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Amid rising home prices, professionals are leaving West Coast

AUSTIN, TEXAS — AUSTIN, Texas - Soaring property values in California have made many homeowners there rich - and many real estate agents in Texas delighted.

In an exodus that some demographers say could reshape the American landscape, young professional families are increasingly fleeing the exorbitant West Coast for Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix, or Charlotte, N.C.

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They're selling their cramped "starter homes" in California, some now worth $500,000 or more, and buying luxury homes, for cash, in the nation's interior.

John and Nicole Hutmacher will be moving to Austin this summer, leaving a tract home in a cramped subdivision in Santa Rosa, Calif., for a 3,000- square-foot estate on an acre in a gated community overlooking central Texas' rippled hills. They'll have enough money left over to buy a boat and a pickup truck, even to see the world.

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"We wanted to do more with our money than pay for a house," said John Hutmacher, 27, an engineer who can work from anywhere in the country. "We want to travel. Eventually, we want to have children."

In California, he said, "we couldn't afford to."

It's hard to quantify how many families are joining the Hutmachers in sacrificing day trips to the beach in favor of bigger homes, smaller mortgages and, often, shorter commutes.

The 2000 census tracked movement of college graduates around the country and found that the metro areas around Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix were top magnets. (San Francisco, too, made the list, though demographers say it's attracting more single dot-com workers than young families.)

Calling the shift dramatic, demographer William Frey has dubbed the Southwest and the Southeast the nation's new "brain gainers." A scholar at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., Frey sees a "smart belt" emerging in the Sun Belt.

Although the colder, grayer Midwest has proved a less attractive draw, cities such as Minneapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Madison, Wis., are also beginning to lure professional families from the coasts.

Demographer Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Policy, predicts that the trend "may lead to a stabilization, or even a limited resurgence," of the long-declining Rust Belt.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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