Shopping the US for a place to live
March 9, 2022 11:02 AM   Subscribe

We are thinking about taking on a 12-18-month project to figure out where we want to/can settle down.

We're about to be pretty much unfettered and able to work anywhere in the US as long as we have good internet. We love Southern California and don't want to leave, and may at the end of this project come back because we've figured out a way to make it work, but in the meantime we want to give serious consideration to other more affordable, less environmentally and climactically strained, but still only moderately politically egregious places.

We plan to rent short-term in each eligible location for roughly a month. (Doing this in markets we could possibly afford to live in will be substantially cheaper than our current rent.) This will probably start about a year from now, but there might be a scenario where we do a Southwest loop this fall. This is two remote-working middle-aged adults, no kids or pets.

Parameters that have some flexibility:
- Mild weather. Brutally hot weather is a no-go, but I am willing to compromise on colder winters with some (but ideally not season-long) snow but I'd still like a decent growing season if possible.
- - but would compromise on growing season too if it's feasible to buy a home on a couple acres where I could have greenhouses/high tunnels to lengthen a shorter season.

- Average housing prices under $500K. Ideally well under.

- Housing stock that tends to come with or is amenable to an ADU or ground-floor suite for my mother. Duplexes could also fit the bill.

- General nice amenities and entertainments for middle-aged people somewhere nearby. We're okay living a bit outside an urban area and driving in if that would get us the space. We will need decent access to all the shit aging people need, medically.

- Lots of interesting camping and nature as close as possible would be nice.

The much less flexible parameter:
I know everywhere sucks some, see: California, but some places suck too much. I'm aware of how affordable the hate states are. I'm not moving to MO or ID or any of the hot horrible states that are currently aggressively pursuing hate legislation and laws that prevent people from leaving the state for some purpose.

If I thought we could move somewhere that is experiencing some kind of liberal boom in which our presence would maybe help, I'll consider it. We've had a couple people make interesting arguments about places like Lexington KY, Cincinnati or NE Ohio, Milwaukee or Minneapolis, Chattanooga, but I don't want to end up being stuck in a place where my property taxes are going directly to torturing my actual neighbors' queer kids to death and the likelihood of stopping or reversing that is slim to none, so I'd like to hear more about places that might be workable thanks to local politics. This is the hardest part of this whole decision. We could live in Texas for effectively free for the rest of our lives right now if we wanted, but it's too hot and also too vile and the infrastructure's fucked.

Since we are lovers of mild weather, we are going to try to chain these stays together so we're chasing 75 degrees, but will make note of any "best time to visit" recommendations and work with those when we can. We want to get out and have fun in each of these places, whatever's on offer.
posted by Lyn Never to Travel & Transportation around United States (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Upstate NY may be too cold for you, but it has liberal state politics thanks to NYC and the cities and college towns are liberal as well even though upstate rural areas are red. There is a bill coming through that is likely to prevent municipalities from outlawing ADUs, but there are lots of two-family homes in cities in any case.
posted by metasarah at 11:24 AM on March 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've been in Bellingham for two years and am pretty enamored of it, especially the summers giving 6 months of perfect weather to balance out the rainy winters, but housing costs have skyrocketed for most of Whatcom County in that time. There are a lot of plausible towns along I-5 north of Seattle, but local politics suckage and distance to amenities go up as housing costs go down. Still, local politics are somewhat offset by the usually-pretty-reasonable state government. (WA is fussy about ADUs, but hopefully getting less so.)

Most of the I-5 corridor in Oregon and Washington seems reasonable for you, though I may be biased by reading "mild weather" first. I'm avoiding East Coast because I lived most of my life in either Alabama (brutally humid summers) and Philadelphia (almost just as brutal summers, but add annoyingly cold/snowy winters).
posted by supercres at 11:24 AM on March 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have similar preferences, though as I thought about climate change and heat/wildfires, it unfortunately ruled out most of the mild weather places for me. If you're willing to deal with cold and snow, I would consider Portland, Maine, Brattleboro, VT (very easy to build an ADU), and Ithaca NY.
posted by pinochiette at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2022

Maybe Pittsburgh?
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:11 PM on March 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

You might like the Ann Arbor, MI area if the weather is acceptable for you. You could easily find somewhere well under $500k with a suite for your mother and plenty of room for greenhouses if you’re willing to be about a 20-30 minute drive from the downtown / university area. Great restaurants for a city of its size, though of course not at all comparable to SoCal. The University of Michigan hospital and medical center is one of the best in the country.

Michigan is a politically mixed state at the moment; Democratic governor, Republican state legislature, two Dem senators. The Ann Arbor area is very liberal.

If you want the best possible experience, visit in the early fall. If you want to make sure that you can tolerate the weather, visit in Jan/Feb for the coldest weather or July for heat and humidity.
posted by maleficent at 12:19 PM on March 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

^ regarding Ann Arbor and Michigan in general re: summer humidity, ours is NOTHING like the humidity of the Eastern Seaboard. At most, our summers can be a little sticky, at most. All things are relative!
Housing costs-wise, you can’t beat Grand Rapids. Less expensive than Ann Arbor, 45 minutes to a slew of Lake Michigan beaches, and the Eastown, East HIlls, and Heritage Hill neighborhoods of Grand Rapids are political havens for us. The city in general is much less tight-assed than it used to be, thanks to the old guard dying off and new people moving in from all over, bringing their more liberal mojo with them. Maleficent is right about Mich being politically mixed at the moment. Come bring your blue vote with you!
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2022 [7 favorites]

You could look at Hilo side of Hawaii island. You'd be priced out of the resort areas, but less so over there. If you get at a little higher elevation, the temps aren't bad. Hilo Medical Center is fine, and many people go to Oahu for more involved medical care and bigger cultural events.

It's less of a city-city, but it's the bluest state, and people care about environmental stuff (although in weirdly spotty ways)
posted by DebetEsse at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Can confirm that Grand Rapids is tilting in your preferred direction, and can only be helped by more likeminded folks moving there. The winters are snowy but it's a municipality that is well-prepared for such. If you are willing to live slightly outside town (like...literally ten minutes), in a community like Belmont you can easily get yourself enough property to do some greenhousing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:27 PM on March 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Twin Cities and Milwaukee are deep blue cities in historically progressive states. Minnesota has the longest Democrat-for-president voting streak of any state, and Wisconsin voters returned Tammy Baldwin to the Senate and chose Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes to be governor and lieutenant governor over the last two election cycles. Both states have empurpled in recent years but are far from hopeless cases. If you can't stomach the politics in MN or WI, you should probably be looking for a new country.

However, winters in Milwaukee are very cold, and in the Twin Cities they are fiercely cold. I'll take that over brutal heat every time, but don't kid yourself -- these are not mild climates.

Maybe check out Denver or Albuquerque? Altitude protects them from temperature extremes.
posted by Scarf Joint at 1:31 PM on March 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

I actually came here to recommend grand rapids/Kalamazoo area. Major pros are amenities and low cost of living. Grand rapids is pretty religious but probably split down the middle politics wise. Minneapolis is also lovely, more amenities, much further blue, but more expensive.

Austin should probably be on your list, it's in an exciting growth period.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:35 PM on March 9, 2022

The Cleveland area is fairly cheap housing wise, and plenty of culture. The winters and roads are sadly a drawback. You could get a very nice house for 500K in most nice suburbs, where you'd have a larger yard/room for inlaw suite. You do have to check the zoning laws on that though, some places are nicer about those than others. There's three large hospital systems as well, which will help with your mom. Local politics here can also be quite annoying or entertaining depending on whose side your are on.
posted by greatalleycat at 1:59 PM on March 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm not a fan of Missouri politics, but I am a fan of St. Louis, so the "metro east" area in Illinois might suit, and St. Louis can be a quick and easy drive. Edwardsville, Illinois, perhaps.
posted by Occula at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'll second Cleveland. World class hospitals. World class orchestra. Case Western and other good universities. Fiercely loyal sports fans..... ATM, politics are OKish. Probably going to want to look in the outer ring suburbs.
posted by kathrynm at 3:24 PM on March 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

It is in the teens and twenties at night in Cleveland this week, and thirties in the day.
posted by Oyéah at 4:00 PM on March 9, 2022

I am also searching for similar. Something I've run into is that the internet availability may not be quite what you want once you get to somewhere where a couple of acres is inexpensive enough.

I'm just looking at going further North or West in New Jersey and even here seems to have a steep falloff in available internet speeds.
posted by miscbuff at 4:40 PM on March 9, 2022

I submit for your consideration: Albuquerque. Mellow lifestyle. Blue state. Affordable. Four seasons, pretty mild weather, if you can handle the wind in springtime. It has a definite cultural vibe all its own. People either love it or hate it. So it is a good place to come try out. But come on down for a month! We'd love to have you!
posted by furtheryet at 7:12 PM on March 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

I will second Albuquerque.
* Mild weather, but summers are hot.
* Moderate cost of living.
* Great for nature lovers.
* Great craft beer scene.

But to give you a balanced view, you should also know:
* We have fairly high crime and homelessness.
* New Mexico doesn't have as many medical providers as we should, although the situation is somewhat better in ABQ.
posted by NotLost at 8:31 PM on March 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is something I have been researching for 5 years, with pretty much the same parameters. The answer is Pittsburgh.

Albuquerque is a good option in some ways, but keep in mind that you get no basement or attic with your house, and ABQ is polarizing - people tend to either either love it or hate it, because it definitely has a unique culture. And health care in the state sucks. Or as my daughter puts it, “New Mexico healthcare has killed my grandmother, my grandfather, and my dad.” And she’s right.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:46 AM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your excellent input so far! As an expanded data point, dry cold is something we can do and even enjoy, but full-season snow is a harder sell as my 75yo mother has lived in Texas for most of her life and would have trouble learning to move safely in that environment. I know we can hire snow remediation, which is a thing I'm keeping in my back pocket, but I still think it might scare her into thinking she just can't go out all winter.

But my husband has basically reverse SAD and only barely makes it through Los Angeles summer because it cools off almost every night during the intermittent heat waves. Any option that gets hot in summers should probably be somewhere in basement country and/or where air conditioning works well enough that I can fully refrigerate him in at least one room. So we will trade off more winter for less summer if necessary.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:28 AM on March 10, 2022

I’m just here to disagree with the Austin suggestion. It’s beyond brutally hot for a large part of the year (and is only going to get worse with climate change — also, it doesn’t cool off at night, so there’s no reprieve). It’s expensive. State politics are TERRIBLE (want your tax dollars going to support some of the most egregious anti-abortion and anti-trans policies in the country? Just a few issues of many). Camping and nature aren’t bad for the parts of the year when the weather is tolerable, but the variety is lacking.

Sorry — I don’t have any suggestions of my own. I’d love to move out of the Austin area and my criteria are about the same as yours, so I’m reading with interest! My top choice would be to move back home to the Willamette Valley, but I have to be honest with myself and admit that climate change (ie wildfires) is probably a dealbreaker.
posted by liet at 10:57 AM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

RE snow: at least where I am, non-rural places that get a lot of snow are generally quite good at making streets drivable. Walkable, not necessarily; my community employs sidewalk plows to good effect but that's not the case everywhere. Businesses generally clear their properties very well for fear of lawsuits. Especially if you get an attached garage, which is not hard to find around here, there are only a few days a year that would be dangerous to drive and to access snow-free businesses.

Climate change has made it so my area, which used to have snow on the ground most of the winter, most years has it less than half the time. That varies dramatically due to elevation, lake effect, etc. so if there are specific places you are considering, you can try looking for that data. I'm not sure if it's officially measured in that way anywhere, but asking on the city's Reddit page may give you answers.
posted by metasarah at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2022

I have to disagree as to the feasibility of Illinois/St Louis metro. It definitely has more weather than you'd want, including incredibly hot and humid summers. Not much snow, but the humidity is going to get you. Otherwise it is very affordable here, and it's great St Louis is close, but it's a pretty conservative area generally. That being said Illinois is very solidly blue and the billboards coming east from Missouri encourage you to visit for an abortion and recreational weed. Lovely state and if you didn't say the weather was a concern I'd definitely say come here -- perhaps even to Edwardsville as Occula suggested, and then we could be neighbors. :)
posted by possibilityleft at 12:10 PM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm a just a little younger than your mother and I recently moved back to Ithaca where my kids and grandkids live after 15 + years in Florida and Georgia. I went away this winter for three months, came back a few days ago for the imminent arrival of grandkid # 6, or I would have stayed in the south for at least another month. When I was younger I didn't worry about shit like slipping on the ice. Now I do and many of my peers here feel the same. It does limit our ability to walk around town! I hate driving in it too. And it's grey for weeks on end. When I get too old to drive myself somewhere warmer for the worst of it my kids will have to take me.

Find a place without either brutally cold winters and super-hot summers. If my whole tribe weren't here I'd probably check out far northern coastal California, Oregon, and Washington.
posted by mareli at 2:23 PM on March 10, 2022

« Older Snorkel gear for first-timer   |   Best source for trivia quizzes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.