The work-any­where shift has wealthy techies de­scend­ing on Lake Tahoe and other tran­quil, scenic spots.

Work-any­where shift has wealthy tech crowd in­vad­ing Lake Tahoe, write So­phie Alexan­der and Sarah Holder of Bloomberg News

Bangkok Post - - BUSINESS -

The vibe is pre-Covid San Fran­cisco: Air­pods, elec­tric scoot­ers, cof­fee-shop co-work­ing and cash of­fers for mil­lion-dol­lar homes. In fact, the scene is un­fold­ing more than three hours to the north­east, on the shores of sparkling Lake Tahoe.

With many com­pa­nies from the tech-heavy Bay Area em­brac­ing re­mote work, the towns sur­round­ing the sprawl­ing fresh­wa­ter lake are be­com­ing a refuge for San Fran­cisco and Sil­i­con Val­ley’s elite.

In a blink, the mi­gra­tion has trans­formed the re­gion — to the dis­may of some lo­cals who worry Tahoe could be­come an­other crowded, un­af­ford­able play­ground for the rich.

Tech-com­pany work­ers made up about a third of area home­buy­ers iden­ti­fied by their em­ploy­ment history in one anal­y­sis.

The real es­tate mar­ket is siz­zling, with home sales in South Lake Tahoe al­most dou­bling over the sum­mer com­pared with a year ear­lier, and ris­ing prices mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for lo­cals to pur­chase prop­erty.

Bay Area trans­plants also are crowd­ing into a cowork­ing busi­ness where they once were a dis­tinct mi­nor­ity.

The moves show how the pan­demic may re­shape the way peo­ple work and live — par­tic­u­larly those who have the means to weather the cri­sis com­fort­ably.

Across the United States, ur­ban­ites have es­caped to more spa­cious sur­round­ings dur­ing coronaviru­s lock­downs, driv­ing up home sales in ar­eas such as New York’s Hamp­tons or the Con­necti­cut sub­urbs.

But in pricey Cal­i­for­nia, the trend may hold up longer as com­pa­nies grow more le­nient and work­ers opt for cheaper life­styles.

Nate Car­rier, a prod­uct man­ager at Google, de­camped to his Tahoe-area cabin in March with his then-fi­ancee, LeAnna, ex­pect­ing to stay for a cou­ple of weeks.

As weeks turned into months, they moved out of their two-bed­room apart­ment in Sil­i­con Val­ley’s Menlo Park, put their stuff in stor­age, eloped, and shacked up in their home in the town of Truc­kee for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

“We hike, play ten­nis, pad­dle­board, and spend most of our free time work­ing on our cabin ren­o­va­tion,” Car­rier said. “A lot of co-work­ers are jeal­ous. I don’t ever take calls out­side be­cause I don’t want to draw at­ten­tion to where I live.”

Though Car­rier doesn’t know any­one per­son­ally who fol­lowed him up I-80, sev­eral of his co-work­ers have also made the move. Over the past few months, at least six Google em­ploy­ees have bought homes in Truc­kee, a small town with a pop­u­la­tion of about 16,700, ac­cord­ing to re­search from At­lasa, a data-driven real es­tate bro­ker­age.

At least six more have pur­chased prop­erty in El Do­rado County, the lo­ca­tion of the tourist area of South Lake Tahoe.

Google has said work­ers don’t need to re­turn to their of­fices un­til at least sum­mer 2021.

It’s sim­i­lar across the in­dus­try. At­lasa’s anal­y­sis iden­ti­fied the em­ploy­ers of 363 of the 625 home­buy­ers in Truc­kee and El Do­rado County from June through late Au­gust and found that about a third — 126 — of the pur­chasers work in tech, in­clud­ing 10 from Face­book and nine from Ap­ple.

“The mi­gra­tion will change Tahoe’s de­mo­graph­ics,’’ said At­lasa founder and CEO Deniz Kahra­maner.

“It will re­flect the af­flu­ent coun­ter­part of the Bay Area, which is kind of ab­surd to say, be­cause the Bay Area is al­ready af­flu­ent,” he said. “The top 30% of the top 1% kind of thing.”

In South Lake Tahoe, “July was ba­nanas” for the real es­tate mar­ket, said Sharon Ker­ri­gan, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the lo­cal real­tors as­so­ci­a­tion. In­clud­ing con­dos and town­homes, a to­tal of 372 prop­er­ties sold from June to Au­gust, up from 197 in the same pe­riod last year.

The lake­side com­mu­nity of Tahoe Keys saw its me­dian home price jump al­most 15% in the 12 months to Au­gust, to $976,000.

“In­ven­tory is very low, we are see­ing mul­ti­ple of­fers, cash of­fers, sight-un­seen of­fers,” said Ginger Ni­co­lay-Davis, a real es­tate bro­ker and the owner of Lake Tahoe Prop­er­ties. “It’s great, but you also worry: Can a mar­ket like this sus­tain that?”

“While many buy­ers typ­i­cally pur­chase homes to rent out as va­ca­tion prop­erty, they now are of­ten us­ing them as sec­ond pri­mary res­i­dences,’’ she said.

Ni­co­lay-Davis has seen a tan­gen­tial ef­fect first-hand: Her sixth-grader had seven new stu­dents in his class this year.

The Fri­day be­fore La­bor Day, pro­test­ers stood at a round­about on the route Bay Area trav­el­ers take into South Lake Tahoe. About a dozen were gath­ered hold­ing signs read­ing “Stop lit­ter­ing,” and “Flat­landers = noise, traf­fic, garbage, pol­lu­tion.”

Tahoe lo­cal Josh Lease has helped or­gan­ise the demon­stra­tions.

“The Bay Area techies are def­i­nitely re­lo­cat­ing up here,” he said, adding that he’s hop­ing there will be some re­sponse from lo­cal govern­ment to deal with in­creased traf­fic and trash.

“The morale for lo­cals is at an all-time low right now,” said 41-year-old Lisa Utzig Schafer, who has lived in South Lake Tahoe since she was five years old and owns a small re­tail shop there.

“We’re hop­ing for a re­ally bad win­ter so all these peo­ple who are buy­ing houses will re­alise how tough it is liv­ing here year round, and then they’ll go move.”

“Still, there are ben­e­fits. The new crowd is more di­verse, a wel­come change,’’ she said.

And it’s been good for her store, which sells Tahoe sou­venirs, as well as jew­ellery and lo­cal art.

“While it has only been open half of its nor­mal hours be­cause of Covid-19, it’s made more than two-thirds of its typ­i­cal earn­ings. This past La­bor Day was even bet­ter than the year be­fore,’’ Schafer said.

Down the street from her shop is Tahoe Bike Com­pany, where em­ployee Ed We­ber said he had the busiest sea­son he can re­mem­ber.

“I’ve sold quite a few elec­tric bikes this sum­mer,” he said.

But while the in­flux has been good for busi­ness, We­ber’s hav­ing trou­ble find­ing a new home be­cause the mar­ket is crowded with wealthy cash buy­ers.

“The re­gion has also been a place of refuge for Bay Area res­i­dents flee­ing fires and smoke-filled air,’’ said David Orr, co-owner of Cowork Tahoe, a shared of­fice in South Lake Tahoe, who has let evac­uees use the workspace.

Tahoe’s air has been clouded with the haze blan­ket­ing the West but has been less af­fected by Cal­i­for­nia’s record-set­ting blazes — for now.

“We’re all very on edge about fire right now,” Orr said.

“That’s al­ways been a big con­cern for Tahoe; we’ve had some pretty cat­a­strophic fires.”

Orr has seen the broader shift to more per­ma­nent trans­plants com­ing to the area. Be­fore March, his 140odd clients at Cowork Tahoe were about 80% lo­cals and 20% Bay Area folks who used the space part-time.

Since he re­opened in June from a pan­demic shut­down, the make-up is more like 50% lo­cals and 50% tech work­ers, many of whom have just re­cently bought prop­erty.

For South Lake Tahoe Mayor Ja­son Collin, hav­ing Bay Area trans­plants set­tle down full-time is prefer­able to hav­ing in­vestor-owned rentals sit va­cant.

Vot­ers re­cently passed a mea­sure that would ban short-term rentals in much of the city start­ing next year, in­tend­ing to ad­dress the hous­ing short­age and bring down rental costs for the lo­cal work­force.

Still, Collin ac­knowl­edged that out-of-town­ers may in­stead gain the ad­van­tage.

“To buy a $600,000 or $800,000 house is prob­a­bly not in the cards for a lot of lo­cals,” he said.

Fur­ther north, Truc­kee Mayor David Po­livy is less con­vinced that any of these trends will stick.

“Part of my daily job is sep­a­rat­ing the fear and the hearsay and the ru­mors,” he said: No, 500 new stu­dents have not en­rolled in Truc­kee’s school dis­trict; it’s more like 60, which is typ­i­cal.

Re­gard­less, in bud­get and pol­icy con­ver­sa­tions, Po­livy’s pre­par­ing for pop­u­la­tion growth, de­bat­ing whether to fund more po­lice of­fi­cers or in­crease road ca­pac­ity — is­sues that will have to be ad­dressed once it’s clearer whether this is a short-term pan­demic trend or a per­ma­nent shift in life­styles for peo­ple flee­ing big­ger met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas.

“I think half of the peo­ple are com­mit­ted and say­ing ‘Hey, we’re mov­ing here’,” Orr said of users of his cowork­ing space. “And then the other half are like, ‘I’m tak­ing a break from the Bay Area. I plan on go­ing back there at some point’.”

Car­rier and his wife are in the lat­ter group. The in­ter­net in their neigh­bour­hood is slow, the cabin doesn’t get cell re­cep­tion, and both will wel­come a re­turn to the of­fice even­tu­ally. Be­sides, they’re pay­ing off their Truc­kee mort­gage and still sav­ing $2,800 a month on would-be Moun­tain View rent.

“We can put that money to­ward a big­ger place when we get home,” he said. They should be able to af­ford more — Menlo Park rents have dropped 15.9% from last year, ac­cord­ing to a Zumper’s re­port.

__

We hike, play ten­nis, pad­dle­board, and spend most of our free time work­ing on our cabin ren­o­va­tion. A lot of co-work­ers are jeal­ous. I don’t ever take calls out­side be­cause I don’t want to draw at­ten­tion to where I live.

NATE CAR­RIER

A PROD­UCT MAN­AGER AT GOOGLE

Boats sail into Emer­ald Bay in South Lake Tahoe, Cal­i­for­nia.

A ‘Park­ing Lot Full’ sign is dis­played near Emer­ald Bay.

A home for sale near Emer­ald Bay.

Cars sit in traf­fic on La­bor Day week­end in Tahoe City. A per­son works from home in a cabin in Truc­kee, Cal­i­for­nia.

FROM TOP TO BOT­TOM Tourists go raft­ing on the Truc­kee River near Lake Tahoe.

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