Another "Where Should I Live?" question...
April 6, 2022 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I actually really like where I live right now (Portland, OR metro area). I do not love the housing prices. Nor do I like wildfires, and as time goes on it seems like this problem is only going to get worse. Are there any places that I should consider that meet my snowflakey requirements?

Right off the bat, the biggest one is going to be personal safety and availability of health care as I am visibly gender non-conforming. Even if it was a matter of dressing for my assigned-at-birth gender that's no longer possible and I'd be super uncomfortable with that anyway. (My offspring may also have their own realizations in the future and I don't want to have to worry about that too much either, from a legislative point of view.)

My other requirements aren't too bad:

- Not Hot. Not (extremely) Humid. We lived in the South before and it was awful. Winters are OK because we'd be staying inside most of the time anyway.

- Must have an active foodie scene and at least one Asian market.

- Fast Internet (I'm a remote worker)

- Hopefully at least one good board game store.

- Relatively OK schools (we can supplement at home)

- Not too badly impacted by the upcoming climate disasters that are going to hit us all.

- Maybe somewhere my blue vote would have value?

- The ability to buy a 3 bedroom home under 350k that isn't a burnt out shell or otherwise structurally unsound/right next to a train track/otherwise less than optimal

I also feel like I'd need to be in an area over 100k people. I quite like being near water. My spouse would like mountains. Really, he'd just like to stay where we are as well, but he understands the financial aspect of needing to potentially move.

We already checked out Salem and Eugene, and were not particularly impressed. (Plus costs weren't much better than Portland.) I've also been doing some research on Michigan based on this recent Ask, in particular Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo/Portage, and the Detroit metro area. I am really into the Promise programs that offer college tuition, but I also remember growing up around the Michigan Militia and I don't imagine they've mellowed out in the past 20 years or so. Anywhere else I should be considering? This isn't immediate - we definitely want to check places out both in summer and winter before starting to seriously consider getting approved for a mortgage, etc. - but helping us make decisions would be super helpful. Thanks!
posted by daikaisho to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not Montana. Any town with 100K people and decent food won't have homes under 450K.
posted by ITravelMontana at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Maybe Ann Arbor? My cousin lives in Ypsi, and one of her kids just started UMich on one of those Ypsi resident scholarships, so they're not entirely chimerical. $350K is low end for 3 beds, but might be doable.

But you're right--it's not as bad as Austin vs. the rest of Texas, but A2 and Detroit are blue dots (albeit sizable ones, enough to elect a D governor and take the state for Biden) in an otherwise fairly red state, considered locality by locality.
posted by praemunire at 10:12 AM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Minneapolis or Chicagoland?
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:37 AM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As a quick update - I realize that 350k is pretty low. I can go above that, but as long as I'm asking, might as well ask for everything, right?
posted by daikaisho at 10:40 AM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Twin Cities, MN gets you everything except mountains and your vote having an impact at the national level.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

Another vote for Minneapolis. When I visited, the neighborhood I was in reminded me a little of Portland.
posted by pinochiette at 11:08 AM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by kevinbelt at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

A resource a friend gave me after I asked my question was this state and county vote tracker from the last election, which we are using to identify the blue counties in mixed-bag states, if that is also helpful to you.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:20 AM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Buffalo. $350k will get you plenty. Go to a suburb for better schools. We have lots of water Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Niagara River, Buffalo River), and great restaurants. I'm in Amherst, which borders Buffalo on the north, and off the top of my head I can think of two Asian markets, and two Indian markets all within a couple miles of me. Numerous middle eastern ones, as well. July and August can definitely get pretty hot and humid, but so can every other US city south of Anchorage. In the winter, snow is dealt with quickly and efficiently.
posted by jonathanhughes at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm from the Portland area and I live in Madison, Wisconsin.

Kinda hot and humid sometimes but nothing like the South and plenty of nice days in the summer.

Really great food for its size, several Asian markets (including some that cater to specific Asian cultures.) Asian restaurant food is not the best here, but there are some exceptions. Local food movement rivals Portland for sure.

Internet can be a little neighborhood-dependent, so check for fiber before you buy.

2 Great board game stores and some more I haven't personally patronized.

Relatively okay schools definitely describes MMSD. We've been happy so far. Big racial achievement gap and much lip service paid to closing it. Close-in suburban districts are richer, whiter and "better" by the standard racist metrics.

Pretty good as climate goes, especially if you don't care that we're gradually losing our ski season.

Statewide elections regularly decided by a few thousand votes. Please move here more than 28 days before the November election.

Housing prices are way up lately, but still a bargain compared to Portland. If you don't mind the close-in suburbs, you can probably get something nice in your price range.

Several nice urban lakes for recreation. Several slightly larger/farther lakes you might have heard of. Lots of rivers/streams to explore in kayaks or canoes. No mountains to speak of, but there are other kinds of natural areas with their own charm that can grow on you.

I'm not GNC, but I've heard people say its pretty good for that. Outside city limits maybe less so.
posted by juliapangolin at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2022 [8 favorites]

Some economists think rental prices are closer to the "true" cost of housing. Are you using house rental prices as a metric?

Looking at the Case-Shiller home price index, in early 2022 it's possible we could be about where we were in late 2005, e.g. due for a ~30% or more correction in home prices in about 3 years.

So another strategy is to Rent where you want to live, save up money, and be ready to buy in the next dip.

Of course there's no guarantee prices will go down, but many signs point that direction, especially if interest rates go up.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also came to suggest looking in to Ann Arbor. I only lived there for three months one summer so take it with a sizeable grain of salt, but I think it would meet or exceed all of your wants besides housing prices (just did a quick zillow search and it looks like at the moment $400,000 is a closer target for a three bedroom SFH, though of course there are many more options if you extend beyond the city limits).

- Personal safety: PrideSource has good things to say about the city that definitely track with my experience.

- Weather: Summer highs are in the low 80s, summer lows in the low 602.

- Foodie scene: check. Several Asian groceries: Tsai Grocery, Hua Xing, Way 1.

- Fast Internet: I don't recall any issues with the internet, and with the University of Michigan right there I'd be surprised if this were hard to come by.

- Hopefully at least one good board game store: Vault of Midnight, enough said. Apparently there is also a place called Fun 4 All and another called Warhammer.

- Relatively OK schools: no personal experience with this, but given it's a relatively prosperous college town I'd guess schools are relatively okay? I'm not sure how to think about these sites that purport to rank schools based on some random metrics, but these two don't seem to identify any red flags.

- Not too badly impacted by the upcoming climate disasters that are going to hit us all: this is definitely worth more research but I don't believe Ann Arbor is in a serious wildfire/hurricane/drought zone.

- Maybe somewhere my blue vote would have value: Yes! I mean, Ann Arbor is deep blue so you won't have much say there, but Trump famously won the state by less than 11,000 votes in 2016 - I don't know how much closer it gets than that. FWIW, Biden carried the state by 154,000 in 2020, which isn't super narrow but also far from a blow-out.
posted by exutima at 1:09 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Agreed that Ann Arbor or somewhere in SE Michigan would work for you. You can’t get a 350k three bedroom home in walking distance of downtown Ann Arbor, but you should be able to find something around that price a little further out or in Ypsilanti. The summers are hot but short, and while I find them humid (having grown up in a dry climate), I hear that they’re not even close to what the humidity is like in the South.

I would be relatively careful about where specifically you buy; Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, parts of Detroit, and parts of SE Michigan are very queer friendly, but there are also some conservative areas nearby.
posted by maleficent at 3:33 PM on April 6, 2022

Is there any reason you're restricting yourself to the US?
posted by turkeyphant at 3:36 PM on April 6, 2022

Response by poster: Turkeyphant, I'm restricting myself to the US primarily because that's the easiest option. My spouse and I are both getting too old to be desirable immigrants - though not that old, just early 40s in our moving timeframe - and nobody in my immediate family has an easy "in" with another country by birth. I'm not opposed at all to permanent international living, but it may be a harder sell for the rest of the family.

I've already investigated short-term international living and we may still do that as we work up to purchasing a long-term home - why the hell not? I think it would be fun. However if there are any non-US options that come to mind for a long-term move with a (by then) young teen in tow please share!
posted by daikaisho at 5:00 PM on April 6, 2022

Eh, if you like living in Portland, i.e. a mid-sized city, I would not move to Ann Arbor. I know you say you just need at least 100k, but just be warned that you may find Ann Arbor to be limiting, size-wise, plus no mountains. And while I know you said you are fine with cold, the winters are brutal - nothing like temperate Portland. Like, it's the different between a cold winter and a freezing winter - I lived there for seven years, and never got used to them.

It is certainly very queer friendly, though the scene is small, if that matters to you. You will likely not be able to afford a place close to downtown, but the bus system is pretty good- though it's not a great place for cycling- the average driver really doesn't get how to share the road, and bike lands are few and far between.

I'd also say the restaurant scene is limited if you are a) not rich and/or b) don't have a car. Downtown restaurants largely cater to students/faculty with disposable income, and while there are lots of good pub food options, not much range in terms of other cuisines. There is a bit more range in various strip malls on the outskirts and btw Ann Arbor and Ypsi. Still, I found the claims to be a foodie-city a bit overblown/wishful thinking. (I left 3 years ago).

I also wouldn't recommend Grand Rapids of Kalamazoo. While blue dots, they are less solid (like, even the deepest blue counties in GR went 1/3 for Trump in 2016,

As someone who spends way too much time on Zillow day-dreaming about moving different places, the most underheated urban housing markets I've found are Philly, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. All of these would offer relative safety (I mean yes, there is crime in Baltimore, but it's largely avoidable), larger queer scenes, relatively close to the Appalachian mountains, which might not compare to those out west, but are still pretty, two of those are near the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, your vote will matter in PA, you've got your Asian markets, good range of food options, and affordable big lovely old houses. Baltimore schools are, patchy, but plenty are fine - I know less about the other two cities. Baltimore's summers do get humid, but it's honestly only really bad during a few heatwaves, it's nothing like the Deep South. Pittsburgh would be an even milder option.

Edit: a childhood friend (who happens to be bi) lives in Richmond and is a big Richmond booster - will be a bit hotter in the summer, but perhaps mild winters are ample compensation. Also fairly affordable housing, perhaps worth adding to your list.
posted by coffeecat at 5:09 PM on April 6, 2022

Response by poster: One more addition, and then I will be quiet! We know freezing cold winter, including Michigan-style with its lake effect snow. We are fine with that.
posted by daikaisho at 9:41 AM on April 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm downvoting Richmond - way too hot/humid in the summer, and upvoting Buffalo, Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
posted by gudrun at 11:18 AM on April 7, 2022

Response by poster: And thank you to everyone! Alas I cannot say what a best answer is at this point as it is truly too soon to say, but this has given us some direction and food for thought. Now to schedule some vacation time to check places out...
posted by daikaisho at 4:55 PM on April 11, 2022

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