PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After calling Connecticut home for three decades, Paige Barbour thought she’d live there for the rest of her life.
“I was absolutely the one who said, I am never leaving — you are going to take me out of here in a box,” Barbour recalled in a recent interview.
Yet last summer, she decided to leave and start a new life — in Rhode Island. She’d been coming to the East Bay for years to visit her sister in Bristol, but a combination of a new relationship and the lifestyle changes forced by the pandemic spurred her to take action. She bought a house in Barrington.
“I think with a lot of people who moved, it just catapulted or just sort of galvanized those decisions,” she said. “I probably would have stayed put for awhile and made do, but I think COVID made everybody think about what’s important.” And, she added, “Everybody has been incredibly welcoming.”
Barbour is far from alone. A Target 12 analysis of U.S. Postal Service change-of-address data for 2020 shows Barrington had the biggest increase in Rhode Island in the last year, netting 316 new arrivals across families, individuals and businesses. (The figure represents the difference between total arrivals and total departures.)
Other top gainers in the Postal Service data were East Greenwich (netting 263 new arrivals), Cumberland (up 258), Johnston (up 245) and North Kingstown (up 236).
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Morgan Hollenbeck, an agent at Mott & Chace, one of Barrington's top real-estate firms, said she wasn't surprised by the data, and had seen evidence of the trend firsthand. Many buyers told her the pandemic had made them want to escape hard-hit metropolitan areas and secure more space to spread out, particularly if they were now able to work from home.
"There was a certain point in time when we realized people were really fleeing the cities," she told Target 12.
"I have never seen such a frenzy like what we saw over the last year," she said. "There really was a sense of urgency and frenzy for a lot of buyers who just wanted to get out of where they were and come to a little more rural setting where they could have a house and a yard."
Hollenbeck said there has been a notable increase in interest in Rhode Island property among residents of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York -- a trend that began even before the pandemic.
"The prices there have been driven up very high over the last several years," she said, "so we look like a deal compared to a lot of those places."
The R.I. Association of Realtors recently reported that purchases of Rhode Island homes by out-of-state residents jumped 69% this spring compared with the spring of 2020, with those three states all seeing large increases. Massachusetts residents bought 590 Rhode Island homes this spring, an increase of 60%, and Connecticut residents bought 128 homes, an increase of 88%.
Yet not all Rhode Island communities saw a net gain in the change-of-address data.
The 02909 ZIP code in Providence -- encompassing neighborhoods including parts of Federal Hill, the West End, Olneyville, Silver Lake and Manton -- stood out, with a net loss of 719 addresses during the year. It was also the ZIP code with the most COVID-19 cases during the early months of the pandemic.
It was followed by two other ZIP codes in Providence -- 02908 and 02906 -- and another Providence ZIP code, 02907, ranked fifth in net losses. The Pawtucket ZIP code of 02860 was in between.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi's Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram