Real estate agents and economic development officials say the Reno area is seeing a flood of new residents from California, but hard data to support their anecdotal evidence is hard to find. Prices that folks are paying for U-Haul trucks may provide some of the missing data.
On the other hand, the same U-Haul rates that show the flood of residents out of the Bay Area and Los Angeles also indicate that the Reno area is simultaneously losing some residents to other cities in the West.
In a completely balanced world, one in which the same number of people moved between any two cities at about the same time, U-Haul rates would be nearly identical, no matter if a family moved from Reno to San Francisco or moved from San Francisco to Reno.
But when there’s a big imbalance in traffic, U-Haul rates are an indicator of what’s going on.
A family moving from Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley to Reno early in October, for instance, would pay $1,276 for a big U-Haul truck. A family moving the other direction, from Reno to Palo Alto, would pay $160 for the same truck. (All the rates come from U-Haul’s Web site for a rental beginning Oct. 3 of a 26-foot truck, the size the company recommends to move three or four bedrooms of stuff.)
A truck rental from San Francisco to Reno would cost $1,128, more than seven times the $154 to rent a truck moving in the opposite direction.
From Anaheim in Southern California, a U-Haul rental to Reno would be $2,020; it’s $867 in the other direction.
Something close to a balanced market exists between Sacramento and Reno. U-Haul quotes a rate of $435 for moves up the hill to Reno and $391 for rentals headed westward.
But the big imbalance between Reno and California’s big cities doesn’t necessarily hold true throughout the West. In fact, the U-Haul rates hint at an outflow of Reno-area residents to other metro areas.
A truck to Seattle, for instance, rents for $1,012. For the journey to Reno from Seattle, the cost is $749. That’s an indication that more trucks are headed to Seattle than are headed to northern Nevada.
Moving to Salt Lake City from Reno would cost $1,065; a move from the Utah city to Reno is $685. A move to Phoenix would cost $1,415; a move from Phoenix to Reno is priced at $765. A truck to Las Vegas from Reno would cost $993, compared to a price of $620 for a northbound move.
Jeff Lockridge, manager of media and public relations for Phoenix-based U-Haul, says the complicated process of setting rates reflects simple supply and demand for equipment in a city as well as the company’s need to get trucks back to cities where they are needed after they’re dropped off in hot markets. In all, U-Haul executives manage a fleet of about 176,000 trucks and 127,000 trailers across North America.
Among the challenges they face is this: Rented moving trucks will tend to pool in popular destinations where they are dropped off, but the company needs to have enough trucks on hand in cities where lots of folks are planning to move out.
Sometimes, U-Haul will even hire contract drivers to return trucks to cities where demand is high, but Lockridge says the company far prefers to rent the trucks, even at a relatively low price, and let a customer take care of getting the truck back.
He says rates from California cities to Reno may higher these days because demand for trucks is so high in the Los Angeles or San Francisco regions — not just for moves to northern Nevada, but moves to any of the places that’s served by one of U-Haul’s 22,000 rental locations.
John Seelmeyer is a business writer and editor in Reno. In his 40-year career, he has edited publications in Nevada, Colorado and California and written several thousand published articles about business and finance.