"I knew that when my wife and I eventually expanded our family, we wouldn't be able to afford San Francisco or the Bay Area in general — even though we both earn good salaries," he told Insider.
In 2021, the couple packed up their bags and headed to Texas. Cheng isn't the only Californian chasing the American dream in Texas. The path from California to Texas has emerged as a popular interstate relocation route in the US. In 2021, almost 108,000 people migrated from California to Texas, according to an analysis of the most recent Census data.
In July, the median home sale price in Texas was $356,200 compared to $783,300 in California, according to Redfin. Texas' cost of living is 8% below the national average, while California's is 42% higher, according to RentCafe.
While affordability is top of mind for many Californians relocating to Texas, there are other factors drawing them to the state. Three Californians who have moved to Texas in recent years told Insider about the positives of the move and the negatives they left behind.
The Chengs found a better work-life balance
Pengyu Cheng's desire to leave California peaked during 2020. At the time, he and his wife were living in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in San Francisco, burdened with a $3,100 monthly rent.
As COVID-19 shut down the city, Cheng felt as if he and his wife's hard-earned money was being squandered.
"We couldn't go anywhere," he said. "We felt like we were paying a lot of money to live in a city we weren't enjoying."
The Chengs knew it was time to move. They wanted to relocate to an affordable city with amenities like parks, hiking trails, and easy access to grocery stores and restaurants.
They chose Austin. The couple had visited the city a few times, and it came highly recommended by their friends.
In 2021, they went from being squeezed inside a small apartment in San Francisco to living in a five-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom home in the suburbs of Austin that they purchased for $825,000.
"We didn't really consider buying a home in San Francisco because every time we looked at Redfin or read an article about median housing prices, it was the same story: The real estate market was just getting more expensive," Cheng said.
In addition to the perk of becoming homeowners, the Chengs have found a more balanced and community-oriented lifestyle in Austin.
"In the Bay Area, most of the conversations you hear are related to entrepreneurship or moving up in a company," Cheng said. "While living in Austin, it has been refreshing to hear stories about weekend soccer practice for the kids or community gatherings and concerts."
Jackie Burse feels more at ease expressing her opinions in Texas
In 2021, native Californian Jackie Burse, 58, left Orange County for San Antonio, Texas.
In California, Burse was renting a one-bedroom apartment for about $1,900 a month. In San Antonio, she now rents a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $1,600 a month.
The divorced mother of two told Insider that affordability played a major role in her decision, as well the state's political atmosphere.
"I chose the area because it's more affordable to live here as a single woman," Burse told Insider. "I also love that Texans still have pride in their state and that there is room for people to believe what they want without being shamed."
Burse said she felt the opposite in California.
"I'm a conservative and I feel like it's difficult to have any opinions in California other than liberal, especially when you're living in the cities," she said. "I've definitely been blasted on social media for my opinions. It makes you feel intimidated and like you're living in a hostile environment."
"I believe that parents have the right to raise their children, not the state," she said. "We should have the freedom to speak our opinions or live our lives the way we want, whether we're Republican or Democrat. I think this is a value that Texans also hold dear."
Burse now feels politically empowered and has no intentions of moving back to California.
"For now, I don't have any plans to leave Texas any time soon," she said. "I've found a great church, made many friends, and feel safe here. I'm really happy to be living in San Antonio and would make the move all over again."
The Sullivans needed a breath of fresh air
In 2023, Michael Sullivan, 60, and his wife, Rosa, 61, moved from Madera, California, to Kingsville, Texas.
Though the couple had spent the majority of their lives in California, they came to the realization that living in the state was no longer financially viable. What's more, they felt suffocated beyond the lack of affordability.
"As the population has grown, the air quality has gotten worse in Madera," Sullivan told Insider of the central California city, a 25-minute drive northwest of Fresno. "It just became intolerable for my wife."
Before moving 1,409 miles across the country, the Sullivans had considered relocating to other cities in California. However, with Michael on disability and the pair quickly approaching retirement, the cost of living within the state made it out of the question.
"We would love to stay in cleaner-air places in California, but we are so close to retirement and my previous divorce had such a big financial impact that we couldn't afford to," he said.
The Sullivans honed in on Kingsville, a small town of about 30,000 people located 45 minutes south of Corpus Christi. Rosa's son had already put down roots there, and she found its air quality to be better.
"Earlier this year, Rosa's son and his wife had a baby," Sullivan said. "My wife went to visit them for a month and her lung problems cleared up completely."
In September, the Sullivans purchased a 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom house that is situated on one-third of an acre. They paid just under $300,000 for the property.
Back in Madera, the couple lived on an acre of land that Rosa's parents purchased in 1963 for about $5,000. While they live in Texas they will continue to rent out the property. Sullivan said if they were to sell it, it would be worth about $250,000 today.
"I'm not really sad about leaving California," Sullivan said. "You gotta do what you gotta do to take care of yourself and your family."