A boomer who moved from California to Florida started a Facebook group to help friends make similar moves. 300,000 members later, guiding Californians to new states is his full-time job.

Leaving California
Terry Gilliam leads a Facebook group called Leaving California.Terry Gilliam
  • After moving from California to Florida, Terry Gilliam set up Facebook groups to help others move.

  • Gilliam's Facebook groups, Leaving California and Life After California, have nearly 300,000 members.

  • Many are moving to Florida, Texas, and Tennessee for cheaper living costs and political freedom.

A few years ago, Terry Gilliam, 64, packed his bags, sold his East Bay, California home, and moved to Florida. What he didn't know at the time was how many people wanted to do the same.

Gilliam said he moved for cost of living and political reasons, as well as to care for his family. After founding two Facebook groups for California movers, he realized thousands more were in the same boat.

His groups, Leaving California and Life After California, have nearly 300,000 members between them. It's become his full-time job to monitor them and help people move out of the Golden State, from launching a tour for people to see new cities to connecting movers with real estate agents nationwide.

"Many feel they're being forced out of California. They're not moving because they want to; they're moving because they feel like they have no choice. because of the cost of living and or the politics," Gilliam said. "The big question is, I have to leave, but I've lived here my whole life and I have absolutely no idea where to go. So we do our best to recommend places for people to go."

Terry Gilliam
Terry GilliamTerry Gilliam

Per the Census Bureau's tabulation of ACS data, about 818,000 people left California between 2021 and 2022, while only 475,800 moved in. Texas, Arizona, and Florida were the top destinations. Business Insider determined the typical mover leaving California makes $53,500 and is a millennial or Gen Zer.

Business Insider spoke to four realtors in hot spots for California movers, some of whom have worked with Gilliam to guide movers away from the Golden State.

"People have a misunderstanding or a wrong idea of the people that are moving here from California. People think that these clients of mine are selling their mansions and coming here with bags of cash and buying up all the homes, and to be honest, that's not true," said Haley Van Edom, a realtor with the Van Edom Home Group in Knoxville, Tennessee who has worked with Gilliam. "I do have some clients that are cash buyers and do quite well, but the majority of my clients, in my experience, are just middle-class, hard-working Americans, teachers, first responders, firefighters, cops."

Moving to Florida from California

Gilliam grew up in Florida and got his first job at Disney World at 16. He worked there throughout high school and college and became a manager there in his 20s.

He worked as a restaurant manager in Connecticut and Texas before moving to California to help Chili's expand its business. He pivoted into real estate as a mortgage broker in the early 2000s.

He enjoyed living in California in his early years there. The weather was stellar, and he enjoyed the business environment.

"My average summer temperature was probably at 85 degrees, not a cloud in the sky and no humidity. Well, you're not going to get that in Tennessee or Florida or Arkansas or Texas in the summertime," Gilliam said.

However, growing up in a conservative family, he felt he didn't fit in as the state's politics shifted further left.

"I'm not married now, but I was married at the time, and I was telling my wife, who was a native Californian, there's a whole lot more out in this country that is along the lines of what we believe," Gilliam said. "In California, the cost of living is just off the charts, and the solution to any problem in California, to me, is to raise taxes."

Gilliam sold his 2,500-square-foot home for slightly over $1,000,000, noting the price more than tripled in the 20 years he lived there. Gilliam moved to Winter Park, a city of 29,000 outside Orlando, to help care for his parents.

He hopes to buy a comparable home on the outskirts of Orlando, which would cost between $400,000 and $450,000, he estimated. He wants to buy a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in a 55+ retirement community.

He said traffic is better in Florida, which has improved his quality of life, and he's noticed more road construction in his area than in California. He said the cost of nearly everything is lower, and Florida's lack of a state income tax has made him feel more financially stable.

"Here in Florida, I've met 100 of my neighbors through the three years that I'm back, and as I walk my dogs around here, everybody's friendly, everybody says hi," Gilliam said. "The quality of life from that regard alone is so much better, you talk to somebody and have a conversation."

Growing his groups

In 2018, feeling that many Californians agreed with his perspectives, he began the Leaving California Facebook group hoping it would grow to 1,000 members. He posted articles about businesses leaving the state, policy changes, and stories of people's frustrations with rising prices.

"In the early days, I work these groups seven days a week, morning, noon and night," Gilliam said.

The group took off in early 2020, and he started a second group called Life After California. The group featured accounts of people who moved to states like Texas or Tennessee, many of whom felt more at home. The groups' members tended to lean slightly more conservative, though he said people of all political and socioeconomic backgrounds are represented.

He noticed people saying they felt more free, in a better financial spot, and happier after moving out of California. He said the groups blossomed in the first few months of the pandemic as people were looking to move to cheaper areas across the country, many wanting to get away from shutdowns. Overall, people wish they left sooner, he said.

"In January of 2022, California came out and said they were going to socialize medicine, single-payer, and to pay for it, they were going to double everyone's taxes, which are among the highest in the country," Gilliam said. "We grew from between 500 to 1,000 new members every day for a long time, for probably a good 45 days or so."

He hired a virtual assistant to maintain these groups and brought on two business partners. He leads them in approving new members and assisting people who need help figuring out where to move. Monitoring the groups and approving posts takes up much of his time.

He said many in the groups are predominantly moving to Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. He's also noticed states like Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina rise in popularity recently. Most are moving from Southern California, and he said it's rare that people regret moving — those who do typically say it's because they miss their families.

California movers: 'Political refugees' wanting more space

Many Californians are looking to move to the other coast, and perhaps Florida's appeal to ex-Californians is no surprise.

"They want to have that environment like they did in California, that warm weather, and a lot of people want to have Disney and Universal close by," said Craig Blessing, a realtor with Premium Properties Real Estate Services in Central Florida who moved from California in 2022. "People of all economic status can apply and receive tuition scholarships to go to your private schools, charter schools, or whatever they want to, so that's one of the things I reach out to these people in California about."

But some are looking for quieter, more relaxed communities. Van Edom, the Knoxville realtor, said Knoxville is a newly popular destination for California movers. Many movers are what she calls "political refugees" looking for a centrally located city with somewhat comparable weather.

Shay Felknor, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway C. Dan Joyner Realtors in Greenville, South Carolina, said the number of movers from California — specifically from San Diego and Sacramento — skyrocketed during the pandemic as people were looking for "having their freedoms protected" and living more comfortably for less money.

Many are looking for multi-generational living arrangements, such as accessory dwelling units, on more acreage than they could have afforded in California. Felknor estimates the average price point is about $350,000, and she said there's only a three-month supply of inventory for March.

"Some of the feedback that I get is they just love it here, people are friendly, it's very green," Felknor said. "The interesting thing that I wasn't prepared for is how much the people from California love the rain."

Many people would use the group to connect with realtors in markets they were exploring. Gilliam launched the Leaving California Freedom Tour to help movers discover parts of the country "marked by affordability, freedom, and superior educational opportunities." The tour starts in Atlanta and goes through cities in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

"The challenge is that many people in our group have never lived anywhere else. They don't know what it's like to live in Nashville, Tennessee, and so the fear of the unknown really kind of handcuffs them," Gilliam said. "What we're trying to do is educate people on why they should consider some of these towns."

Ethan Lanagan, a realtor with The Lanagan Group in Franklin, Tennessee, who relocated from Orange County, said that while many people are looking to his area for more affordable homes, a large segment of those relocating are luxury buyers. He said one of his clients sold a 3,000-square-foot home for $3 million, then bought an 8,000-square-foot new construction in Franklin for the same price. But he said most movers agree they want more political freedom in an area with lots to do and close proximity to a city.

"Our rents are extremely strong per purchase price, so I would say dollar in dollar out, you're going to get a better return in Tennessee than you are in all the states where these people are moving from," Lanagan said. "There's really a lot of business advantages and tax advantages in Tennessee. And that kind of translates over to income property as well."

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