There’s no denying the appeal of big cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. They’re exciting and glamorous, home to many major industries, and offer lots to see and do. They have something else in common too — they’re superexpensive. And homebuyers, it would seem, have had enough.

In the last few years, homebuyers have been leaving the biggest U.S. metros in favor of smaller but increasingly vibrant cities like Denver, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City. The fastest-growing cities are in western and southern states, and Texas is especially booming — between 2006 and 2012, El Paso grew by 12 percent, McAllen by 15 percent, and Austin by a whopping 22 percent.

Let’s take a look at the top 3 reasons for this shift.

1. Affordable housing

As much as I love living in the Bay Area, I think about moving every time I look at the real estate listings: in July 2014, the median home price in San Francisco reached $1 million! Compare that to Boise, with an average home price of $210,000, or Oklahoma City, where you could buy one for $169,000.

Home prices have become perhaps the biggest motivation for picking up stakes. According to the New York Times, when comparing stats from 2007 with 2014, more than twice as many people said cheaper housing was their main reason for relocating.

Nearly all the fastest-growing cities have lower-than-average home prices. But just having a big, affordable house isn’t enough if you can’t find a job or simply don’t like your new hometown. These burgeoning burgs need to offer other attractions as well. And they do.

2. Revitalized downtowns

The most livable cities tend to provide good public transportation, a thriving cultural scene, and plenty of shops and restaurants — ideally within an easy distance from your front door. Many of these booming cities have made big investments in their downtowns, like building mixed-use developments that blend housing with commercial space.

Denver has completely transformed its downtown over the last 25 years, turning run-down Victorian-era warehouses into trendy restaurants and boutiques. Las Vegas’s Downtown Project has set aside $350 million to revitalize its urban center. Salt Lake City began a major expansion of its wildly successful TRAX light rail system last summer. And Fort Collins, Colorado (one of the biggest markets for millennial homebuyers) just unveiled its MAX bus rapid transit system in May.

Along with new ways to get downtown, these cities also offer lots of reasons why locals and visitors might want to. In Boise River Park and Denver’s Confluence Park, kayakers and boogie boarders can surf artificial waves right in the heart of town. Fort Collins puts on more than 100 free concerts and festivals in its downtown every year, while Charlotte and El Paso both opened new Triple-A ballparks this spring. And Oklahoma City scored big when it acquired its NBA team, the Thunder, in 2008.

Though the offerings might pale in comparison with Manhattan or L.A., newcomers say they have more time and money to enjoy their new city thanks to lower home prices and shorter commutes.

3. Improved job opportunities

The fastest-growing cities aren’t just attracting new residents — they’re also attracting big companies. Due in large part to Texas’ business-friendly policies, Toyota North America and HID Global both announced plans to move their headquarters to the state this year. named Utah the best state for business 3 years in a row, which helps explain why several large corporations, including eBay, Oracle, and Goldman Sachs, have recently opened big offices in Salt Lake City.

Many of these states are also luring small businesses through tax incentives, ready access to financing, and regulations that don’t involve a lot of red tape.

Will this real estate trend continue?

The move to smaller cities is part of a larger trend. Over the past 20 years, populations have exploded in the South and the interior states of the West, while growth has slowed in the Northwest and Midwest. The difference is that the new domestic migration is now motivated by home prices as well as jobs and weather. And with mortgages harder to come by and prices in many big cities going through the roof, it looks like these second-tier cities will continue to grow.

Esurance homeowners coverage on the move

We’ve migrated to quite a few new states ourselves in the last year. Esurance homeowners coverage is now available in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — and we’ll be adding even more states soon. If you’re planning to relocate, or just need great homeowners coverage for your current residence, get a quote today.

Related links

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10 things to look for when buying a house

Around Esurance | Homeowners 101


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.