Where should I move: cheap with ocean edition
January 1, 2018 9:23 AM   Subscribe

After 18 years in the mountains, I think I want to get back to salt water (I grew up on the coast and I miss it.) Is there anywhere in the US within 30 minutes of salt water that I could a) buy a small house for 160K or less AND b) also within a 30 minute radius, find a job of some sort making about 30K a year? Bonus question: do the Great Lakes scratch your maritime itch? If so, they’re in the running.

By small house, I mean 800 - 1200 square feet with enough yard for a garden and a dog. By job, I mean I haven’t had a career path per se since the Great Recession of 2010 but I do have a wide variety of skills and secretarial / administrative work would suit me right down to the ground. My background is in museums and, for the last five years, a bookstore.

More picky details: I really can’t tolerate heat anymore, so the further north, the better. I don’t want to live in a huge city, neither do I particularly want to be the only person in a 100 mile radius: 50,000 to 150,000 people is about ideal but I could be sold on smaller or, maybe, larger. I’m used to living in a blue island In a sea of red, sigh, but being the only progressive person in town would get old quick. Scenery is good, industrial working class funk is highly desirable. I have already lived in Baltimore, MD and Charleston, SC and don’t want to go back to either one. I’m single, 54, in relatively good health, and right now i’m traveling around looking at places where I might want to live. I really like Morro Bay, CA but alas it is waaaay out of my price range.

I’m leaving Asheville NC for a host of reasons other than an urge for salt water but mostly it’s just gotten unsustainable. The rapid gentrification and all tourist economy have made it difficult to live there and I’m ready to leave. It no longer resembles the laid back artsy town I moved to in 2000. So if the town I move to has already gone through that cycle and is now decaying so I don’t have to worry about being gentrified out of my neighborhood yet again, that would be awesome. I would like to stay wherever I go for good.
posted by mygothlaundry to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've been researching this question myself so I'll be watching the results here with interest. Best I've found so far are Perris in Southern CA (maybe too warm for you tho) and Crescent City in northern CA.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 9:45 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: I'd look into Maine. I can't recommend a specific town, but I do have several friends who have moved to the Maine coast partially to get away from the high cost of living in Boston.

I'm from Boston myself, and would recommend looking at the Great Lakes. I definitely got a bit of a seaside vibe from them - not exactly the same, but close.
posted by lunasol at 9:45 AM on January 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have a long-simmering urge to move somewhere in Alaska, though I haven’t researched it enough yet to give you a specific recommendation. (You did say the further north, the better!)
posted by ejs at 9:50 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: I’ve never been there but I know three different families who have moved to Oswego NY and seem to really love it for many of the reasons you list. It’s on Lake Ontario, small town, cheap houses abound, it has a college campus in town, some sort of large annual music festival, and seems like a neat place. Not gentrified. Old. Might be worth checking out! It gets really cold and a lot of snow. Good luck on your search! I’d love to know what town you decide on!
posted by machinecraig at 9:55 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: Check out the Oregon coastal areas. Generally moderate weather and lots of affordable housing and "working-class funk".
posted by uncaken at 9:59 AM on January 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're welcome to visit me in southern Maine. I'm outside Portland in a boring suburb with pretty lakes, 25 minutes to town, 25 minutes or less to salt water. Fresh water is 100 feet from my deck. 160K for a house? If you go a little further from Portland, you can find that. However, the cost of living here is a bit more because of heat and snow removal, snow tires, etc. Unemployment is low, bookstore jobs are rare, incomes are mid-range. New England is a very different state of mind than the South or West.
posted by theora55 at 10:06 AM on January 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you look at Maine, you might also want to think about the Seacoast region of NH. You've got the ocean on one side, the mountains on the other.

Inland, you have lots of little old post-industrial mill towns (Rochester is probably the grungiest; others--Dover, Newmarket--are on a definite upswing right now) with slightly more tourist-y areas along the coast. Housing might be a little high, but just taking a look on Zillow, there are a few options, particularly in the foreclosures.

There's a solid working class population around, thanks to Pease (former Air Force base) and the naval shipyard in Portsmouth. NH is also pretty popular with retirees; we've got no sales tax, and no income tax, although property tax rates are high. Unemployment is also super low right now, so finding a job would be easier than other places.
posted by damayanti at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: Consider the Ohio City or Tremont neighborhoods in Cleveland. They are friendly, funky, artsy, cheapish, and within a few minutes’ drive of Lake Erie beaches (I grew up in New Jersey going to the Jersey Shore, and can testify that the beaches in and around Cleveland are a good substitute).
posted by amro at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Disclaimer: Lived near warm salt water most of my life.

I was only there a week, but I liked Burlington VT ... Lake Champlain is pretty nice.

I liked coastal Michigan too -- nice and flat for cycling, clear cold water, cool rocks. Kalamazoo definitely has an industrial vibe.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:36 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: I like the suggestion of Maine, but Portland definitely seems to be on the upswing in terms of gentrification/touristiness.

Other New England suggestions:
- in/near Providence, RI
- Fall River and New Bedford, MA, qualify in terms of housing costs but unemployment is higher than the state/national average (though it's improving)
- the CT coast between New Haven and RI, although this is another area where finding employment could be trickier (unemployment rates are not high, but it's not densely populated)
posted by mskyle at 10:36 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: I could a) buy a small house for 160K or less AND b) also within a 30 minute radius, find a job of some sort making about 30K a year?

That's pretty much Cleveland in a nutshell, including some of the inner ring suburbs. Ohio City & Tremont might be a wee bit out of your price range, as they're our trendy neighborhoods, but I'm not house shopping so I'm not up on current prices. And there are plenty of other nice neighborhoods.

do the Great Lakes scratch your maritime itch?

I dunno, I don't think I have one of those. Can you give us an idea about what it is you miss about living on the coast? We've got beaches and boating and fishing and cool vistas of half-frozen waves crashing on rocks, but it doesn't smell like the ocean, there's no saltwater tang in the air.

I really can’t tolerate heat anymore

It's 12-damn-degrees Fahrenheit right now, so . . . . gotcha covered there, I guess.

In the summer it can hit 90 with like 90% humidity, though.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:56 AM on January 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Expanding on mskyle, I'm not too sure about the CT coast, but just about anywhere in RI except for a few tony suburbs. There are plenty of funky, blue collar places south of East Providence.
My boating friends lament that the season on the Great Lakes is short.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:02 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: If you don't require sunny-all-the-time beach, consider Astoria, OR. It's a small town with a vibrant art scene, a couple really good brewpubs, and enough of a tourist industry that you should be able to find work relatively easily. And as a bonus it's only about a two hour drive to get to Portland, should you have a city itch that needs scratching on a day off.
posted by pdb at 11:06 AM on January 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe Eureka, CA, which is definitely not gentrifying. Housing costs though are a little higher than you'd like, I think, and very limited economic opportunities.

Maine is also a good thought, though I don't know enough about the specifics to know if that's really viable.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:24 AM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Assuming you're at the "Looking for places to visit and check out" stage, you might as well visit the Buffalo area. Buffalo proper is larger than you're looking for -- bigger than Asheville, the city proper plus immediate suburbs might be 600,000 depending on what you count. And there are parts of Buffalo city and some of the suburbs that are gentrifying. Some of the suburbs have enough of a core that they might suit -- Orchard Park, Lancaster, Williamsville but that would be hard to do in your (real) price range.

There are also towns in western NY that might fit -- Fredonia, Jamestown and the Chautauqua Lake area.

Buffalo doesn't have quite the cruel-joke climate that a lot of the midwest does, with bitter winters and stupid-hot, humid-ass summers. The same systems that get the lake effect going act as a sort of giant air conditioner for the whole area for most of the summer. It's never hit 100F here, though I'm sure that record will fall sometime in the next few years, and most of the summer is not-super-humid with highs in the high 70s or low 80s.

Jobs are harder here and some of the growth areas or easier opportunities are bad. Buffalo has several debt-harassment call centers. Geico is always hiring but has huge turnover, presumably for reasons. The better bet here would normally be to get hooked into state government jobs, but entering that world in your 50s might not be great.

I assume you could tell a similar tale about Rochester and some of its suburbs.

One thing with not-downstate NY is that you'd want to revise your home price ranges significantly downwards because of the property taxes.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:45 AM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: If you like Morro bay - and it's definitely one of the prettiest places in the world - Puget Sound is Morro bay cranked up to 11. The Oregon coast and Washington coast are also similarly amazing.

The dream is (kind of) still alive in the PNW in various places from Oregon to the nooks and crannies of Puget Sound. Whidbey, Orcas, San Juans, Kitsap and Quimper peninsulas.

Depending on where you look you can still find acreage and even city plots in that general range some really fun, artistic, definitely not conservative and community minded places, and many of these places aren't opposed to tiny homes, yurts or other low impact housing.

It is, however, probably the hottest housing/land market in the US right now. So, when I say affordable plots these are usually a few acres in the woods kind of thing, but you're talking 30-45 minute drives to major towns in different directions, and surrounded by water because water is everywhere, including the sky. And part of the trick around here is that if you can get logging/clearing rights with a piece of land you can make it essentially pay for it's own house and part of the plot from the wood sales.

Which, frankly, makes the treehugger in me recoil in terror, but... it's definitely a thing around here, and you're definitely not building a house on that kind of property without cutting down enough trees to make room for it, so...

Another option to look at is land trusts. Land trusts for conservancy are a thing around here. When you buy into a land trust, it comes with a lot of strict rules about development and preserving public access, and in many cases actually developing the land isn't allowed at all beyond improving and maintaining existing structures.

Which is just the thing if, say, you really just want to live in a cabin in the woods and weren't planning on building a house or a ranch anyway. When you buy into a land trust system you're often essentially buying a piece of parklands that's meant to be held by itself and/or trustees for as long as forever can be legally defined and paid for.

Another thing to consider is that while the sticker price of land/housing in the general PNW looks daunting on paper, the reality is that there's a lot of slack, cost of living and quality of life that helps make it make more sense, especially for lower impact and income living. Stuff like produce and fresh food is just massively more affordable, and it's everywhere.

And I mean everywhere. Like, growing right out of the ground and treated like noxious weeds. If I wanted, I can walk out my door in the heart of winter in a semi-urban, semi-rural environment and forage enough to eat for the day in the matter of a few hours, and it's not going to be grubworms and pine needle tea. Oh no, even right now there's still Oregon grape on the vines, there's acres and acres of mussels and clams out there, there's seaweed, there's cattails, there's dandelions still on bloom and green. In a five minute walk down to the beach, I could theoretically pick and gather a salad and some wild herbs, have a fire started on the beach in another 5 and have a whole beard of mussels steaming in maybe another 10 minutes.

And this theoretical foraging walk could be happening within a few blocks walk to art galleries and shops.

Obviously we don't do this on a regular basis, because we like to look at our nature more than we like eating it and, yeah, toxic shellfish are a thing. But people definitely do this, and will go on foraging picnics, permits and all.

My point is is that knowing this is still there is really profoundly relaxing and civilizing, and it pervades the local culture with a sense of peace and calm that I've never experienced anywhere else, and I'm glad for it.

Like, another example I can give you is that visiting my local foodbank. Usually food banks are depressing, even desperate places, but my local foodbank is more a celebration of gleaning and reducing food waste in the community.

So, right now I'm munching on dehydrated/dried pear slices that came from someone's orchard and were processed in the food bank on their own driers. So not only are they gleaning groundfall and bumper crops and distributing them, but they're even able to save and stockpile produce off season. This is just fucking amazing to me that this is a thing around here, and that everyone is so in to it and not against it.

And then if I need to see the big city, Seattle is right there. I can actually get there and back by transit bus for about $12, including the ferry fare.

(And that was a particularly timely moment for the tsunami alert system's monthly test. Did I mention the tsunamis and earthquakes?)

Ok, the good? Good economy, no great economy. WA state is eating everyone's lunches over here in our backwards socialist ghetto. Land exists, in theory. As do small houses and gardens. And rural living in WA state is not at all like Appalachia, but we have some examples of that kind of poverty, too. Lots and lots of sea. The air is so clean that simply breathing is delicious and can even be looked forward to like a fine meal. Lots of books, lots of good progressive politics. Lots of art, from folk to very modern. Lots and lots of people into photography.

The bad: It's wet and cold 90% of the year. There's a reason why I have more hats, jackets and scarves than I know what to do with at this point. The sky can be socked in and overcast for actual months sometimes. It rarely rains very hard, and we like to invent new words for water in the air like "mizzle" that's somewhere between a mist and a drizzle.

Earthquakes are a thing, as are volcanoes. And lahars, and pyroclastic flows. And the threat of tsunami. When you live in Puget Sound or the PNW you're basically making a deal with nature that everything here is temporary and it'll either end up washed into the sea or buried in the ashes and mud of a volcano.

((Damnit, I'm going to have to cut this short and run. I just found out my dad had a another goddamn heart attack over christmas. I knew something was up.))
posted by loquacious at 12:32 PM on January 1, 2018 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Buffalo or Grand Rapids. Cleveland is probably too big. The East Coast is probably too expensive.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:40 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: Check out New Haven, Connecticut and surrounding area. It's an old industrial town and it's got a big university, so there might be some job opportunities that would suit you. It's on Long Island Sound, so no big ocean waves, but you get the salt smell and the beach and the long horizon.

I think it's similar to Baltimore in some ways, but it's a lot smaller: 130,000 people instead of 620,000. Because of this, I think Yale plays a bigger role in the city as a whole than Johns Hopkins does in Baltimore. Because of Yale there's a lot of interesting cultural stuff going on there (especially for a city of that size), and it's also pretty easy to go into New York City for the day.

It's true that there are some rough neighbors and I know New Haven's reputation freaks some people out, but it means that the housing prices in the city limits are a lot cheaper than even the surrounding suburbs. If you move, I would spend a year renting an apartment there though before buying, just to get the lay of the land. And take a look at the surrounding suburbs: Hamden, Milford, Orange, West Haven, East Haven, North Haven, and North Branford. Some of them are more rural than the city, some are more suburban. (Housing prices in Milford and West Haven are probably going to be cheapest among those suburbs).
posted by colfax at 1:04 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: :O

I very rarely encourage people to move where I am from, northeast Ohio, but everything you've written screams Cleveland to me. More specifically, the coastal suburbs to the east of the city. It's the epicenter of "Industrial Working Class Funk" in America, imho. The only reason I haven't moved back there and bought a house is that I hate cold and snow with a passion.

Feel free to PM me for neighborhood suggestions if you plan on visiting. :)
posted by ethical_caligula at 1:10 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: I lived in Chicago for four years, two of them within walking distance of Lake Michigan and would say it does not feel much like living near the ocean. It’s better than nothing but the beaches are small and 8 months of the year there’s not much reason to go near it.

Having only visited Portland ME I’m still +1ing it as somewhere I daydream about a little.
posted by Smearcase at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Duluth, Minnesota is worth a visit. It has a long shoreline and lots of people in the water when it is warm enough. It does get seriously cold there and ice is an issue because the city is hilly.
posted by soelo at 2:54 PM on January 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I can't help much with recommendations for specific places, but I can speak to Lake Michigan vs the ocean (at least the Atlantic coast; I've never been to the Pacific). I think they're pretty different and I think you should check out the Great Lakes in person before making any decisions. Like Smearcase I lived in Chicago and routinely walked to the beach. (My first apartment was literally half a block to the little mini-beach at the end of our street, and it was rarely crowded.) That hints at what's great about the lakes: they tend to be much more accessible than the ocean (at least on the east coast). Nearby housing doesn't get bid up to crazy prices the way housing near the ocean does. A lot more of the lakefront is public space instead of being all bought up by rich people the way it is on the East Coast (at least around major population centers).

The downside is, to me, it doesn't really feel the same. The waves are much smaller—you're not going to see big breakers crashing on the beach except during a serious storm. There are days when the lake is pool-table flat. The salt smell isn't there. And the flip side of the lakefront being more accessible than the ocean is that the surrounding towns are less oriented toward the lake than most coastal towns are toward the ocean, so there's not that "seaside" vibe. Commercial fishing isn't really a big presence, there's not a ton of people surfing or diving or doing other ocean-y things and not a ton of lake-centric tourist industries, and in general the lake is seen is more of an amenity like a park than as an economic driver.

Also, I suspect that coming from Asheville, you'd find the arts and cultural scenes of most of the midwestern cities along the Great Lakes disappointing.
posted by enn at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To me, cities in northern Michigan feel a lot more like you’re on the lake than someplace like Chicago. It’s a stunningly beautiful area, but I can’t speak to your other concerns.
posted by FencingGal at 4:22 PM on January 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree wholeheartedly with FencingGal. The lake in a big city like Chicago is different than in a smaller town. Think about the ocean: NYC is right on the coast, but the beach isn't part of the culture in midtown Manhattan. But if you go a few miles east on Long Island, or south in New Jersey, you get a lot more of the ocean feel. Same thing with the Great Lakes. Once you're outside the city, the lake has a much greater presence.

The economy outside Chicago is also more lake-oriented than enn is giving it credit for. Even in a small city like Toledo, the port is a major thing. There are a fair amount of lakeside seafood shacks and ice cream stands all around the Great Lakes (e.g. Old Man River in Buffalo, which technically overlooks the Niagara River but tomato tomato).

I also think the arts scene is better than you'd expect. It'll depend on the city, of course, but Buffalo is pretty surprisingly artsy (to the point where the New York Times has run stories on New Yorkers moving to Buffalo), and Grand Rapids is pretty well known for its arts scene. They're not 1920s Montparnasse, but Asheville isn't, either. That's not what's going to disqualify Great Lakes towns for you.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:17 PM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Buffalo? One winter factor to consider. Google "buffalo 'lake effect' snow".
posted by Homer42 at 5:40 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: The Oregon Coast is great, but every town I know of is pretty darn dependent on the tourist economy.
posted by matildaben at 7:10 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: I spent a summer in Crescent City CA a few years ago and, in a lot of ways, I liked it. It's really small, though (7300 pop.) so no matter what, jobs are going to be scarce and many may be seasonal (mine was) because of the reliance on tourist economy. Here's a chart I found: Crescent City vs Asheville. I think I'd move up the coast toward Portland, but like matildaben says, tourist towns. Good luck.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:43 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: The Rhode Island coast is a definite sleeper and would be good to
Explore. The one thing is that the more arty side of culture is less condensed - but you’re never far from providence and many other major cities with interesting activity going on.
posted by Miko at 9:02 PM on January 1, 2018

Best answer: Aberdeen, Washington. Your housing budget will stretch far. You’re 20 mins from the Pacific. It’s never too hot or too cold. Not too far from bigger cities but cheap cost of living, and more nearby natural beauty than you’d imagine. The Olympics. The Hoh and Lake Quinault. Ruby Beach. Seabrook. Former logging town, very working class. Underrated.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:20 PM on January 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Depending on what you like about the coast I'd check towns on Lake Michigan. I've only visited Muskegon MI (near Grand Rapids) but it has a beach with actual sand dunes which visually seems a lot like the Atlantic coast in ways other parts of the Great Lakes I've been to do not.

Buffalo has less of a coast feeling, although the waterfront is undergoing a pleasant revitalization with a nice boardwalk area. The city is steeped in post-industrial charm.
posted by AV at 3:19 AM on January 2, 2018

Best answer: To me, cities in northern Michigan feel a lot more like you’re on the lake than someplace like Chicago.

This is very true. If I ever wanted to retire to a coast, northern Michigan would be my first choice, weighing aesthetics against affordability (i.e., everywhere you'd want to live on the actual water on the East Coast requires a trust fund to buy), and it would be a satisfactory choice.

The waves are much smaller—you're not going to see big breakers crashing on the beach except during a serious storm.

Lake Superior gets some pretty darned big waves.

Most of northern Michigan is pretty conservative, though. Also, your house budget doesn't sound insane to me, but the economy can be kind of rough.
posted by praemunire at 8:41 AM on January 2, 2018

Best answer: i think you would like the southern Maine coat. If you are outside Portland you can swing a house for under $180,000. There aren’t many (any?) places with close to 50,000 people, though. You might like Brunswick and Bath which are north of Portland. You definitely won’t be the only liberal person. I have never lived outside of New England but people who are from away and have landed here seem to like it.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:27 AM on January 2, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers! Y'all are the best, most informative group of people - Maine, Alaska and Michigan were on my radar, but I hadn't really thought about upstate New York or Rhode Island or Ohio and now I am definitely going to check them out. Especially Ohio, heh, some years back I asked an anonymous question about moving, without saying where I was, and half the answers told me to move to Asheville while the other half recommended Ohio.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:12 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Keansburg, NJ
posted by WeekendJen at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2018

If you don't like the hill in Duluth, Superior Wisconsin is just across the bay. Don't know about jobs, but your should easily find houses in your price range and below in both towns.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:45 PM on January 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing to know about places that get colder is that the further north you go, the darker it gets in the winter. If you're considering the pacific northwest, take note that, for example, Portland area is at the same latitude as Montreal. There are less than nine hours of daily daylight in Portland right now. There are places that get cold and that meet your criteria at more southern latitudes, so if dark winters are something you need to keep in mind, keep that in mind.
posted by aniola at 2:41 PM on January 7, 2018

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