When the pandemic hit back in March, Nic Owens’ job at a renewable infrastructure company in San Francisco, like so many others, transitioned to work-from-home. Though his company could be flexible at times with remote working in pre-COVID times, it wasn’t the norm, nor was it something that Owens was entirely excited about.
“Personally, I didn’t think I would thrive working from home,” said Owens. “But it ended up working out.”
Unfortunately, actually owning his own home to work remotely from in the Bay Area was not an option.
“I always knew that no matter how much I make, I don’t think I’d be able to afford property in San Francisco. Even if I did have the money, I don’t think that’s what the value of the home should be. It would just be so hard to justify that,” explained Owens. “Tahoe has always been like a second home to me. I grew up coming here a lot, especially in the winter. It’s been a dream of mine to live up here full time.”
After getting the green light from his company to work remotely permanently — something other coworkers took advantage of, too, fleeing back to their home states out east — he purchased a fixer upper house in South Lake Tahoe and moved up at the end of July. He plans to find a couple of roommates to share the space once he finishes some renovations.
Since the start of the pandemic, stories of families moving into second homes in resort towns and newly remote workers relocating to rural locales have consistently graced headlines across the nation, including anecdotal accounts of the “exodus” of the Bay Area to communities around Lake Tahoe. Most recently, Bloomberg penned a piece entitled, “Work-Anywhere Shift Has Wealthy Tech Crowd Invading Lake Tahoe.” It goes on to report, one could argue hyperbolically, that Big Blue is “swarming with Bay Area residents who may stay for the long term.”
“We’re seeing a lot of people come to make their Tahoe dreams come true,” said Rhonda Keen, president of the South Tahoe Association of Realtors. “For my clients, it’s kind of heartwarming because I’m seeing people that have always wanted to live here, and now they finally can because the job has decided to go full-time remote or at least remote until the end of the year and they’ll figure it out after that.”
Though many come from the Bay Area, Keen said she also has had clients from Texas, Arizona, and Southern California. (She’s also worked with a number of local residents who’ve found themselves with different housing needs after months of sheltering in place.)
With real estate initially not considered an essential business and Lake Tahoe closed to non-residents for an extended period, the market was at a standstill for much of the spring, but the summer months quickly heated up, according to STAR’s reports. In June through August, 374 sales occurred, compared to 200 during the same period in 2019. In July, there were 206 single family listings with 151 in escrow, versus 322 active listings in July 2019 with 77 in escrow — more than 100 fewer listings were available, but double the number of properties in escrow.
Home prices have risen, too, with the median home value coming in at roughly $476,078 in August, according to Zillow — a 4.2% increase from the same month last year. On the North Shore, Incline Village’s median price rose 5.8% to $968,564 during the same time period.
“We have things selling faster than we have in the past,” added Keen. “It’s been since the recession that we’ve seen things sell this quickly. But at the same time, higher prices kind of flush out some sellers. Maybe folks who were thinking about selling in the next few years, suddenly that timeline gets sped up because they’re seeing that you can get a good price for your home right now.”
When the pandemic hit, Landing Locals, an online platform connecting second and vacation rental home owners with residents looking for longer-term leases, was “busier than ever,” said cofounder Kai Frolich. Frolich started the tech company with her husband, Colin, after moving to Truckee two years ago from the Bay Area and seeing empty second homes, but struggling to find housing themselves.
“In the last month and a half a majority of people say that the reason they need to find a house is because their current rental is being sold because owners want to take advantage of the hot real estate market,” explained Frolich.
Though Landing Local’s focus is on finding housing for the current local population, they do field inquiries from people trying to relocate to Tahoe either temporarily or permanently.
“One of the shifts that I have seen that’s different from what we’ve been seeing since May is that all of sudden on 12-month and 9-month leases people from elsewhere are inquiring and saying, ‘I actually don’t know what my work situation is going to be, I really want to be in Tahoe but only for the next six months because I want to move back to San Francisco’ or ‘I might need to move back for my job,’” noted Frolich.
For David Kroodsma, his family’s trial year in South Lake Tahoe was something they’d cooked up before the pandemic since both he and his wife already worked remotely from their home in Oakland.
“Then the pandemic hit, and we weren’t sure we were going to do it anymore, and it of course became harder to find places to rent because there was such a higher demand for people wanting to do the same thing,” said Kroodsma. “The amount we could rent out our home in Oakland for had also gone down.”
But eventually Kroodsma found a rental, enrolled his two daughters in daycare, and has been enjoying having access to the outdoors right out his backdoor.
“I’ve always wanted to live in the mountains, and Tahoe was the obvious choice because you could stay close to the Bay Area, keep the same friends, or go back to the office if you needed to a day or two a month,” noted Kroodsma. “We talked to people who lived here first before doing so, and our impression is that this area is pretty tied to the Bay Area. Some people might not like that, but it’s the largest area from where people come from.”
“There’s lots of stories of people [moving to Tahoe], but I don’t actually think there are that many people doing it. I just think it’s more than normal,” added Kroodsma.
Though Kroodsma loves the shift in lifestyle, he said the plan is still to return to Oakland where his friends and family are, as well as the flexibility to change jobs if he chooses to in the future.
But the pandemic has also seen transplants who are committed to staying in the community for the long term, like Fran Doherty and her fiance.
“We found ourselves out in Tahoe or Downeyville or Ashland, places that we loved to go, enjoying the national forests and out riding almost every weekend,” said Doherty. “About a year and a half ago, we started talking, ‘Why don’t we just move there?’ It was about the lifestyle.”
When the pandemic hit, Doherty’s fiance finally had the opportunity to work remotely like her, and they took the plunge, closing on a home in South Lake Tahoe in September.
“Our neighbors were so welcoming and so friendly. We plan to start a family, and that was another factor,” explained Doherty. “There was a renter. That was emotionally difficult. She knew that it was short term, but it never makes you feel good to ask someone to leave.”
Doherty is aware of the frustration felt by some residents over Bay Area visitors, as protests against litter issues and over-tourism took place on U.S. 50 in Meyers this summer, but she said her reception as a new community member has been warm.
“For us, we don’t see it as an exodus from the Bay to go use this beautiful place, but to really try and be a contributing member of the community,” said Doherty. “That’s really valuable. In a place like Tahoe or other places that are more rural — more recreation and environmentally focused — you should have the mindset of wanting to be involved, that’s the approach you should take coming in. I hope others think that way, too.”