Living in Tahoe: Surrounded by world-famous nature, subscribing to mountain-living, and doing it all while working remotely. The question top of mind is how many people moved to (not just vacationed in) the North Tahoe/Truckee region last year?
To find answers, Moonshine Ink made the rounds, utilizing different metrics to better understand the quantity of recent Tahoe transplants who have come aboard (welcome, friends!). In this piece, we look at property sales data, second- to permanent-homeowner ratios, and school enrollment.
The numbers come with caveats, but numbers we have: In 2020, at least 8,700 people newly found a home within the region; over 1,000 once-second homeowners in Truckee have made their residence primary; and private and charter schools experienced massive increases in applications for the current school year.
Starting off, housing. Nearly $3 billion worth of real estate swapped hands around Truckee/North Tahoe last year, an 87% increase in dollar volume compared to 2019, according to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which compiles data about for-sale properties.
There are other significant percentages within that increase. For example, based on MLS market information, comparing 2019 and 2020, there was a 60% increase in single-family residence and condo sales last year in Incline Village. From 2018 to 2019, there had been a drop of 11%.
Adding up MLS numbers from Incline Village, the North and West shores, and Truckee/Donner Summit in 2020, the total sum of sales was 3,335. Utilizing the U.S. Census Bureau’s average of 2.61 persons per household, that would mean about 8,700 people took an interest in Tahoe-living in one form or the other last year, whether as their primary or secondary residence. (To compare apple to Covid-19-plagued apple, 2,191 sales happened in 2019.) And there may have been more transactions had housing inventory allowed it.
Aaron Norris, vice president of property insights for real estate data company PropertyRadar, mentioned stories he’d heard about “people door-knocking, offering $3 million cash” for homes in Truckee.
Jackie Ginley, real estate agent with Chase International and Moonshine Ink columnist, said it’s worth noting that many people who sold property last year were likely second homeowners, aka “one person from out of town selling to another from out of town,” as she wrote in an email.
“Speaking anecdotally, I haven’t seen a big spike in the number of people buying here in Tahoe/Truckee as a primary residence,” Ginley continued. “The majority are buying a second home here and just planning to spend more time in Tahoe because, [if] they can work from anywhere, why not hang out in Tahoe?”
So what about second homeowners who made their stay more permanent last year?
Truckee’s Tahoe Donner is one of the largest homeowners associations in the state, comprising 6,473 properties. The association distributed a survey to its residents on Dec. 29, 2020, geared in part toward understanding the changing demographics, wrote Lindsay Hogan, director of the Tahoe Donner’s communications and member relations, in an email. Nine percent of the 2,643 respondents marked that though they hadn’t before, they now use their property full time, since the pandemic began (assuming roughly a 3% margin of error).
“Another key point from the latest survey is that 36% of respondents said although not full-time residents, they are using their home more often, while only 12% indicated using their home less often,” Hogan added.
Of the 9% living in Tahoe Donner more, two-thirds said they plan to make their move to Truckee permanent. That would mean 388 residences going from part-time to full-time occupancy. Again, using the 2.61 average household number, that amounts to around 1,013 newly permanent Tahoe Donner residents.
Meanwhile, talk around the community is that schools are experiencing large increases in enrollment. For Lake Tahoe School, a private education option in Incline Village with a capacity of 220 students, that has certainly been the case. Since the end of the 2019/20 school year, there’s been a 36% uptick in student numbers for LTS.
Generally, if a family moved to town and went through the application process and was a good fit, they would be placed in the school. “There was only the rare occurrence where we would have a class full of 20 and we would have to go onto a waitlist,” said Kris Nugent, assistant head of school and admissions director. “… But that all changed when Covid hit.”
By early summer 2020, LTS’s phones were ringing off the hook. “We went from being a school that could always place students to now we have approximately 130 kids on the waitlist, waiting to get in for next year,” Nugent said, adding that he’s even begun a waitlist for the 2022/23 year.
Similar to LTS, other schools like Creekside Charter in Olympic Valley, Forest Charter in Truckee, and Tahoe Expedition Academy in Truckee told Moonshine they too experienced an increase in applications — Creekside weighed in with a whopping surge of over 50%.
But public schools are not showing the same trend. Incline Village enrollment increased moderately at the high school (from 318 in 2019 to 344 in 2020), but not its middle or elementary schools. LTS doesn’t offer education above eighth grade, which Nugent said may be related to Incline Village High School’s growth. The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District reported only a slight increase as well, about 40 new students, for an approximate total of 4,350 students in its 2020/21 enrollment.
These three data sets are just a few metrics. Moonshine explored other options to obtain a specific count to the area’s new residents, but not all panned out.
Voter registration, for example, isn’t a clear indicator for new permanent residents, says Natalie Adona, assistant clerk-recorder in Nevada County’s registrar’s office: “In my opinion, the number of people registered is more likely an indicator of interest in an election. Even though California has a type of automatic voter registration, it’s an opt-out at the point of a DMV transaction.”
Looking at water and sewer data wouldn’t provide the differences between visitors and residents, either. And anyway, explained Steven Poncelet, public information and strategic affairs director for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, that data is majorly limited in providing answers on account of irrigation, weather, and seepage. Case in point: During the winter when rain or snow falls, water seeps into the sewer system, causing inflated data.
Poncelet did mention that water usage has gone up over the last few years, but the aforementioned variables influence that rise more than occupancy does.
Ultimately, the question continues to burn, especially with clear indicators of a larger population in Truckee/North Tahoe.
Regarding the general influx of new residents, Hogan with Tahoe Donner shared her hopes against tribalism, citing the common “us vs. them” approach. New full-time residents, she said, come with many positive attributes: “New energy and ideas, new businesses, potential stability to the seasonality of our revenue cycles, [and] new community leaders.”