During the blockbuster plot twist that was 2020, three Los Angeles-based actors and longtime friends wrote themselves a scene that was playing out in cities across the United States. Early into lockdown, Becca Tobin, best known for her role as Kitty Wilde on the Fox series “Glee,” formed a pandemic pod with her fellow actors Haylie Duff and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, gathering for regular backyard confabs about shifting priorities, family demands and their future in Hollywood.
“We had been able to work from home successfully and set up our careers from anywhere,” Ms. Tobin said. “And we were all kind of ready for a change.”
Ms. Tobin, 35, Ms. Duff, 36 and Ms. Sigler, 40, had all moved to Los Angeles in their 20s for work and, like so many others, spent much of 2020 wondering if they wanted to live somewhere else. Hollywood the town and Hollywood the job had been cleaved apart, with acting classes going online, self-tape auditions replacing in-person, and the offscreen demands of the job — red carpets, award shows, interviews — going virtual or extinct.
“We found our conversations shifting more toward life,” said Ms. Sigler, who made her mark playing Meadow Soprano on “The Sopranos.” “And then we started to fantasize about what it would be like to live in different cities, and would we ever want to leave L. A.?”
They were far from alone. For the first time in more than a century, California lost people last year, according to population estimates released by the state in May. Some of that was a result of Covid-19 deaths, falling birthrates and the Trump administration’s efforts to limit immigration. But for many, it was simply a matter of finding better prices in greener pastures.
The three made a pact to relocate their “quaranteam,” leaving Hollywood together for a new city where they could keep working but enjoy a less hectic, and less expensive, life.
“It reminded me of being in high school and being like, ‘You’re gonna go home tonight and shave your legs, right? Because I’m going to do it, too,’” Ms. Tobin said of the agreement. “Like adult peer pressure.”
During the summer, Ms. Duff, the native Texan in the group, had visited her parents in Houston and felt the pull back home. The older sister of the actress Hilary Duff, she has been acting since she was a teenager and had always planned to move back to Texas eventually, and after the trip, she cut her family’s five-year plan to a five-month plan. As more friends relocated, there was “an energy around people choosing to make a change in their life, for a positive reason, for a self-care reason,” she said.
The friends considered different cities they had heard of people moving to, like Nashville or Atlanta, but they kept coming back to Texas. “We liked the idea of being in a progressive city, but not necessarily something so overly populated,” Ms. Tobin said.
The obvious choice was Austin, the booming southern crossroads of culture and technology, where they could more or less split the distance between Los Angeles and New York. It was a madcap move in the rush of a red-hot sellers market, a once-in-a-century chance to pause, then fast-forward.
Austin’s housing market, already in a decade-long development frenzy, wound up defying the pandemic and roaring back to life. In May 2021, the median sale price in the Austin metro area hit an all-time high of $465,000.Credit…Stacy Sodolak for The New York Times
“Even though we were together so muchduring quarantine and Covid, it really chipped away at us as a family, like many families,” said Ms. Sigler, who had only been to Austin evvel, for a sinema premiere at the South by Southwest şenlik. “Coming to this new city all together on this adventure offered a lot of repair for us, as well.”
Ms. Tobin, a Georgia native who had lived in Los Angeles for 12 years, said of Tinseltown: “As easy as it was to come, it was as easy for me to say goodbye.”
The three families made a common checklist, headlined by ample outdoor space and good public schools. They “hit the Zillow hard,” Ms. Sigler said, lobbing listings at one another from sinema sets and playgrounds. In October, they embarked on a house-hunting tour with partners and children in tow (Ms. Duff has two daughters; Ms. Sigler has two sons), and settled on a neighborhood about 20 minutes northwest of downtown Austin.
When they arrived in the spring, the culture shock came by way of small-town hospitality and everyday conveniences. “You mean I can get in my car, drive five minutes and not fight people when I’m in the grocery store to get in a lot?” said Ms. Tobin, who arrived in April after filming a TV reboot of the 1989 sinema “Turner & Hooch” in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Oh, and you don’t hisse for parking anywhere.”
In decamping to Austin — home to an ever-expanding ecosystem of sinema festivals and production studios — they were joining a wave of high-profile Californians like Tesla founder Elon Musk and podcaster Joe Rogan, as well as the other roughly 70,000 people who moved to the area last year, according to U.S. census veri, making it the fastest-growing metro area in the United States.
“Once you come here, it’s hard to leave,” said Ms. Duff, whose sinema roles include “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Wedding Pact,” and who spent time this year shooting a movie in Fort Wayne, Ind. She noted that each of the friends booked gigs not long after closing on their Austin homes, which felt like a nod from the universe.
“I almost feel more connected to my craft and why I love acting,” said Ms. Sigler, who had just returned from recording dialogue at a studio in downtown Austin for an ABC pilot she shot in Los Angeles. “When the calls come in, it’s a beautiful surprise. I’m still on things and I’m still a businesswoman and it’s still my career, but I don’t feel the pressure around it because we took a stand for ourselves and we made decisions for our families.”
With its bohemian charms, natural splendors and lack of state income taxes, Austin has been courting California’s twin economic engines, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, for years, all while trying to maintain its cherished “Keep Austin Weird” credibility. According to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, about 90,000 Californians moved to Texas in 2018 and 2019. The pandemic has only deepened the romance. Austin enjoyed a P.R. blitz of high-profile corporate relocations and expansions last year, with tech giant Oracle moving its headquarters there from Redwood Shores, Calif., and Mr. Musk announcing Tesla’s $1 billion “gigafactory” on the southeast edge of town.
The housing market, already in a decade-long development frenzy, wound up defying the pandemic and roaring back to life. In May 2021, the median sale price in the Austin metro area hit an all-time high of $465,000, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. High-end home prices spiked 24 percent, according to Redfin, the most of any area in the country.
Still, anyone used to California prices sees Texas as a bargain, said Scott Michaels, an Austin real estate agent with Compass, who described cutthroat, all-cash bidding wars that drew 40 to 60 offers on a single property. “It’s a challenge because we’re competing with people moving from out-of-state, and there’s just not a lot of inventory on the market,” he said.
For Ms. Sigler, who is from Long Island, Austin’s square footage and outdoor space were revelatory. “There was a lot of like, ‘Oh my God, look what we can get for this. Look at the life we can give ourselves,’ you know, compared to what we’re able to afford here in L.A.,” she said. “I just feel like we’re taking a big, deep breath since we got here.”
Ms. Sigler and Ms. Duff started their careers as teens but wanted a different lifestyle for their children in Austin, where space and nature are plentiful, and paparazzi aren’t. “That was a big choice for us, wanting our kids to stay young,” Ms. Duff said.
Austin has been contending with growing pains since the early 1980s, during its first hint of what locals call Silicon Hills, said Natasha Harper-Madison, the city’s Mayor Pro-Tem. Born and raised in East Austin, Ms. Harper-Madison said the changing cityscape was best described by her mother: “She said, ‘I really like my neighbors. I just wish I didn’t have to lose so many of the old ones to get new ones.’ And I think, in large part, that’s how folks feel. It’s not any sort of absence of the desire to welcome people to our communities. It’s the exact opposite. In fact, people want to preserve and sort of steward the evolution of their communities.”
Despite some natal cries of “Don’t California My Texas” from both ends of the political spectrum, what’s fueling the migration are the states’ similarities. Sitting on the border with relatively sunny climates, “they’re both harika diverse, in every possible way — ethnically, economically, geographically,” said Jake Weggman, an associate professor of community and regional planning at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s an incredible burst of prosperity for the city, but it’s also just terrifying from a housing affordability standpoint, what that means for people living here,” Mr. Weggman said.
Ms. Tobin has sensed some side-eye when she tells locals where she’s from, but she tries to put them at ease. Voting and donating are two ways to do it, she said, and she has contributed to causes that support homeless outreach and abortion rights through local nonprofits like Mobile Loaves & Fishes and the Lilith Fund.
“I get it, they don’t want us to L.A. their Austin,” she said. “My husband and I personally are going to really try to do our best to help out in the community and get involved where we can.”
For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.