crossing the pond
March 17, 2006 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Should I move to LA from Oxford?

I'm living in Oxford in the UK. We have a good life here. Two children, 6 and 3. Older one in a great school with an established circle of friends. Younger one in a great nursery. Lovely town, marred by traffic and tourists, but not greatly. Weather lovely during spring and summer, horrid during autumn and winter. House prices ridiculous. Not London-expensive, but getting close.

My company is looking for someone to establish their presence in LA. They've offered this to me. No pressure whatsoever but I'm the natural choice. If I don't go, no problem, I stay with them here. We already have clients out in LA that I work closely with (and they're pretty nice, too). The company itself is great.

So: what could I seriously expect from moving to LA? I know - one huge question (I know what the traffic situation is like out there already!).
I'm thinking about:
where could we live?
what are schools like?
where are good neighbourhoods?
what's the cost of living and quality of life?
what's commuting like?
... and so on. Just your average general questions about completely uprooting your life and your family and moving a twelve hour flight away. I'm sure saying "LA" isn't very helpful given its vast urban sprawl, so narrow it down if you want. There are nice places to live there, aren't there?

It's a great opportunity and I would be rewarded for it. I like visiting the US. I just don't know what it would be like (i) living there; and (ii) living in or around LA.
posted by humuhumu to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How much flexibility do you have? Particularly, is the location of an 'office' already established and you have to fit around it, or is it up to you where you work?
posted by grahamwell at 7:33 AM on March 17, 2006

There are beautiful places and horrible places in and around LA. You need to decide how much you can afford to pay for a place, and then start investigating neighborhoods.

So how about giving a rough figure on how much in US dollars you might be bringing in each year? Also, where would work be, and how long are you willing to drive each morning to get there? Then the locals can tell you where you can afford to live and what it would be like.
posted by pracowity at 7:46 AM on March 17, 2006

Do both of you drive? Would you two be able to transport your kids around to school/activities until they turn 16 (and can drive themselves)? My biggest qualm with places in America is the (almost) complete lack and poor quality of public transport.

I could be wrong about this, but from everything I have heard and experienced a car is not a luxury: it's a necessity.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:59 AM on March 17, 2006

The only good thing in this change of location is the change in least as regards LA itself. However, if you can move down to Orange County (both office and home), then you have a chance.

This is likely an over statement of how bad LA is. There are pockets of nice around (the foothills [La Canada] above Glendale, to name one). My distaste for LA colours my opinion. But the change is drastic, be certain.
posted by Goofyy at 8:03 AM on March 17, 2006

Stay in Oxford if you want comparatively plentiful holidays, a place where you can often walk to where you want to go, the ability to be somewhere very different after a couple of hours flight in any direction, stability of education for your children, a society not quite so interested in outward appearances and money, friends who are not 6,000 miles away - or punting.

Go to LA if you want an adventure. It sounds like you know enough about the US and California to appreciate the many good points. I think I might go in your position. Very few people get the opportunity to both move and have an interesting job awaiting for them.
posted by rongorongo at 8:03 AM on March 17, 2006

"Should I move to LA from Oxford?" No. This thoughtful and detailed analysis is brought to you courtesy of some one who has traveled extensively in the UK and US. I do considerable consulting in the UK and I am convinced that for the average middle class professional the quality of life in the UK, given comparably sized communities/cities, is significantly better than in the US. Greater general civility, more vibrant neighborhood, more user friendly residential communities, a greater sense of "commonwealth", better public/private scools (yes that is confusing), more sensitive use of land. Downside of England after living in the US--after a while I start to feel "cramped" and when one must drive I would rather drive in the US unless I am in the countryside. If you do move to the Sates it will be a wonderful adventure. Living in the US can be exhilirating, an immersion in contrasts and there still is a lot of space--and big appliances and closets.

If you move to LA let me know and we might be interested in renting/sitting your house. I am in the process of retiring and hope to move to the UK for 6 months to two years sometime late summer early fall. Good luck with your decision.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:35 AM on March 17, 2006

Yay! A question I can answer.

I live on the Westside of Los Angeles. Which is good, because if you move to L.A. you will likely live on the westside as well. It's a little hard to answer your questions without more information because Los Angeles is a big, big place. Do you know where your office would be? If you do, I could give you more specific information. For now I'll speak generally. As to your questions, in order.

1) "Where could we live?". This depends heavily on how much money you have. If you are fairly affluent you would likely live in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, the more upscale bits of Culver City, Brentwood, Westwood or the better parts of (ugh) The Valley. That's the San Fernando Valley. People from Los Angeles Basin tend to look down on The Valley, but for a family it is definitely viable.

2) "What are schools like?" Many public schools (note: Public schools mean the exact opposite in England as they do in the USA. Public schools here are the free ones that everyone can go to. Los Angeles schools range from nightmares because of poverty and illegal immigration to good. If you are affluent and live in a good neighborhood, your kids can likely attend a good public school. There are also many excellent private (for English equivalent read "public") schools to choose from, both religious and secular.

3) "Where are good neighborhoods?" There are good neighborhoods scattered all over the city. But, in general, when talking about Los Angeles Basin the further west towards the ocean and further north towards the hills you go, the better. There are excellent neighborhoods in Santa Monica, Westwood, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Miracle Mile, West Hollywood, and more. I am not as familiar with the San Fernando Valley. The Valley is much more suburban. I do not know if that is a plus or a minus for you. It would probably mean a small yard and a bigger home but, if your office is in LA proper, the commute could be very long.

The choice of neighborhood would depend on factors like where your office is, what schools you are sending your kids to, whether you prefer a more residential setting or a place within walking distance of nice cafes, cool shops, nightclubs, and such. Whether you like suburbia affects your choice greatly since it determines whether you would live in the Valley or not If you have a preference I can be more specific.

4) "What is the cost of living and quality of life?" Your quality of life in Los Angeles can range from among the best in the world for rich people to living next door to a crackhouse for the poorest. I'm assuming you would fall closer to the affluent end of that scale. It's quite possible to have a very good quality of life without a lot of money here in Los Angeles, but the fact that you have kids makes that more difficult because schools, etc, limit your choices as to neighborhoods.

Cost of Living is high. Lower in the Valley than in the basin but still fairly high. I have no idea how it compares to Oxford, though. You definitely need a car, probably two. Renting in a really good neighborhood in the basin for a family (3ish bedrooms) would probably be near $4000 a month. You can knock a grand off that in the valley. The prices can be lower if you are willing to live in less pretty neighborhoods and such.

If you are considering buying rather than renting... well... the price of a nice 1800 square foot home in the basin is maybe 1.4 million dollars. That is to give you an idea... the price in the Valley varies wildy depending on locale.

5) "what's commuting like?" Commuting is Bad. But it will depend largely on where you live compared to where you work. When I worked in Santa Monica and lived in a decent part of Culver City, the commute was probably 10 minutes during off hours and 50 minutes at peak hours. If you live in the Valley and work on the westside of the basin, your commute will be bad. Depending on where you are travelling it could be 45 minutes. It could be 2 hours. That's during rush hour.

I'm assuming you are driving because you almost certainly will be. Make friends with your car, you'll be needing it.

I know I haven't been very specific, but as you correctly guessed in your question, Los Angeles is so sprawling that the information for one area would not apply and without more info I don't have much chance of correctly guessing where you would live!
posted by Justinian at 8:35 AM on March 17, 2006

Oh yeah, the weather. The weather here is what most people would consider excellent. Average highs on the westside are in the high 60s during winter, low to mid 70s in spring and fall, and 80ish in high summer. It is sunny almost every day, with some rain in the winter months. But nothing like you are used to.

It can get dreadfully hot in the Valley. We're talking 100+. Air conditioning is a must.
posted by Justinian at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2006

In Oxford, New College dates from the 14th century. In LA, the Historic Core dates from the 19th century. The shinynewness of LA will hit you really hard if you enjoy living in a city with as layered a history as Oxford.

One good thing about LA is that there's a decent expat community. That can work against you, because it reinforces the things that you've left behind rather than the things you've moved for, but it's better than being the only gay in the village, so to speak.
posted by holgate at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2006

The LA cost of living is high by US standards, but not London high, so you might find it congenial.

It seems to me you're going to locate close to your clients. Long LA commutes are a nightmare and you ought not accept one. Every business district has plenty of safe and attractive places to live quite nearby -- don't take a transfer unless you're provided enough salary to live near the office.

The vast majority of the LA area is perfectly safe, as metro regions go -- there are two large swaths of poverty and crime, and isolated spots elsewhere, but they're easy to avoid. A variety of political and economic reasons limits good public (government) schools to a much narrower range -- lots of good neighborhoods have unacceptable public schools. (If the advertisement says that the schools corresponding to a home are "LAUSD" you can safely assume that the school is very crowded and underfunded, and there's a chance that the school is beset by a range of much worse problems.)

The real estate price premium of the neighborhoods with good schools is so severe that many people think they're better off living in a cheaper LAUSD neighborhood and paying tuition for a private school.
posted by MattD at 8:48 AM on March 17, 2006

Let me add to that: I think going from Oxford to LA will be a real jar on you, and possibly too much to handle at once. Going from Oxford to Boston? Very doable. Seattle? Doable. San Francisco? Manageable if you can afford somewhere to live. But sprawling cities such as LA, Houston or Atlanta represent a much bigger leap in terms of lifestyle. Having to consider your family makes a big difference as well in terms of the sacrifices you'd be prepared to tolerate.
posted by holgate at 8:51 AM on March 17, 2006

MattD has a good point; You probably actually save money by living in cheaper real estate and paying for private schools. That is a popular option.
posted by Justinian at 9:09 AM on March 17, 2006

As an expat myself, the best advice I can give is to leave yourself an out. Try to confirm with your employer that the plan is for you to go for x number of years and after that time, the choice is yours to either return to the UK or stay in LA. This makes it easier to look at it as an adventure rather than something permanent.

I like living in the UK but do miss the US and it's harder to pack up the family and move back if you don't a job waiting.
posted by gfrobe at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2006

Take every difficulty everyone says here about living and working in L.A. and magnify it by 1000.

Everything is more difficult here.

Make friends with your car, you'll be needing it.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Los Angeles is so sprawling that the information for one area would not apply

This is also 100 percent true. The point here is that you must research, research, research and then research some more. If someone tells you its great because they live and work in Santa Monica, it's probably is great. For them. But if you live even just a few miles away, the 10-minute commute turns into a 45-minute daily snarl. If you're not in their narrow demographic, your experience -- on every level -- will vary widely.
posted by frogan at 9:39 AM on March 17, 2006

You folks are amazing... really thoughtful answers. You've given us a lot to think about.

No fixed office location yet. If this were to happen, I'm guessing I could impose my own feelings on it. The clients we have are pretty scattered around the city as it is.
posted by humuhumu at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2006

Schools will determine a lot, and LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) bureaucracy is often hard to hurdle. If your children are VERY bright or VERY dumb LAUSD has really wonderful programs and schools, perhaps the best in the country (comes from having a huge pool to select from). If your kids are closer to the average (who has kids like that???) then use private schools. Some have cooperative vanpool arrangements from the west side, even into the Valley, where many of the very best private schools are located.
Good private schools in the Valley are in Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood. On the Westside in Santa Monica, Venice and Brentwood. There are more, but that should give you an idea of areas to look at on real estate sites. A Google search for "MLS Los Angeles" (MLS is Multiple Listing Service, used by estate agents) brings up real estate sites that allow you to search for homes by neighborhood and price.
Westiside generally means over a million$, Valley means just under a million$ for a 3-4 bdrm house on a nice street. Condos may be a much cheaper idea if you aren't planning to stay forever. They are usually avail as 2-3 (or smaller) bdrms.
Renting is probably cheaper than buying, but I think $4k/month may be a bit low for a house. You can do better on a condo while you get your bearings. I understand Westside Rentals is a good source for rental info (not just for the Westside).
PS, "Westside" generally means anything west of downtown (well, maybe west of Koreatown) and north of the airport (maybe a bit south too along the coast). "Valley" means anything north of the hills which run just below the Ventura freeway (strip of freeway designated 101, 134 and 210 running East West)
posted by johngumbo at 10:35 AM on March 17, 2006

Lots of offices in Santa Monica and Century City. If you have offices in SM, many options open. It would probably be a long commute from the valley, though.

I think the first big decision you would have to make is whether you want to live/work in the San Fernando Vallye or in the LA basin. Lots of things fall out from there.
posted by Justinian at 10:41 AM on March 17, 2006

Don't try to commute from the Valley to Century City or Santa Monica. You'll destroy any sense of pleasure you might derive from the city (this is why I no longer live in the Valley).
posted by johngumbo at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2006

The Pasadena area also has nice neighborhoods that are well-suited for families with children. Not the best public schools there but several good private ones. Commutes between Pasadena and either the SF Valley or downtown are also comparatively good (although by no means ideal!).

If you are on the west side, it generally takes a while to get anywhere during 7-10 AM and 4-7 PM.

You could also consider the Thousand Oaks area, if being a bit outside of LA were ok.
posted by shoos at 12:34 PM on March 17, 2006

Don't forget culture shock. I'm Canadian and live in the U.S. You'd think there wouldn't be that many cultural differences but there is. It 's the little things that get you. Americans will where their outdoor shoes in your house. People think I'm crazy when I take my shoes off at the door before entering.

Then there's the religion thing. I'm not sure how accurate it is but I read 53% of Americans consider religion to be very important in their lives. This compares with 16% in Britain, 14% in France and 13% in Germany. Not to say religion is a bad thing but if you're not used to overt religiosity it can make for some uncomfortable moments. However, I'm presuming that California may be mellower than other areas of the U.S.
posted by TorontoSandy at 12:44 PM on March 17, 2006

My heart sank when I read your description of Oxford. It sounds like an ideal place to stay, and I wouldn't advise leaving it for Los Angeles.

Are your children girls?

I was born and raised in L.A. It’s a very difficult place to grow up female because one develops various ideas of how one is supposed to look, dress, etc.

Fortunately, I developed a strength from that, and now just don't give a damn what people think. But if you make it past that, you have to deal with all the people who come out here to be actors, screenwriters and directors – people who ultimately fail 99% of the time. Then they just stick around putting the city down. Meanwhile, they have a home to go back to, but you have nowhere to go to escape them. (I realize this is true of most big cities, but I think it's especially true of Los Angeles.)

It’s also not a very literary city, unless you want to be a true crime novelist or gossip columnist.

Also, be prepared for the fact that, though the weather is great, there is very little history (buildings usually get torn down before they have the chance to become historic), and most of the architecture is downright ugly.

Also, you mentioned the traffic. It takes me 70 minutes to drive the 14 miles from work to home.

Needless to say, I'm in the process of trying to move to the UK.
posted by Lillitatiana at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2006

I'm not sure how accurate it is but I read 53% of Americans consider religion to be very important in their lives. ... However, I'm presuming that California may be mellower than other areas of the U.S.

Uhhh, yeah. L.A. is mellow. So "mellow" in fact, that the culture shock won't be of the religious type, trust me. There will be huge, massive culture shocks twixt Oxford and L.A., but religion won't be one of them.
posted by frogan at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2006

Should you move from Oxford to Los Angeles? Yes, of course, if you enjoy adventures and cultural discombobulation.

In two months, I'll be leaving L.A. after a ten year stint (I moved from Melbourne) and here's what I'll miss: constant emotional and aesthetic surprises, fabulous light, the sense of being at the center of something weird and tumultuous, great food, warm and generous people, the feeling of being near borders and backing onto the Pacific, the knowledge that my son will always find a way to belong, the knowledge that I will always belong (being foreign and different is the norm). There's more, but you get my drift. Here's what I won't miss: the westside (purely personal) and the driving. (And remember it's driving and not just commuting.) Driving, and of course professional considerations, were deal breakers when my partner and I were discussing whether to leave. I will not miss two hour stints in the car to drive twenty miles. I will not miss the constant low level fear of death by car. I will not miss the anger that goes with driving. But I have to tell you that it took several years for this to be the case and that at first I was just high on conquering the difficulties.

Your question doesn't have an answer. You should visit and see. Or move with a timeline in place which will allow you to go back if you want to. Good luck with the decision. It's a nice one as decisions go.
posted by firstdrop at 1:28 PM on March 17, 2006

[quote]I was born and raised in L.A. It’s a very difficult place to grow up female because one develops various ideas of how one is supposed to look, dress, etc. [/quote]
Compared to English girls, not so much.

There is a HUGE expat English community in LA, centered around Santa Monica so you might try to contact them. We always joke that there is a speciual visa for UK citizens that allows them to stay 8 years then leave, as that seems to be the average. I don't really know why people leave although friends of mine have cited things like missing family, cheaper university in England for their kids, "can't take the sun anymore" and the transience of LA residents as causes. West LA isn't a place people stay for generations generally so think about that- your kids will growm up and leave, maybe thousands of miles away and your friends and neighbours will likely only be around for a while. It gets unsettling if you're not used to it. On the other hand, the weather is pretty nice!
posted by fshgrl at 10:10 PM on March 17, 2006

Third generation Angeleno here, taking issue with the suggestion that there's not much history in Los Angeles. Yes, there are constant threats to important (or at least beloved) structures, but you could spend a lifetime exploring and not begin to know all the cool, weird old stuff that remains. It may not be landmarked and ceramic plaqued like it is in the UK, but L.A.'s history runs deep and strong all across the basin.

The happiest, most creative and most interesting Angelenos I know do not live on the westside. The westside, although it has some benefits (cooler climate in the summer, the perception of being safer, nicer swaths of homes), is too often a ghetto of scared racists. Did you see that piece of crap Crash? That's how a lot of westsiders think, and it has nothing at all to do with the Los Angeles that real people inhabit.

L.A. is a fascinating city, but it doesn't give up its truths lightly. If you're not prepared to shake off your preconceptions and be engaged in knowing the place and the people, I'm afraid it's a hard place to love.
posted by Scram at 12:39 AM on March 18, 2006

I think most everyone in LA both love it and hate it. I know I do.

Probably the most important thing to know is that currently, our public educations system in LA is in shambles. There are some decent schools in outlying suburbs, but prepare for very high property values and lots of competition as a result. There are a number of good private schools, but they don't come cheap.

And it will certainly be an adventure.
posted by KenFox at 1:45 PM on March 18, 2006

Thanks again all. Yes, Santa Monica would be a lovely place to live and work, but god knows if we could afford it. I already know about the driving, having visited for work on a number of occasions for four or five days each time.

But the weather is great; the Pacific is right there; and the mountains aren't far. I wasn't sure whether to pursue this opportunity; you've made up my mind to give it a large amount of consideration and discussion.
posted by humuhumu at 3:51 AM on March 20, 2006

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