, receive 18.2 percent and 17.3 percent of their traffic from the cold, respectively, and are the first non-Florida metros to show up on a list of cities ranked by this share. The Ironwood Ridge neighborhood northwest of downtown Tucson, Ariz., and Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale (part of the Phoenix metro) receive 42 percent and 29.8 percent of their search interest from places with cold winters. All the remaining top 10 neighborhoods for cold to warm searches that end up outside of Florida are also in Arizona.

Communities along the northern Gulf Coast also get a fair bit of traffic from would-be snowbirds. The Mississippi City neighborhood in the city of Gulfport, Mississippi, draws 29.2 percent of its searches from colder climes, and the Marigny neighborhood in New Orleans is not far behind with 25.8 percent of all searches coming from colder areas. And with the exception of Marigny, which houses a younger demographic, most of these places don’t differ all that much from those highlighted in Florida – they seem to be home to an older crowd.

Neighborhoods in Florida’s 10 Largest Housing Markets with Biggest Share of Searches From Cold Areas
# Metro Area City Neighborhood with Highest Share Searches from Cold Metros Share of Searches from Cold Metros
1 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Clearwater Alcove Homeowners Association, Inc. 54.3%
2 Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall Miami Beach City Center 34.3%
3 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford Lady Lake Orange Blossom Hills South 62.5%
4 Jacksonville Fernandina Beach American Beach 33.8%
5 Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach Fort Lauderdale Galt Mile 43.2%
6 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach Delray Beach Kings Point 47.1%
7 North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Longboat Key Longbeach 56.2%
8 Cape Coral-Fort Myers Fort Myers Truckland 56.4%
9 Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach Daytona Beach Shores Halifax Estates 51.9%
10 Lakeland-Winter Haven Lakeland Westgate 27.4%
Note: Only metros with an average December temp of 50F or higher were considered “warm”. 

And just as certain markets in Florida dominate the list of most-searched destinations from cold-weather locales, certain neighborhoods within those larger metros themselves also pull in a disproportionate share of sun-seeking traffic.

The top of the list of cold markets that experience the most search-interest in warmer markets is comprised largely of small and mid-sized markets. In December, more than a quarter of non-local searches from northern markets including Barnstable, Mass. (essentially the Cape Cod region) Peoria, Ill., and Long Island, N.Y., were directed at warm metro areas much further south. Much larger cold-weather markets like New York and Chicago —whose ability draw and retain people is stronger—saw only 14.9 percent and 14.0 percent of non-local searches going to warmer areas, respectively.

Top 10 Metros with the Highest Share of Searches from Colder Metros Directed at Warmer Metros
# U.S. Metro Share of Outbound Searches Directed at ALL Warmer Metros Top Warm Destination Share of Outbound Searches Directed at Top Warm Destination
1 Barnstable Town, MA 27.4% Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 9.5%
2 Duluth, MN-WI 27.4% Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 12.2%
3 Portland-South Portland, ME 26.8% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 10.1%
4 Peoria, IL 26.0% Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 16.7%
5 Erie, PA 25.9% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 20.8%
6 Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY 24.7% West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, FL 16.0%
7 Rochester, NY 24.3% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 15.7%
8 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 23.8% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 15.3%
9 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 23.6% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 23.8%
10 Binghamton, NY 23.3% Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 19.0%
Note: Table only includes largest 200 Metros. Only metros with an average December temp of 50F or higher were considered “warm”. 

Sun-Seekers, and Job-Seekers?

But retiring sun-seekers may not be the only searchers out there from cold-winter locales – younger job-seekers may be in the mix, too. Looking at employment growth for the year ending in October 2018 (the most recent data available at the time of this analysis), there is a tendency among northerners looking south to seek places with more robust employment growth than the area they’re searching from.

The top warm-weather search destination from Toledo, Ohio, for example – which has seen employment drop 0.7 percent from a year ago – was the Phoenix metro area, where employment grew 3.9 percent. The Phoenix-area neighborhoods of greatest interest to home searchers from Toledo in December were Maryvale, North Scottsdale, South Mountain, and Alhambra, all of which are home to younger populations and offer more-affordable housing options. Similarly, searches from Milwaukee, Wis. target places like North Scottsdale, South Scottsdale, and the Ahwatukee Foothills neighborhoods.

Weighted by the volume of search traffic, at the median, employment has grown almost one percentage point faster in warm metro-area search destinations than in the metro areas from which the searches originated. Among the top five originating markets whose leading search destinations are outside of Florida—and presumably less retiree-heavy—job growth has been faster in the destination market than in the originating market. And in the cold-winter search markets where Florida is the top search destination, job growth is actually lower in half of the destinations than it is at the origin, hinting that job prospects are less important to those searching in Florida.

Indeed, seven of the ten search origins with the highest share of winter traffic aimed towards warmth are in the Rust Belt, where job growth overall has long been weaker than in other parts of the country.

Conclusion

While we can’t and don’t know what motivates individual searches to any specific place – be it retirement considerations, family considerations, job considerations, simple curiosity or all/none of the above – we can speculate about the trends that we see based on their origin and destination. The data shows us that seasonal shoppers simply fed up with being iced in do exist to some degree, especially in the coldest places. And for those forlorn and locked in at home this week, take hope – springtime is right around the corner.

Methodology

Search traffic is based on visits to active for-sale properties on Trulia.com, Trulia mobile, and the Trulia app during the months specified above. The share of non-local searches directed at warmer metros was calculated by excluding any searches where the origin and destination were within in the same metro area. Employment growth was calculated using the BLS’s Local Area Unemployment Statistics count of employed adults. Median ages were based on 2017 5-year ACS data.