Where should I buy a home in Cleveland, Ohio?
January 23, 2005 5:14 PM   Subscribe

[MovingtoCleveland filter] My SO and I are moving to Cleveland. We have some questions about life choices, buying a house in a new city, and Cleveland in particular. [MI] [well, OH actually].

We’re both transplants from big, cosmopolitan, coastal cities, who are moving to Cleveland for jobs at Case Western U. We are, to put it mildly, less than thrilled to be moving here but determined to make the most of it. Where should we live? The particulars:

- We can afford a house in the $2-300K range.
- We expect to live here for 5-7 years.
- Its just the two of us (and a cat) for now, but possibly another in a year or two, so we we’re thinking about 3 bedrooms.
- For a neighborhood, we value funkiness, diversity, mixed use (i.e. we’d like to be able to walk to things), proximity to Case Western and moderate safety.

So far, it seems clear that we aren’t going to find what we really want in Cleveland. And given Cleveland’s economy and recent history, things aren’t going to change any time soon. So do we buy a house in a transitional neighborhood and hope that in a few years things change? Or do we do the safe thing and buy a perfectly nice house (and good investment) in Cleveland Heights or a similar inner-ring suburb, which all seem boring and car-dependent to us? We’d especially like to hear from people who know the Cleveland area.

On a larger level, if you can’t get everything that you want in a place to live, do you take a big risk that it might develop in the future, or do you play it safe, suck it up, and make a good investment?
posted by googly to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We are in almost exactly the same boat as you. I have the impression that Cleveland Heights is not terribly car-dependent, and has several neighborhoods with thriving commercial stuff, as well as being close to Case. (The truly boring and safe place seems to be Shaker Heights.) But I'll be looking forward to what other people have to say.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:02 PM on January 23, 2005

If you'd like a neighborhood with character I'd recommend Tremont [which is where I live]. It is full of art galleries and some of the best restaurants in Cleveland. It is 2 minutes from downtown and 10-20 minutes from everywhere else. You can walk almost anywhere, and the West Side Market is a 5 minute drive away. Lakewood [unfortunately on the west side] has some very nice houses along the lake, but I'm not sure about the price range since I'm a young buck with a dead-end job. But it is also a community with a lot of character.

The east side gets significantly heavier snowfall and you should expect to go most places in a car since the RTA isn't very awesome. Cleveland is quite ethnically diverse, has great restaurants, an exceptional music scene and some very nice film theaters.

Each neighborhood in Cleveland has its own character, Coventry is typically where the hipsters hang out, Little Italy has amazing chow, Tremont has an art walk the 2nd Friday of every month. The Cleveland Museum of Art has free admission, Robert Lockwood plays every Wednesday down at the local blues club. So there is plenty of stuff to do, you've just got to hunt it down.

Some good Cleveland blogs/sites to check out:

Brewed Fresh Daily

Modern Cleveland <— This one is somewhat incomplete but hopefully helpful.
Cool Cleveland

If you've got any other questions I'll try to answer them, and feel free to ring me up when you come to the neighborhood. I'll buy you and your SO some beer.

on preview, ditto redfoxtail. I smell Cleveland Meetup!
posted by sciurus at 6:12 PM on January 23, 2005

Also, I've only lived here for a bit over a year. Hopefully Shane or Recockulous will show up and amaze us all.

Craigslist Cleveland
Backpage Cleveland
Cleveland Scene
Cleveland Free Times
The Flats

posted by sciurus at 6:17 PM on January 23, 2005

I've come to kind of distrust "funkiness" as a useful descriptor of a neighborhood. At the risk of taking over your thread, here's my attempt to be a little more specific about what I value in a neighborhood. Does it seem to map to your idea of funkiness? It might not.

I think what I really like in a neighborhood boils down to:

(a) Walkability,
(b) Density, and
(c) A lack of plasticness, usually obtained by not having been built all at once and too recently.

Also nice is

(d) A not-too-transient population, and
(e) Trees.

I like especially to be able to walk to:

(a) Groceries,
(b) Liquor, and
(c) Work.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:18 PM on January 23, 2005

Response by poster: Redfoxtail, we're on the same wavelength. "Funkiness" was a convenient but incomplete descriptor, based mostly on coastal snobbiness. Density and walkability are the most important things - my SO likes to say "I want to live somewhere that I can walk if I want a quart of milk and a newspaper."

Scirius - thanks! We'll take you up on your offer when we get to town!
posted by googly at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2005

Response by poster: Er...sciurus. I'll remember your name when I get to town, too.
posted by googly at 6:27 PM on January 23, 2005

I send googly a long email, but since there are others interested, I'll summarize:

We did the same thing three years ago. We bought in Cleveland Heights. We came from Boston, it's hard to find somewhere walk-able around here, not in the least because NO ONE CLEANS THE SNOW FROM THEIR SIDEWALKS.

Wait about a year and I'll sell you my house.
posted by sohcahtoa at 6:28 PM on January 23, 2005

From what I've heard Shaker Heights is a very nice area, which is about as good in terms of walkability as you can get in Cleveland proper.
posted by riffola at 6:42 PM on January 23, 2005

Lakewood is nice.
posted by Shane at 7:12 PM on January 23, 2005

Hopefully Shane or Recockulous will show up and amaze us all.

Oops, I just read that. "Lakewood is nice" isn't particularly amazing, is it?

I dunno. Lakewood is a little quieter than trying to get close to the Circle or Coventry/Little Italy, yet it has independent coffee shops and independent record stores and "hip" bars and that whole scene. Lots of houses and residential drives, so you don't have to live on a high-traffic street. Not too bad of a drive to downtown or the Circle or anything else. The people seem nice, and many are young (twenties/thirties.)

I live 1/2 hour east of Cleveland, so I'm no expert.

I'm up for a meetup.

posted by Shane at 7:20 PM on January 23, 2005

the RTA isn't very awesome.

That wasn't my experience when I went to Case, but I lived in dorms the whole time I was there.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:39 PM on January 23, 2005

Boring or not, Shaker Heights *is* beautiful. It's a nearly-100-year-old community planned around public transportation and a central public area called Shaker Square. Nowadays Shaker Heights is a wealthy suburb with beautiful but extremely expensive houses (i.e. out of your price range) and the highest property taxes in the county.

Shaker Square, however, remains one of my all-time favorite Cleveland neighborhoods. It's actually within the City of Cleveland, but borders Shaker Heights on its western edge. You can walk to groceries, a great wine & beer shop, drugstore, services (dry cleaners etc.), a lovely park, lots of restaurants and a decent movie theater. It's leafy and charming, with winding roads and tons of trees, and is about as New England-y looking as you'll get in Ohio. And they clear the snow off the sidewalks with cool little sidewalk-sized riding plows.

Shaker Square is also a main stop on the Rapid Line, and I *believe* will take you directly to Uni Circle, but I don't know that for a fact. I do know that a lot of grad students and medical residents live in the area, so I'm thinking it does. There are also buses that go through the square, and UC's only about 5 min from the square by car.

Some incredibly stupid real estate developers attempted an highly ill-advised "makeover" of the square a few years ago, closing some of the great mom & pop stores that had given the area its charm for decades, and and putting in a Gap and other very out-of-place mall-type stores. Most of the chain stores have closed now (thank goodness), and unfortunately there are some empty storefronts, but I've been seeing "Coming Soon" signs on some of the storefronts so hopefully it's on its way back to what it used to be.

School-district-wise, if that becomes a consideration for you, there are areas of the Shaker Square neighborhood that are actually within the relatively highly-regarded Shaker Heights school district. It's a good way to live in a cool area but not be beholden to the city's crappy schools.

If what you're really looking for is the "hipster" area but you just don't want to admit it, then you'll want the near west side - Tremont, Ohio City, Lakewood. Lakewood is a great family-friendly inner-ring suburb that is also "cool." Tremont and Ohio City are great areas with tons of cool restaurants, bars, and shops, but if you're thinking about having kids while you're here, I don't recommend settling in either of these two areas. They're great areas, just not very kid-friendly IMO, if that's a consideration for you.

Feel free to ask further or to email if you have any other questions as your search progresses. Good luck, and welcome!
posted by boomchicka at 7:58 PM on January 23, 2005

Wait you're from Michigan right? No offense, but Cleveland is trading up in terms of urban life. It's got a more east coast feel than the rest of Ohio, surely more than anywhere in MI. You'll be fine!
posted by riffola at 8:13 PM on January 23, 2005

If you're going to work at CWRU, Cleveland Heights is absolutely your best bet. Diverse neighborhood, lots of stores and entertainment choices (including the best movie theater in Cleveland, the Cedar Lee), close to work and as walkable as Cleveland gets. You'll still spend a lot of time in your car (one of the frustrations that eventually drove me [pardon the pun] to NYC) but at least you won't have far to go.

One word of advice: avoid the temptation to live downtown, thinking it'll be more walkable. The city practically shuts down at 5PM (unless there's a baseball game) and you'll end up driving out to a suburb to do all your grocery shopping. I did that for a year and hated it.
posted by turaho at 8:37 PM on January 23, 2005

Cleveland Heights might actually be what you are looking for, you know. The best local indie movie theater - the Cedar Lee - is in Heights; Coventry Village is a pretty "hip" area that hosts various quirky shops, Record Revolution [a pretty damn decent record store], the Dobama Theatre, and so on. Also, Heights borders Case [and by extension the rest of University Circle, which means the art museum, orchestra, etc.], is close to most of the major music venues [Agora, Grog Shop, Odeon, Beachland Ballroometc], and is also relatively close to the city proper. Cleveland Heights is also fairly diverse, for what it's worth.

Note of course that in Cleveland, "close" means "within short driving distance." The RTA is relatively useless, due to the fact that it has few lines and few stops. If you live in Shaker Heights and want to reach University Circle or downtown, you might use it; otherwise, well, expect to have to use a car for anything other than immediate errands [groceries and whatnot.] Cleveland is NOT a city where you can expect to walk or use public transportation for most things.

Lakewood is another place that might be worth considering. Detroit and Madison are two main roads that are lined with various small stores, liquor stores, indie record shops [the Bent Crayon, My Mind's Eye, and so on], coffee shops [the local Arabica], and what have you, while much of the suburb is taken up by fairly nice residential housing. It is a quieter and less dense area than Cleveland Heights or Shaker Heights, and the rapid is pretty useless for getting around. Also note that it'll take some time to get to Case from Lakewood - easiest to drive on the Shoreway, but, well, you'll need a car.

I don't know as much about Ohio City or Tremont, but they are both smaller and more dense than Lakewood, I think. A bit more going on in the arts scene - galleries, sometimes small theatre startups, etc.

None of these places - including the suburbs - are bad places to live. Lots of trees in Heights and Lakewood, at least in the residential areas. Relatively diverse populations, unlike the whitewashed outer suburbs, and more diverse architecture as well [no developments or tract housing, thank god.] Most of the neighborhoods mentioned will have at least a corner store nearby, although you may need to walk further or drive to get to a large grocery store. As Cleveland is not a huge college town like, say, Boston, the population is not very transient, even in the "hip" areas.

There's also the Warehouse District, which you may want to investigate. It's one of the few residential bits of downtown proper, it's near the flats and also relatively near Playhouse Square. When I left the city, it was a growing neighborhood composed of lofts and condos and restaurants built in old warehouses; I don't know how it may have changed in the past few years.
posted by ubersturm at 9:07 PM on January 23, 2005

I just wanted to point out Faze's comment on Cleveland in a Harvey Pekar thread -- Cleveland doesn't deserve a bad reputation, and it's great you're being optimistic about it. Hey, CWRU was home to the first freenet. What's not to love?
posted by Marit at 1:45 AM on January 24, 2005

I knew some East Siders would show up! Oh yeah, after reading Faze's comment:

Cleveland Metroparks
Metroparks Zoo

I don't know as much about Ohio City or Tremont, but they are both smaller and more dense than Lakewood, I think.

They are both smaller Ohio City may very well be more dense, but Tremont is an amazing combination of quiet and action. I don't think it is nearly as densely populated as Lakewood [where I lived for the first year I was here] and it definitely has less traffic than anywhere else I've been in Cleveland, mostly because the only reason to actually drive in Tremont is if you are going someplace in Tremont. All of the traffic to downtown or the other inner ring 'burbs stays on the Inner Belt.
posted by sciurus at 4:04 AM on January 24, 2005

In case you're trying to amass a majority, I'd vote for the Cleveland Heights/Shaker area. Keep in mind, I grew up in Parma and now live in Garfield, so I'm way not cool. My first instinct was Coventry/Little Italy area as well, but I haven't hung out there much since they began their de-freakification project several years ago.

Oh, and welcome! We're really not so bad.
posted by ferociouskitty at 4:58 AM on January 24, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you, thank you, thank you Cleveland (and post-Cleveland) Mefites! All of your advice is most appreciated; its heartening to hear from you all.

Its looking like Cleveland Heights/Lakewood are the consensus locations, which is what we had thought as well. I guess we had been hoping that there was some special secret high-density, walking-friendly, and, yes, somewhat "hipster" area that we didn't know about. But now we know the score...

And yes, I'm moving from a college town in Michigan (my SO is already renting in Cleveland), so I consider Cleveland to be trading up in terms of urban experience. Stop #2 on the Rust Belt tour...

Thanks again.
posted by googly at 6:19 AM on January 24, 2005

Sorry, a little late to the thread:

When I first moved to Cleveland, ten years ago, I lived in Shaker Square (actually, right off of Larchmere). While boomchicka is a little off regarding the ease of getting to Univ. Circle via rapid light rail, the 821 will get you to and from. Everything is in walking distance there, including grocers (including one new one that will open by the time you move here), coffeeshops and restaurants, and stores of various and sundry types.

After a brief sojurn in the 'burbs (Maple Hts., not recommended at all), I lived in Ohio City. Very walkable, and an excellent mix of cultures, incomes, orientations, and perspectives. While there are a lot of new homes and rehabs, it hasn't seen the kind of gentrification that you would find in a Wicker Park or similar place. You get to know your neighbors real well, but it isn't so dense that you're cheeck-to-jowl with them. Also, the West Side Market that scirius described kicks tremendous ass if you are a foodie, and the whole neighborhood is lousy with great restaurants and bars. Depending on where you live, the West 25th St. rapid stop is a 5-15 minute walk away, and the Red Line will take you directly to Case.

Finally, I live in Tremont (renting an English Basement up on the ridge for a ridiculously low price). Again, it's sorta hipster central, but with cantankerous ex steelworkers what will pound beers with you.

A new grocers opened up downtown in the Bingham Building in the middle of the Warehouse District. Between there, Playhouse Square, and East 4th Street (where a number of nightclubs and restaurants are opening up), downtown is becoming a lot larger and lively. I don't know when turaho lived Downtown, but it's changed quite a bit in the last five years.

It sounds like Cleve Hts. might be the best fit for you, but if you're looking for something a little farther away, are a little adventurous, but still want to be on the Red Line for the commute, you could take a look at the EcoVillage, which is just west of Ohio City off of the W. 65th station. If greenbuilding is your thing, and you want to do the whole urban pioneering thing, it might be up your alley. Not a lot of shopping nearby yet, but you can take a quick ride to Ohio City.

Nobody's mentioned it yet, but $200-300K will buy you a killer house that would easily go for $500K and up in any larger city. One thing that is often mentioned is that Cleveland retains the cultural legacy and amenities from when it was the industrial powerhouse of the country, but has lost the air-pollution and lots of the nastiness from that time as well. I think you will like it here muchly, but please drop a line if you have more questions.
posted by Avogadro at 7:00 AM on January 24, 2005

One more thing: like riffola said, Cleveland is a lot more like the east coast than Ohio. Kerry cleaned up in Northeast Ohio but did rather poorly everywhere else. Don't know if that's terribly indicative, but culturally, Cleveland doesn't have as much in common with Cincinnati, is only somewhat like Columbus, and is regarded as being on a totally different planet by the rest of the state. This is a Good Thing, I think.
posted by Avogadro at 7:40 AM on January 24, 2005

While boomchicka is a little off regarding the ease of getting to Univ. Circle via rapid light rail

Yeah, my brain escaped me for a minute there. There is a train line that goes to the circle, but it’s not the one that also goes to Shaker Square, and you’d have to go too far out of your way to transfer trains. The bus is your best bet to UC, whether from the square or from Cleveland Heights.

And riffy and Avogadro are very right about NE Ohio. Cuyahoga County is largely Democrat, and Cleveland Heights is practically glowing blue, so whatever you’ve heard about the rest of Ohio doesn’t apply here. (Thank goodness.)
posted by boomchicka at 7:46 AM on January 24, 2005

I bet I've seen you around Avogadro. I'm in the back of an art gallery right by Big Guy's Pizza.
posted by sciurus at 8:26 AM on January 24, 2005

Perhaps so, sciurus. I used to hang at Lucky's Cafe quite a bit, though not so much recently. I like Tremont a lot, though I am contemplating a move to Central in order to get in front of the revitalization curve. Crazy, I know, but that's what they used to say about moving to Tremont not too long ago.

Oh, and welcome! We're really not so bad.

F*ck that, ferocious. We kick ass.
posted by Avogadro at 9:18 AM on January 24, 2005

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