Dugan Murphy of Portland by the Foot walking tours regales a small crowd with a tale from the city's Black history in the Old Port on Friday, April 22, 2022. Murphy also gives women's history walking tours as well. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

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People across the nation moved in droves during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially out of densely populated cities to more affordable areas, but most were not interested in moving that far. 

More than half of the out-of-staters looking online for places to live in Portland were from Boston, followed by New York and Washington, D.C., according to real estate search data for the first three months of this year from online real estate company Redfin. Still, more than 2 percent each were located across the country in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.

While Portland’s real estate and rental prices are among the highest in Maine, they are less expensive than in many cities from which people may be looking to move. Portland also has a reputation for livability and safety. U.S. News and World Report ranked Portland the eighth-best place to live, higher than Boston, and 10th with the best quality of life among the 150 most populous U.S. metro areas.

Portland residents also were looking at relocating, with about one-third of those who searched Redfin looking at the Boston area and others, including Denver and New York. Bangor ranked third among the places Portland residents searched.

The biggest burst of people moving in the U.S. came early in the pandemic, when permanent moves were up 15 percent in March 2020 compared to the previous March, according to postal change-of-address forms. Moving rates returned to pre-pandemic levels the following year, according to Pew research.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...