Winter Tiiiiiiiiiiiiime / And the livin is eeeeeeeasy
November 16, 2012 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Help me find my hibernation spot! NYCer in search of a winter (roughly Dec/Jan -> March/April) apartment somewhere in the Deep South in a city that A) has much warmer weather; B) offers drastically cheaper rent; and C) is a small town (basically, anywhere that isn't a big city). And, once I have a few city/region options, what's the best methodology for finding a place to rent if there aren't active Craigslist listings for the city/region? Details:

Variables, in order of importance:

*Warm Weather*
Any place with a High/Low that hovers around, at minimum, 60º/40º. After a lot of weather-table searching, it looks like this would limit me to coastal areas of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. Basically, I'd like to go outside around noon and be comfortable wearing jeans/button-up shirt (or, if possible, shorts/t-shirt). Sweater-weather at night is fine, although obviously it'd be nice to avoid (though it seems this would limit me to southern Florida).

*Really Cheap Rent (and How to Find It)*
In NYC, I'm used to paying between $600/mo - $900/mo in rent, and I'd really love to take a break from that :)

Basically, the cheaper the better. As long as I have a semi-reliable internet connection, I can do my work remotely, so city/region job economy doesn't matter. I'm willing to give up as many amenities as possible for cheaper rent in return. There's a strong likelihood that I'll have another person with me, so that will help keep things on the cheap side.

For more populated regions, I've noticed that I can open up PadMapper (which mashes up Google Maps and apartment rental listings from Craigslist, among others), scroll around certain cities/regions and find quite a few listings. However, outside of the larger Southern cities, Craigslist isn't actively used. What would be some good methods for finding housing in many of these smaller towns? Aside from focusing on a certain city/region -> finding the local newspaper online -> searching classifieds, I'm basically stumped. What are some housing-search hacks to help me find stupid-cheap lodging?

I'll mostly be focusing on a new creative project while I'm away from NYC, so I'm kind of looking to hole up for a while. This means that cultural activities I normally look for (great bars/nightlife, museums, fancy food markets, theaters, left-leaning political climate, etc.) would gladly be exchanged for extremely cheap rent.

Right now, my worst-case scenario is Savannah, Georgia: warmish weather and cheaper-than-NYC rent w/ apts I can find via PadMapper (although I'm really looking for much, much cheaper); but, it's also a pretty big city and has waaaaaay more diversions than I'm looking for.

So, any help? If anyone has any incredible suggestions involving Texas/Southwest/Southern CA, I'd definitely be open to hearing about them, although I'd rather stay on the East Coast. Thank you, everyone!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was considering moving to Daytona Beach, FL a couple years back and rents were insanely cheap -- like you could find a liveable place for $300/month. Just checked craigslist and there are still places in the $400/month range. And from times I've visited there, there definitely ain't much going on in Daytona outside of spring break!
posted by jabes at 1:39 PM on November 16, 2012

Savannah, Ga. is actually very small town but with a big city reputation. It's charming..... I think it's exactly what you are looking for and would be Best Case scenario.... Tons of culture, lots to do and you can find decent housing for a low price. Give it another look.
posted by pearlybob at 1:46 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about Greenville, SC? Awesomely cheap rent, smallish town with a very nice downtown area, and stays pretty warm.
posted by cccp47 at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best friend lives on the West Coast of Florida in Cape Coral. It's about 30 or so minutes away from Ft. Myers.

I saw some rental units in apartment complexes for around $500-$600 for 1 bedrooms.

The weather is warm, there's a whole lotta nothing over there and it'll have the weather you like.

They rent a 5 bedroom house for $800 per month (with a pool).

I suspect that the real deals will be in condos on Craigslist.

There are places in the Carolinas that are cheap. I'm wondering if places like Myrtle Beach, which is chock-a-block with vacation condos would be cheaper out of season?

Here are some random places to consider.

Tybee Island, GA
Wilmington, NC
Panama City, FL (Rednecky like you wouldn't believe)
Columbus, GA
Gainesville, GA
Rome, GA

And it doesn't fit your idea of weather at all, but if I wanted to get away from it all, but feel all bundled up in a wooded area, good internet and have access to grocery stores, etc. I can't help but think that Gatlinburg, TN would be an awesome place!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:09 PM on November 16, 2012

Eastern seaboard weather is often very similar until you get below I-10. That's often where the isobars get all scrunched together and the folks below are like, what arctic air mass? So Columbia SC can get cold, Houston TX goes either way, but Gainesville FL is usually warm--just to name some places I know really well.

Fortunately there are plenty of places in Florida that might meet your criteria.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2012

The pivot all this revolves around is whether you'll have a car.

There are TONS of great places to hole up, with great weather, but a lot of them you need a car. Even just to get there from the airport.

If you don't have a car, New Orleans is probably your best bet. Rent is probably on the high side for what you could get if you had a car, but it's drastically cheaper than New York, at least.

If you have a car, I'd suggest:

Mobile, Alabama
Natchitoches, Louisiana (a touch on the cold side, but still stays firmly above freezing on all but one or two very cold nights)
Gainesville, FL
Natchez, Mississippi

I would avoid most of coastal Louisiana aside from New Orleans. Because of the oil industry, housing prices are drastically inflated, and none of the towns are nice enough to warrant spending that kind of money. If you're going to spend $600 on an apartment, better to do it in the Marigny than in some nowheresville dump where everybody will hate you* and the only rentals are in dodgy areas, anyway.

For most of the towns I listed above, your best bet might be to make some phone calls, or maybe try AirBnB. New Orleans seems to use Craigslist a fair amount.

*I grew up in a small coastal Louisiana oil town, so I get to say this.
posted by Sara C. at 3:05 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have to be on a coast? The Death Valley area and the Las Vegas area are worth considering. (I would say Arizona, too, but the state politics are so dreadful at the moment that no.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:19 PM on November 16, 2012

I would avoid Greenville; it's way colder there than it is where I live on the coast of SC & we get some pretty cold days that don't meet your temperature criteria.
posted by Kronur at 3:42 PM on November 16, 2012

Why not go further south? Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, etc? I think it would be cheaper, and probably warmer and sunnier too.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:12 PM on November 16, 2012

Response by poster: jabes: I hadn't really considered much of Florida until I realized how much warmer it was compared to the rest of the South (which I'd assumed would be, on the whole, much warmer than most of it turned out to be); I'll definitely keep DB in mind and do some heavy PadMapper scrolling all around the state.

pearlybob: Heh, "worst-case" probably isn't the right word for it ... yeah, I think Savannah would be a fantastic place to end up for the winter! But, it hits some similar sweet spots that NYC does, and I think I'm looking for something that isn't as outwardly stimulating as Savannah. Again, though, if I ended up there, I think I'd be happy enough :)

cccp47: Greenville is, in fact, kinda on the chilly side in Jan/Feb!

Ruthless Bunny: Cool, will look around that area in FL / Panhandle and some of those places in GA (Tybee Island had come up in an earlier search).

"And it doesn't fit your idea of weather at all, but if I wanted to get away from it all, but feel all bundled up in a wooded area, good internet and have access to grocery stores, etc. I can't help but think that Gatlinburg, TN would be an awesome place!"

Heh, that's kind of the atmosphere I'm looking for, but just farther down south!

Monsieur Caution: Yep, starting to look like FL might be where to do some heavy researching.

Sara C.: Yeah, I wanted to leave out the fact that I don't have a car because I thought it might dissuade some suggestions. The truth is that, as inconvenient as being carless would be in a lot of these places, I think I can manage it for a short period like this. Depends on the town / how far away certain things are / etc., but for the most part I'm okay with being somewhat marooned.

I'm surprised to hear about coastal Louisiana-- that's really good to know. New Orleans is kind of a Savannah back-up and, like Savannah, it shares a lot of appeals with NYC and would probably be easier to find an apt., although probably not as cheap as I'd hope. Natchez is on my to-check-out list, too.

Sidhedevil: I know, there really isn't a solid reason why I'm not considering the Southwest area more. I think I'd just rather be a bus/train/car ride away from the East Coast rather than a plane-ticket away? Although, if something incredible presents itself out there, I think I'd jump at the chance.

three_red_balloons: I think the only reason I haven't considered going SoB is that I'd rather not have another layer of hassle on top of getting acclimated to a place quickly and getting straight to work. In most other cases, I'd be looking at Central America / South America immediately.

Thank you for the valuable suggestions so far!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 6:26 PM on November 16, 2012

Just to clarify, it's not that being carless in most of these places would be impossible. Hell, I lived in Natchitoches, LA, for two years without a car and it was great.

It's that getting to these places from an airport without a car is going to be difficult.
posted by Sara C. at 6:41 PM on November 16, 2012

I would STILL move to Savannah in a heartbeat - I'm from NYC when I discovered it in the winter months - moved to NZ instead when I actually made the Big Jump.

Savannah. Savannah.

Maybe I am just romantic?

If I could now easily go back and forth, that is where I would land for my "forth."

Let me know how it turns out. I'm still sad I missed my chance. What a lovely city in the winter!
posted by jbenben at 10:37 PM on November 16, 2012

*Really Cheap Rent (and How to Find It)*
In NYC, I'm used to paying between $600/mo - $900/mo in rent, and I'd really love to take a break from that :)

I just want to pull this out and be clear on it -- you have a NYC apartment for $600 a month? And you say you're looking for "much, much cheaper."

So it sounds like you want to pay rent of about $100 to $200 a month.

How much squalor are you willing to put up with? Are you OK with a room in a shared house? You're working on an internet-related project, so you'll have expensive computer equipment with you ... can you deal with a crime-ridden neighborhood?

The common approach at this price range is a shack out in the woods at the back of beyond, but that won't work without a car.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 4:15 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Texas. Plenty of transportation, warm Gulf Coast waters, usually overlooked by Eastern Snowbirds, cheap, no income taxes, big hats. Texas.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:41 AM on November 17, 2012

Also some friends of mine live in Biloxi MS. It's still recovering from various Hurricanes, but is delightful.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:44 AM on November 17, 2012

Harvey - My assumption was that OP has roommates and has paid in that range for his share of an apartment.

It's true, though, that in much of the US, the difference isn't vast in terms of rents. You can go from $700 for a tiny bedroom in a shitty railroad apartment in a kind of shitty area to $600 for a whole apartment in a perfectly OK part of a smaller city. Often the real difference is what you get for that chunk of money, not necessarily the price you'll pay.

But you can't really go to $200 for a whole house, or whatever the OP is imagining. Unless maybe you have connections in the area. Surely anything you're going to find online is going to be more in that $500-1000 range.
posted by Sara C. at 7:52 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: jbenben: I think one of the reasons I'd rather end up somewhere other than Savannah is that it's the kind of place I'd want to move to when I'm not trying to be somewhat of a shut-in. My hunch is that, if I do end up in Savannah, I'll spend a lot of time doing similar social stuff that I do here in NYC. Again, not a bad thing, and not something I'd be sad to do; but, maybe not exactly what I'm looking for right now.

Harvey Kilobit: Heh, I paid $350/mo for my first room here in NYC, so I know anything is possible!

Since I'd expect to pay around $800/mo for an NYC apartment, I'd love for this winter place to be somewhere between $300-$500/mo, which will be kind of tough to find I know. I'm more than willing to sublet a room in someone's place; plus, since I should have another person with me, I don't think it'd be crazy to find a small apt. / house somewhere in the $700-$1000/mo range, where I'd happily take the smaller room.

Shack in the woods in the back of beyond, possibly w/ a bike, would be totally doable for me, as long as I'll have decent internet + some basic amenities. That's not exactly what I'm expecting to find, but if something like that pops up, I'd definitely take a look. My laptop will be the only expensive equipment / non-losable thing I'll bring with me fwiw.

I guess I'm working under the (possibly very flawed) assumption that there are a lot of property-rich / cash-poor towns down there, so the possibility of me stumbling into some pretty crazy deal isn't that far-fetched? Of course, I'm not expecting that all rents across the board would be 75% cheaper than NYC, but I thought there might be some places with such a dearth of tenants that I might luck into a great deal.

Potomac Avenue: Biloxi has been on my shortlist-- still a bit on the big side, but otherwise will be looking more closely there. Texas is creeping a little too far west, but I'd love to be somewhere like CoChri, just a quick ride away from Mexico. But, again, I think the less tempted I am to do some quick vacations to Mexico, the better!

Sara C.: Yeah, I'm hoping that having another person joining me will go a long way toward making things that much cheaper. Rather than being at the mercy of rooms in shared apts/houses, we can find a small apt/house and split the cost, which usually ends up being vastly cheaper than any kind of studio / single apartment / small house situation.


Thank you all again for these suggestions; keep'em coming! This is a huge help w/r/t figuring out a plan of attack; and, if anyone has any tips for finding places from a remote location w/o the aid of online listings like Craigslist, I'd love to hear those, too!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 9:29 AM on November 17, 2012

I wouldn't expect to spend less than $600, total, on anything decent to rent that comfortably fits two people (especially if you're talking about a buddy rather than someone you'd be sharing a bed with). Especially considering that you'll probably be renting this place sight unseen or close to it, in an area you're not familiar with, and where you have no connections. AND you won't have a car, which will be essential to do things like get to a remote area from an airport, or look at five apartments in a day.

It's probably more realistic to plan on a $1000 two bedroom apartment in a city like Savannah or New Orleans, split between you and a friend (with the ability to get around with taxis, transit, and/or human power) rather than to assume you'll find a $400 house in Meridian, Mississippi. When you don't even have the ability to get to Meridian, much less find a suitable house, look at more than one or two places, furnish it, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Biloxi has been on my shortlist-- still a bit on the big side, but otherwise will be looking more closely there

Seriously, really and truly, you're not going to be able to get to anywhere smaller than a town like Biloxi without a car. Even with Biloxi, you're looking at flying into a small regional airport and then taking taxis everywhere for a few days till you find a place. Which might be worth a more expensive apartment in a more accessible place, or an international flight to a place where this is more feasible.

Anywhere smaller than that, and you're looking at either taking Greyhound and hoofing it with piles of luggage, or paying a cab driver to take you hundreds of miles.
posted by Sara C. at 9:52 AM on November 17, 2012

Response by poster: Sara C.: For sure, and those are the types of details I know I'll have to manage around if I don't end up in places like NO/Savannah/etc.

As I've figured it, if I did end up in a place Meridian/Biloxi (which are both built-up enough where I'd be much less stressed about the initial move-in), I'd hope to have a place/deposit squared away before I get there (as long as I see pics of the place / can virtually stroll around the area on Google Maps, I'd be put at ease). Of course, there are a ton of other variables to deal with after that if carless, and I'll have to measure them all at the same time while I'm looking.

But, for places like Biloxi, if I could manage to secure a place before getting there (and working out the initial travel to get there), I wouldn't be worried about renting a U-Haul and spending money for a few days to gather up some essentials. As long as I'm within biking distance of a few things (grocery store mainly), I think I'd manage fine-- I've spent a few years biking about 10 miles to/from work in NYC, so as long as it's biking weather, I should be set. Heh, also, not having the ability to go do various things would, in a weird way, possibly be a huge plus for me!

Still, point taken, and I'll be factoring that kind of stuff in; but, I think I'm resourceful enough to deal with it. Just as a datapoint, an editor I knew moved to Taos, NM, sight-unseen, carless, and stayed there for a year. He lived in a cheap area where you needed to have a car to do anything. He told me that it was a pain in the ass (although he wasn't looking to hole up like I am), but he managed just fine by making friends and hitching rides when he could. Again, a pain in the ass, but nothing that immense.

Point taken, though; my game-plan is to first cull as many options as possible, then start whittling away while keeping stuff like this in mind.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 10:12 AM on November 17, 2012

Gainesville is a bike-friendly college town. Rents aren't actually super cheap around campus, but there are bike lanes to the edge of town in most cases, and your 10 miles/day of biking reassures me you'd be fine there. A place out near Kanapaha Botanical Gardens or the Devil's Millhopper might be warm, cheap, and peaceful. And the closer you get to campus and/or downtown the more there is to do (but also, the more you have to deal with traffic and slightly post-adolescent drunks).

Any coastal town from St. Augustine to Vero Beach would be nice in a different way--more scenic for sure--but I'm less sure they're bike/budget friendly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:33 AM on November 17, 2012

How about Puerto Rico? Perfect weather, easy to get to, and cheap.
posted by acridrabbit at 10:51 AM on November 17, 2012

Oh, OK. As long as you have a driver's license and the ability to rent a car, yeah, you're fine just about anywhere. I assumed since you're coming from NYC and have "walkable/bikeable" as a stipulation, and you won't be driving to your location, that you don't have the ability to get a car when you need one.

Because hurdle number one to getting a place outside a largish city is going to be getting there from an airport. The (not so small) town I grew up in is a solid hour's drive from the nearest airport. I have friends from smaller towns who basically can't travel because just getting to a place with an airport is a two or three hour drive.

It's not like the Northeast where the cities are all major cities with international airports, commuter rail lines out into the boonies, and relatively dense settlement patterns. Once you get away from places like Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta, you are really out in the middle of nowhere, with no access to anything. It's not like "gee, a car would make getting groceries so much easier", but more like, "can't get there from here".
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 AM on November 17, 2012

Sara C. is absolutely right about the can't-get-there-from-here quality of even large towns in the South. However! The Crescent Amtrak line goes through several towns on the way out of New Orleans that might fit your criteria. Slidell, Picayune, Hattiesburg, Laurel and Meridian are all smallish, cheapish and warm during the winter. Of these five Picayune is the smallest and most compact for riding your bike around, but it is extremely boring.

Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs are much cuter but less accessible (and probably more expensive to live in the walkable parts).
posted by zeptoweasel at 10:14 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Monsieur Caution: Great, sounds like places like Gainesville in Florida -- mid-sized, cheap, and warm -- might be the best region to check out. And I love the area around St. Augustine; would love to end up there, but I assumed that it may be on the pricier side of things.

acridrabbit: PR would be lovely, but I think I'd like to stay in the contiguous 48 this time around.

Sara C.: Heh, yep, I have a license, so if nothing else, I'll be able to rent cars/trucks if need be.

zeptoweasel: Awesome, that's great to know about! And I've added those five cities + Bay St. Louis & Ocean Springs to the list.

I'll be checking back off and on to see if there are any more specific tips / place suggestions. By now, though, I think I have enough to start doing some serious research. Huge thanks again, MeFites!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2012

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