Car-free and affordable?
September 14, 2018 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Are there any downtowns in the U.S. where it's possible to buy a condo for under $150K (or rent for under $1,000), where somebody can live completely car free? It can be a small town or a big city. My main criteria are: walkable for everyday life stuff, like groceries, and a decent place to live.

I'm happily single. I'm a bit of a homebody, but I love living in the heart of a place. I could be happy living on Main Street in a small town or living in downtown Chicago. As long as everything I need is walkable, I'm happy.

For the sake of keeping the numbers simple, let's assume the following: Internet gig that can be done anywhere so long as there's decent broadband (if it'll stream Netflix, for example, it's fast enough). Pay is around $1,000 bi-weekly after taxes & deductions. $100K sitting in a savings account thanks to an investment that recently cashed out. No other assets, but also no debt (not even credit card debt). Credit score in the 820s.

I live in Portland but I'm getting priced out of the market. Rent is skyrocketing, and the price to buy is out of my reach, especially when you consider the additional HOA fees & property taxes. I'm happy here, but I've always had a case of wanderlust. I'm in my 40s now, but I moved many many times when I was younger and always enjoyed it. I feel like this could be a great opportunity to start over somewhere new.

Luckily, I'm in no rush. My lease doesn't expire for 6 months, but my rent will increase a lot when it does. A lot. I could afford it for another year or two, but I'd be eating into the $100K savings instead of investing it or using it to buy a home.

I want to keep the combination of a mortgage, HOA fees and property taxes under $1,000 a month - or, if this is a bad time to buy, I want to keep my rent under $1,000. My #1 priority is that everything is walkable. I don't drive or bike.

What cities & towns should I be researching? Where do I find that info?
posted by Mr Ected to Work & Money (35 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Columbia MO. You can rent a groovy house for much less than 1000/mo, and buy if the idea of living in or near an area called "The Old Shoe Factory District," appeals to you. You get "two university town" public transportation, college town record stores, some good food, etc.

I assume by your mention of Chicago that weather is not a dealbreaker.
posted by rhizome at 11:48 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

I should have mentioned in my post that I'm probably not interested in a house unless it has one heck of a crazy good location. Houses mean neighborhoods with yards that increase the distance between me & everything I want to be closer to. Most folks would love that, but for me it's a negative.

I like living in new highrises, funky lofts, old rowhouses, etc. I don't mind small spaces. I could even do less than 400 sq/ft if the location was worth it, but 600ish sq/ft of open space would be awesome.
posted by Mr Ected at 12:43 AM on September 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you could find this in Minneapolis, assuming the winters don't put you off. This, for example, downtown high rise with a pool and green space, Whole Foods a short walk away.
posted by notquitemaryann at 2:16 AM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Here's one in White Plains, NY.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:00 AM on September 15, 2018

Truly not sure about the ease of living in Jacksonville without a car (although I know that it's done), but here's a studio apartment in a funky old building right in the heart of downtown for only $63k.
posted by saladin at 4:55 AM on September 15, 2018

You might check out Champaign IL. I moved here in part because I like the walkability/bikability and relatively low cost of living.

It’s a ‘micro urban’ setting: unlike many towns and surburbs of its size in the USA, there is a thriving downtown with lots of nice restaurants, bars, bakeries, coffee shops etc. a lot like a big city, just much smaller. At a glance I see many nice condos/townhomes at well over 600ft at well under $150k, but I think you’d have to be willing to bus or bundle up a lot in the winter.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2018

No townhouses/rowhomes in dense urban areas? You could get a dated little rowhome in a walkable part of Philadelphia.
posted by OrangeVelour at 6:46 AM on September 15, 2018

Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida is thriving and meets your criteria. I’m in the area if you want to PM me for specifics.
posted by _Mona_ at 7:19 AM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

In your situation, I'd move to Fayetteville, AR or some other similar cheap college town.
posted by wierdo at 7:45 AM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Will you work from home? There are many places where you can live affordable and walkably, but most of them don't have jobs that pay well.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2018

Pittsburgh has gotten a lot more expensive than it was just 5 years ago but you can still find places there for around $150k (more like $180 probably). Bloomfield and Lawrenceville are eminently walkable neighborhoods with excellent transit to and from downtown. And, if you bike, your reach expands to whole foods instead of a giant eagle and even to the southside if you don't mind some hill climbs on the way home. When I lived there I basically only used the car to go to Ikea and the "Waterfront" (a big mall on the site of a former steel mill on the south side).
posted by dis_integration at 8:23 AM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tossing in Lawrence, KS as another midwestern college town. Proximity to a major airport is going to be an issue if you like or need to travel. Not much of a rail network to be had in the US so you will probably need a car if you want to go beyond your walkable radius.
posted by q*ben at 8:35 AM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

You can use an FHA loan to purchase a multi-family building for two percent down (as long as you are going to live there). So, you could have your own "condo" and also have the other tenants cover the expenses. This way you could get a nicer place in a better walkable area. You can outsource the management, too -- no need to have any landlord duties at all.

For example, here's a lovely home in a walkable area of St. Louis in which the other unit would cover most (if not all) of your mortgage. Just something to consider, too. You can write off more on taxes as well.
posted by Ostara at 9:32 AM on September 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

The local Kroger is soon going to be moved and rebuilt, so you might check out Cincinnati.
posted by 8603 at 11:31 AM on September 15, 2018

Cincinnati is interesting. Where's the local Kroger you're talking about? Downtown?

Pittsburgh is interesting too, especially since I can't help thinking Pittsburgh is going to get expensive over the next decade.

Also, am I crazy for thinking about downtown Cleveland?

I'm surprised there haven't been any mentions of cute little mountain or coastal towns. It's fun to look at a map of the U.S. and see so many places that pique curiosity.
posted by Mr Ected at 11:40 AM on September 15, 2018

You are not crazy for thinking Downtown Cleveland! You’d probably want to rideshare sometimes, but the downtown Heinens should be able to deliver groceries through Instacart. But have you looked at prices? I know they’ve really gone up recently.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:02 PM on September 15, 2018

Also, am I crazy for thinking about downtown Cleveland?

Downtown? Kinda sorta. Mostly because downtown is still not really "walkable" for everyday life stuff (grocery stores are pretty thin on the ground, for example) and lots of downtown areas either go dead dead dead after 5 pm and on weekends or are totally geared for the nightlife/weekend/"sports tourist" crowd - kinda "party" neighborhoods, if you see what I mean (I'm thinking E. 4th and W 6th (the Warehouse District), for example.) Also I'm pretty sure most downtown stuff is over your budget - we've had a condo building/conversion boom here and a lot of them are priced closer to 250-300K. (and up.)

But there are quite a few pockets IN neighborhoods in Cleveland proper or in the inner-ring suburbs that would fit - look in Tremont, Ohio City, Edgewater, Detroit Shoreway, Old Brooklyn (all on the West Side), or Coventry in Cleveland Heights, or parts of Lakewood (the closest West Side suburb.) Maybe parts of Parma or Shaker Heights, too.

We're a pretty sprawling city, so you'll want to do some Google-mapping/satelliteing (is that a word? It is now) to hone in on specific 2-5 block pockets within neighborhoods. And while our public transportation isn't the greatest, it's still pretty cheap and reliable and as long as you're not in a super-hurry or trying to go somewhere very late you can probably mostly get where you would want to go.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2018

Kansas City, MO. I live here. Cheap! Downtown is pretty nice and has lofts and lots of other apartment housing that would be within that budget. There's light rail that runs through the downtown core, as well as rental bikes and (just recently) a plague of rental scooters that would enable you to live without a car if you chose.
posted by killdevil at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Kansas City? Wow, you're not kidding. I'm seeing some amazing lofts there at prices I could easily afford. I may consider this one for sure. It's at least intriguing!
posted by Mr Ected at 12:42 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

The existing Cincinnati downtown Kroger is super tiny and not great. They are moving it about 4 blocks south and 1 block east. It will straddle the northern border of downtown and the southern border of the OTR neighborhood. The new location will be 1 block from a street car stop.
posted by mmascolino at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2018

I’m a big fan of Lawrence, KS, but I want to throw in that it’s about an hour from a major airport by car, and there’s a shuttle. So it’s totally doable in that regard. I used to live a few blocks from downtown. The only reason I felt I needed a car then was that I had two small children to get to doctor’s appointments, piano lessons, etc. it’s a college town, so more liberal than the rest of the state.
posted by FencingGal at 1:17 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I live in downtown Portland, and I'm in a similar position: happily single, middle-aged, debt-free homebody who makes a living online. I moved to Portland for reasons similar to the ones you describe - I don't drive and don't want to own a car, so living in a place with good public transit is important. The only reason I can afford to live here now is that I'm in a family-owned studio condo (550-sq-ft.) purchased in 2008, before housing prices started skyrocketing, so my rent has been stable for 10 years.

I'm no longer happy in Portland, but now I can't afford to live a half-decent life anywhere else in this city, so I'm stuck in this condo until my income increases and/or I find a more affordable place in a location I'd actually want to live in. I'm working on that. It's a really nice condo, and Portland's public transit is excellent (I've lived in many other places in the U.S. with terrible public transit, so I never take it for granted). But I'm done with this city for a long list of reasons, and I wish I could leave.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that I'm hoping and planning to leave the U.S. for good within the next couple of years, assuming I can find a way to pull it off legally. And you mentioned that you're happy in Portland, so...

When I do leave, my family will either rent or sell the condo I'm in. I'm pretty sure that the rent would be in your price range. Admittedly it's a long shot, because there's a lot of uncertainty at this point, and who even knows if my departure will fall within your target time frame. But it sounds like you'd stay in Portland if your rent remained affordable, so it might be worth contacting me via MeMail to exchange more info, at least.
posted by velvet winter at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Albuquerque is a possibility. We are reasonably priced and next to mountains.

You should know that we do have some problems, mainly a high crime rate.
posted by maurreen at 1:37 PM on September 15, 2018

Anybody know about Philly?
posted by Mr Ected at 4:23 PM on September 15, 2018

Philly is a great intersection of "major city" and "fairly affordable"; it will hit all of your walkability parameters for sure. At the upper end of your price range but doable, I think, and more livable as a non-driver + non-biker than a small town where inevitably 1-2 things you want to get to are inconveniently far away.

Price-wise, it's in the upper end of your range but you should have options if you're comfortable in a "working-class" neighborhood. Here's a recent sample of rent prices by neighborhood. Sorry I can't recommend specific areas, I've lived near/around the city for many years of my life but never in the city proper.

FYI, Philly is very much patchworked with safe and not-as-safe neighborhoods right next to each other. I would feel comfortable walking anywhere in daylight, not so much at night. But I walk around the SF Tenderloin alone as a petite woman in the daytime, so YMMV.
posted by serelliya at 4:52 PM on September 15, 2018

Was going to say Philly - and that still gives you the benefits of a pretty big, richly cultured city with a pretty sizeable airport hub.
posted by Miko at 5:40 PM on September 15, 2018

I think I might try again with specific questions now that I've got a better grasp on what I want. The answers here were helpful, so, thank you!

I want a creative-ish space. Man, those lofts in Kansas City look inspiring! Hardwood floors, exposed brick, timber ceilings, not to mention high ceilings! WOW.

What other cities and towns have affordable lofts? ...affordable, meaning, selling for under $150K-ish (I'd like to keep my monthly payments under $1,000 including HOA, taxes, insurance, etc. I can put around $75K down, maybe more).

I could use a separate question just for Philly. Which neighborhoods should I consider, where everything is walkable but safe?

I haven't ruled out downtown Cleveland yet.

I'm starting to wonder if I should wait a year to see if the economy tanks. Then again, we probably won't see another disaster like 2007 even if Trump tanks the economy, mostly because there aren't sub-primes anymore (but I'm just taking a wild guess here).

Options, options, options. Questions, questions, questions.
posted by Mr Ected at 11:44 PM on September 15, 2018

Came to say Philly! I’ve only visited myself but several friends have lived there car free as students and loved it.

Slightly tougher without a car but also thinking Baltimore? Very cheap, very artsy, downtown Mt Vernon area is very walkable.
posted by forkisbetter at 7:16 AM on September 16, 2018

Wondering why you're restricting yourself to the US. Even limiting yourself to predominantly English-speaking cities with minimal work visa issues, you'll have heaps better luck looking elsewhere.
posted by turkeyphant at 9:26 AM on September 16, 2018

I'm definitely limiting myself to the U.S. intentionally. I've lived abroad before, and loved it, but that's not what I'm looking for now.
posted by Mr Ected at 11:00 AM on September 16, 2018

I’m a KC native. It’s a wonderful place. Also wanted to note that depending on where you live you might be able to use google fiber for broadband.
posted by q*ben at 3:06 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to add to this discussion something of a tangent for similar question-askers who are reading this. I know this question is for a city in the US, but I wanted to throw in a pitch for the UK. Most towns were built prior to the advent of car transport, so towns are very walkable, there is generally good public transport. Trains, buses, flights, trams, the London underground...
Online grocery shopping here is A Thing, as the big four supermarkets deliver for a minimal fee. FYI groceries in the UK are cheaper than in the US and better quality too (I refer you to Numbeo if you like to do a comparison). Supply chains are incredibly efficient and get to you great amazing groceries from all over Europe and the world, pre-Brexit obviously (I cannot vouch for anything post-Brexit).

Housing prices remains a problem, but in general, it is still (mostly) affordable to rent and buy, outside London. US$ 150K can buy you a one bedroom flat in most towns.

Also, I read this question and I thought, wow, I'm totally like this. I LOVE living in the heart of the city and I am also a super homebody.

Anyway, this answer is probably not very useful to you, Mr Ected. However, if you want to check out cost of living comparisons, try Numbeo. I have found them to be a great initial guide to compare cost of living between different places.
posted by moiraine at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Don't love on a condo for its hardwood floors, exposed brick, timber ceilings, not to mention high ceilings. Love on it for where it is. It's a cliche in real estate but seriously, if you're buying, location, location, location. I bought a condo when I was 26 that had all of that and a fireplace but I heard gunshots several times, my car got stolen and my upstairs neighbor broke into my storage space and took my bike and all my camping gear.
posted by bendy at 12:18 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's an outdated book, Car-Free in Cleveland that was published in the year 2000. This site suggests a few walk-able neighborhoods in NE Ohio.

I'm not sure what housing prices look like, but the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts has pretty good public transit for its size.
posted by oceano at 6:51 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Buffalo, NY.
posted by RhysPenbras at 11:24 AM on September 19, 2018

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