Moving to Portland for my wife's career, what do I do about my career?
March 24, 2014 9:58 AM   Subscribe

My SO is graduating medical school in May and just go matched at OHSU in Portland. We'll be moving in June. I'm looking for general advice about uprooting my career and life to go along. More details inside...

Here are my specifics. I've been with my current company for 8 years and helped build it from a 20 man operation to a 200 person company, the company manufactures and sells metal cutting machinery. I manage the engineering department and supervise design and manufacturing of new products. I love my job and career but there is no possibility of staying with my current company, I've already talked to them and I'll be leaving on good terms. We currently live in a 300k population town where most things are close, we have been in the community for quite a while and love our lifestyle.

We are moving to Portland in June and need to live at most 30 minutes away from OHSU. What neighborhoods should I be looking to rent a home in? I've looked on a few rental sites and it seems my options are limited with a largish (45-50 lbs.) dog who needs a decent sized yard. I'm also open to buying a place but as my SO ramps up their career our house buying options this year versus three years from now are significantly different so renting may be our best option. What is the Portland housing market looking like these days, is buying worthwhile knowing that the house would be sold/rented in a few years?

Career-wise I'd like to stay in my current line of work. There seem to be a lot of engineering manager / project manager type jobs but most are in a computer science or software field of which I am less experienced managing. From a manufacturing or mechanical engineering perspective how is Portland?

Sorry if this rambles a bit, I'm a bit anxious about the change and want to make sure I know what I'm moving into. Any general advice would be appreciated too.

To summarize
Housing: Rent or Buy? Neighborhoods to seek or avoid?
Jobs: How's the mechanical engineering market? Other options to consider?
Any other advice about moving from a medium size town to Portland?

Thanks all.
posted by JBear to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I always love to sublet for 1-6 months when I move. I feel that no amount of advice can replace the preferences you will form as you get a 'feel' for a new town.

Every place I've gone I have ended up choosing to live places everyone told me I wouldn't want to live in, but that I end up finding lovely for reasons they consider poor (e.g. it's too quiet and suburban-y and far out of the city -- turns out I love that!).

Ideally you sublet from a person/family, as you will get better deals than an apartment made for month-to-month rent. The latter is made to gain a premium on short-term stays, whereas the former often sells at a discount as it's hard for a family to find a person who wants to sublet from them for 3 months and 17 days in between their two arbitrary dates (but if that works you will get awesome deals).

Or maybe you don't mind paying a bit more to sublet, and consider it an expense well worth the ability to avoid making really important decisions before living and getting a feel for a city.

This will also allow you to spend more time focusing on settling into your new careers and finding a job, and just getting a place for a few months and 'postponing' locking yourself into a lease or mortgage on limited information.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by jjmoney at 10:30 AM on March 24, 2014

I can't give you advice on the job question, but as for the house question, it's almost always better to rent vs. buy when moving to a totally new city. You're going to want time to get a feel for the different neighborhoods and their housing stock before making a long-term commitment.

As for the dog: I haven't lived in Portland, but in Seattle, individual landlords (as opposed to management companies) are often fairly amenable to pets, even if they didn't tick the "yes to dogs" box on the craigslist ad. And those are the types of landlords you'll be dealing with if you're looking for a house. And the northwest in general is very dog-friendly.

So I'd say if you can set aside a long weekend to go out and meet with specific landlords and show them that you are responsible (helps that the wife is a doctor!) I bet you'll be able to find a landlord who will rent to you with the dog.
posted by lunasol at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2014

There are a fair number of companies in the area that make physical items -- although you may have to commute to Hillsboro, Beaverton, or Wilsonville. Check out Xerox (printers), ESI (manufacturing equipment), Tektronix (test & measurement), or Radisys (servers). Daimler has a truck plant here. A lot of folks have moved manufacturing off shore, but there may be opportunities locally.

I have lived in Portland (West Hills) for over 10 years -- it is a very livable and friendly place, IMHO.
posted by elmay at 11:07 AM on March 24, 2014

The older and more perceived-as-respectable you are, the better your dog options are. Play up that med school! And money solves a lot of problems, either in deposits or dog rent.

You should always rent your first year anyway, but buying a house when you're not settled can end up really limiting your lifestyle/career options right when things are going to be most mercurial.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2014

Housing: Rent or Buy? Neighborhoods to seek or avoid?

Don't buy right away. Rent for a bit. Portland neighborhoods are really different, and the housing market varies widely among them. Portland is also gentrifying quickly, so lots of housing markets are in flux right now. Also houses in Portland are expensive, so you'll want to be here for a bit before you commit I think.

Will they be driving or taking public transit? If driving, you can live pretty much anywhere in Portland and be within 30 minutes of OHSU. If taking the MAX/tram up the hill to OHSU, you'll want to stay in a SW neighborhood or close-in Eastside with easy MAX access.

As far as neighborhoods go, I mean, it really depends. I definitely prefer the east side which is definitely the 'hipper' side of town, if you will. A little more community, more artsy and weird things, just more food/bars/music generally, easier to walk and bike to places, cheaper. The west-side definitely has a more, err, professional (for lack of a better word) sort of quality about it. But it's also hard to make too sweeping of generalizations about the neighborhoods. Also, Portland is really not that big, so it almost doesn't make a huge difference, honestly.

I would maybe suggest, for mere convenience sake, to try and find something reasonably close to OHSU at least to start out. So maybe something in Marquam Hill or John's Landing or even Terwilliger. If you are definitely needing to rent a house, it may be easier to look a bit further down I-5.

The dog shouldn't be too big of problem. Everyone here has a dog.

Jobs: How's the mechanical engineering market? Other options to consider?

Plenty of manufacturing and mechanical engineering jobs here. Tons. I don't think you'll have too much of a problem finding a job in that sector.

Any other advice about moving from a medium size town to Portland?

Portland is not that big. I think you'll find it a lot like a small town with big city amenities in many ways. It is an awesome, wonderful place to live. The OHSU campus is beautiful. You're going to love it here.

Best of luck.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:13 AM on March 24, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, it's reassuring to hear that what I've been thinking isn't totally out of line with reality.
posted by JBear at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2014

I was in the same exact situation.

Wife graduated med school. She matched residency in another state to a city that I had never been to and never even considered visiting.

We bought a house. A project house. 1923 Craftsman that is on the National Historical Preservation list. Way below value. It was a TON of work. But it gave me something to do. My wife worked incredibly off and long hours. I lucked out and found a house in a 'gentrifying' part of town on a street with other people my age who were also in it for a long haul of living and loving their house. It was four miles from the hospital. All the people in the program were envious of our digs and our married lifestyle in our awesome old house. They were stuck in cookie cutter houses in the burbs or renting a crappy apartment on some random interstate.

There wasn't much of my industry in that city and I had already been at my company for 8 years. I worked from home and just traveled to the home site every few weeks to check in. Once we had a kid, I never traveled, which was ok with my company.

When she graduated and we left the city for her new job. We got all the money we put into the house and now dearly miss our life in that city.

PM me if you want more details and all that.
posted by LeanGreen at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

This may not be your style, but for a place to land while looking for something more permanent, check out this place on the riverfront. My niece works at OHSU and her husband works for the company that owns the building (and others). Dogs are OK, the tram to OHSU is a couple minutes walk, the views are nice. I stay in one of their guest apartments when visiting and have always liked the area.
posted by Gusaroo at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2014

I'll just say we've moved cities several times and pretty much every time we do, we make a lot of effort to research and plan where we're going to live then inevitably wind up living in a completely different place we liked when we drove past and started exploring or once we saw what the traffic patterns were like or visited this neighborhood nobody was even talking about, etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:48 AM on March 24, 2014

Intel's largest office is in Portland. Could your skills match something there?
posted by redlines at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2014

Intel certainly has a large manufacturing presence in Hillsboro. There are also some other fabs around that might also be interested in operations folk or technical management - Maxim is across the street from Intel's Ronler Campus, and TriQuint is nearby. There's also some biotech - GenenTech is the most physically obvious plant. Many tech industry equipment and materials suppliers also have offices, labs, fabs, or demo facilities in the area.

You're welcome to MeMail me for more detail.
posted by janell at 4:01 PM on March 24, 2014

I live on the east side. I have lived on the west side but perfer the east. I work at the VA hospital next to OHSU.

What I think you should consider: look for house rentals or sublets around the Multnomah Village neighborhood I the west side. It's not urban, lots of houses with yards. Not too bad a commute for your wife (no bridges to deal with) and you will be on the west side closer to Intel and more of the jobs you are interested in. It's not as hip and trendy as the Pearl and you may feel a bit isolated, but it won't be forever.
posted by mimo at 6:39 AM on March 25, 2014

I have lived on the east and west sides, and I highly recommend living and working on the same side of the river. So OHSU? Stick with the west side.

Crossing bridges honestly sucks for daily commutes. I had to do it going from the east side of the river to Sylvan and then downtown for a year, and it sucked. There was a morning jogger in kelly green shorts that would pass my car, and then I would pass him, and then he would pass me again as we went from SE 39th and Powell to downtown. It almost had me take up jogging.

Multnomah Village would probably work well for you: most things are walking-close (Safeway, restaurants, coffee shops, funky boutiques, community center, pub, parks incl. a dog park), but I wouldn't consider it isolated or suburban by any stretch of the imagination. Older houses with yards, lots of folks with dogs, and honestly more of a village/community feel without the sprawl.

FWIW, I live on the west side and prefer it. We have parking and fewer ironic hats.
posted by sazanka at 9:58 AM on March 25, 2014

Anyway, more relevantly: nthing that you just rent something, quite possibly downtown, while you find out what is happening with BOTH of your work situations. Your SO's commute up to OHSU could be as easy as the skytram, or the #8 bus, less than 10 minutes with no driving.

At the risk of enraging Sazanka, I would like to point out that my current neighborhood in NE Portland is no more than 10 minutes by car, 30 by bus, from OHSU, with nary an ironic hat to be seen. Property tax under $1000 year, off-leash dog park 5 blocks away.

[Sazanka, the east side cordially requests that you do not continue to judge us by the failures of I-26, which is truly foul from Gresham in the East all the way to Beaverton in the West.]
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:21 PM on March 25, 2014

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