what next for my family/how to get out of here
September 10, 2007 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Due to safety concerns, my family may need to leave our home and employment situation. Our lifestyle is rather bizarre. where should we go and how should we do it? very long and rambling-- sorry, but I'm somewhat confused at the moment.

My family (myself, husband and two-month old son) own a house outright in a very cheap neighborhood. We have lived here for four years, but after having stray bullets shot into our house last year and our housemate recently being assaulted so badly near our house that he had to go to the emergency room after escaping, we have decided that maybe we should stop tempting fate and move somewhere else. Actually, we're kind of in a hurry.

We have about 3,000 to 5,000 dollars of liquid assets, plus the property we own in this neighborhood (2 buildings) which we bought for about 80,000. (we bought some of this property with an extremely lucky windfall, in case it seems bizarre in relation to the information below). We might be able to get about 60,000 back if we sold out right now, but due to local trends it looks like this number might increase significantly if we hold out on selling for another couple of years. Our credit is not great, and we strongly prefer to avoid debt anyway, due to our employment situation, which is complicated.

We have been primarily self-employed for years. Work we have done includes selling art and crafts, DJing parties and playing music, professional writing, massage therapy (unlicensed, but we get rave reviews), dancing, catering, teaching yoga, construction, child care, and probably more things I can't think of right now. We're actually rather competent at most of these things, but we haven't been great about the business aspects of being self-employed. My husband also currently works two days a week as a personal assistant for a friend who is a wedding photographer. Plus, we both have degrees from Carnegie Mellon, but very little in the way of actual normal work history, which makes getting professional types of jobs pretty hard even if we try.

We value time to work on personal projects and be together as a family very highly compared to material success, which is the main reason we currently live where we live. We would strongly prefer to continue doing similar work eventually, although moving would disrupt many of our current opportunities, so moving to another city and starting out with hardly any savings and following this plan seems dangerous. Plus, our expenses would probably increase significantly. Of course, we might be able to get some sort of entry-level jobs (although I've been rejected surprisingly often for even these due to being "overqualified"), but since the pay would be so low and we would have to arrange childcare somehow, that hardly seems worth it, even aside from being soul-crushing. Eventually, at the very least, we would strongly prefer work that is part time, pays decently, is fairly self-directed and that we could do together and/or with our child around.

Also, our lifestyle is pretty far from mainstream in several other respects, and we would strongly prefer to live somewhere that at best that is kind of normal, but at least where it doesn't put us in further danger. specifically, we are politically radical, feminist, concerned about social justice and ecology (we don't currently own a working car), pagan, and enjoy living communally (we currently live with two housemates, at least one of whom might relocate with us). We love nature and have considered more rural environments (if we could find a safeish one), but we also enjoy the diversity and opportunities of urban environments (if we could find a safeish one).

So, MeFi, what should we do? I know this is asking a lot and we will probably have to compromise on some of our preferences, but I figured I'd throw them all out there for brainstorming purposes. We are extremely wide open to the range of possibilities, and in fact I'm asking this question mostly to expand that range (for example, our list of options currently includes joining a commune, moving to a very cheap country for a couple of years, and going to grad school). Are there any cool places where we could buy a house for $60,000? What about interesting jobs that would provide us with room and board? Ways to constructively and cheaply while away a year or so (while hopefully increasing our future prospects)? Or anything else relevant that comes to mind? Practical and crazy suggestions are both welcome.
posted by lgyre to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Can't you move across town, and rent out your existing properties until their value increases?
posted by bonaldi at 12:02 PM on September 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Or maybe be caretakers somewhere? This could be as fancy as an estate or as humble as your local storage rental unit property.
posted by pomegranate at 12:07 PM on September 10, 2007

Investigate Floyd, Virginia, preferably by going there for a visit. There are about a dozen or so working communes in the area (some on and some off "the grid"), and real estate is still (relatively) cheap. Radical artsy-craftsy pagans are common; it has a great natural foods store, a fabric store, an artists' co-op, a popular winery, and proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Local schools are good, and you're close to Blacksburg, VA and Virginia Tech which offers plenty of educational lectures, art exhibits, dance performances, etc. Crime is low; so is the cost of living.

Floyd is a beautiful, amazing place (shhh....don't tell anyone else about it!) and your lifestyle will fit in easily with the locals. And I see a few houses for $60,000 or less in the Real Estate section of the site I linked to. If you go dwon for a visit, you might be able to sniff out an even better situation (working/living at a B&B, for instance). Good luck!
posted by junkbox at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2007 [6 favorites]

I was going to recommend Pittsburgh, until I realized that you already live here. I'm horrified.

What about someplace like Brew House or Spinning Plate, until your properties reach their peak value and you can sell? I absolutely hate to see people abandon this city, but from what you've gone through I can understand.
posted by librarianamy at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2007

I like the caretaker suggestion. Spin off of that and could you be a live-in housekeeper/maid, yardsman, nanny, cook, massage therapist? Often places are looking for couples to do that type of work. Incorporating a 2-month old into it might be tricky but you might find the right kind of people that wouldn't be bothered by it. These jobs tend to give you your own time that you could be unfettered and free!
posted by Sassyfras at 12:24 PM on September 10, 2007

It sounds like the violence and whatever else is going on where you currently live might not be worth keeping property (and therefore, responsibility and ties) there. Think of it like somebody paying $60,000 to never, ever have to deal with any of that BS ever again. You can simply walk away and start a new life! Sounds awesome, right?

Try not to think of it in terms of "a $20k loss", since that is the past, and it's also the equivalent of 2 year's rent in most places. And keeping the house, and any associated BS might not be worth it. You'll constantly have this money goal in your head (probably $80k) that you'll be trying to meet up to, "We'll sell when the value reaches this amount. Meanwhile, we just have to deal with this BS until then." Not a fun way to live. The house may become a giant paperweight constantly dragging your mind back to that violent place. Better to be free!

I'm sorry I don't have any suggestions as to where to live.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:29 PM on September 10, 2007

I think you need to figure out whether you really want to leave Pittsburgh or not first. I was in a very similar situation years ago in Baltimore (small kids, drive by shootings, scary neighbors, etc) and we decided just to move across town to a safer neighborhood. Which we did. Now, we didn't own the house in the bad area; we were renting, which made it easier. Still, you could reverse what we did and rent a place to live in a nicer neighborhood while you rent out the property you own for a few years. It's going to be a lot easier to be a landlord if you're in the same town or nearby, too, then if you move far away. Absentee landlord = recipe for disaster. Also, royal PITA.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2007

the farm in middle tennessee might suit you guys very well.

if you want to be a bit closer to civilization, burlington, vt, is very lefty/hippie/progressive/alternative-friendly. you probably won't be able to buy a place, but if you're willing to rent, you could put most of the $60K from the sale of the buildings into either a high-interest savings account or a few mutual funds, and that will provide some investment income until you get more settled.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:46 PM on September 10, 2007

If the neighborhood is as bad as you described, will the property value ever go up again? We lived in a rental house in Detroit for seven years, and by the time we decided to move, all the chain stores had moved out of the area and there were several abandoned houses on the block. (We found out after we left that the person who owned our house and several others on the block sold a few at a loss, and simply boarded up and left the others.) It might be best to sell now and cut your losses.

You and your husband have a mixed bag of skills, many of which are sought by various cruise lines for their ships. (I don't know about traveling with a baby, though.) If you check out the corporate websites for Princess and Carnival Cruises, they are always hiring entertainment staff (your massage, dance, DJ and yoga skills would be a plus here), plus they need folks to staff the onboard daycare center. You'd see the world, have a place to live and get paid for it. However, the shipboard environment may not suit your feminist/environmental/pagan sensibilities. Maybe add this idea to your list of "crazy" suggestions.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:48 PM on September 10, 2007

Carrboro, North Carolina.
posted by matkline at 1:10 PM on September 10, 2007

There was an article in this month's ReadyMade magazine about Braddock, PA and how its mayor is making it over into an artist-town. The mayor seems to be especially open to creating opportunities, especially for people like you guys who are willing to put in sweat equity. And maybe it's be close enough for you to continue to own (and get income from) your properties.
posted by xo at 1:14 PM on September 10, 2007

Do you folks have family that could help you out or take you in for a little while till you could get more established?
posted by konolia at 1:19 PM on September 10, 2007

Many jobs provide housing: cruise ships, many National Park and wildlife research jobs, a few ski resorts (? might be wrong there?), and most hostels (you could send a letter to all the hostels until you found one where the owner wanted a break).

Alternatively, you could just not pay for housing. There are plenty of camping areas you wouldn't need to pay, especially BLM or National Forest land. (You'd have to move your campsite from time to time, but the regulars there will know all about that.) You could either pick somewhere that's fairly warm year-round (eg, the hot springs just outside Death Valley, somewhere down near Anza Borrego or the Joshua Tree), or move in the middle of the year.

Many, many of those options are sufficiently rural that I think your $3-5K would go toward buying some car, unfortunately. But then you rent out your house and bank most of the rent, then sell your car at the end of the year, and you'll have more savings on top of whatever your house has appreciated. I agree with your guess that Pittsburgh housing will probably go up in value, depending on what part of town you're in.
posted by salvia at 1:27 PM on September 10, 2007

I would contact a rental management company in your area. They'll take care of all aspects of managing your property as rental, for a cut of the monthly take.

That should be enough to finance your rent/whatever for where you go long enough for you to get your stuff together and decide where you stand.
posted by TomMelee at 1:30 PM on September 10, 2007

Regarding caretaking, I read somewhere that a booming business in Canada is caring for the elderly. Maybe it's something your family would consider?
posted by papafrita at 2:07 PM on September 10, 2007

Braddock is close, yes, but I'm not sure that's the place you go to for escaping crime. I've been there, and it needs work yet.

Maybe you could find some place to live (say, Greenfield or Stanton Heights) which is cheap but relatively safe. Unless that's where you already are, and your coordinates are off.
posted by that girl at 2:19 PM on September 10, 2007

Anywhere in Vermont

Portland, Maine
posted by anastasiav at 2:44 PM on September 10, 2007

Yes for Carrboro, as far as the kind of community you're looking for, but you're unlikely to find anything in the $60K range.
posted by paleography at 3:58 PM on September 10, 2007

Rent an apartment in another part of your city, while you rent out the home you own. Sell it in a couple of years when the value has increased (you hope).

(Also, what makes you think the value will go up so soon, when it has already gone down so much? Is something happening to make the neighbourhood safer?)
posted by Kololo at 4:23 PM on September 10, 2007

For immediate housing while staying in the area, try asking around the local universities for profs that are on sabbatical and would be happy for a responsible couple to look after the house and keep up with any necessary repairs. This could give you 6-12 months to assess the situation.

Also, many historic cemeteries have groundskeepers who live on the property, sometimes with families, and if you could barter your skills for housing it might work out.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:42 PM on September 10, 2007

There are plenty of camping areas you wouldn't need to pay, especially BLM or National Forest land. (You'd have to move your campsite from time to time, but the regulars there will know all about that.)

That's not exactly the ecologically minded person's solution.

Places that I can personally attest can buy a house or land +yurt for that amount include in parts of Alaska (where you would fit right in), BC, Yukon Territory, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico/ Arizona, UP Michigan, parts of NorCal etc etc. Wherever there is cheap land I'm sure you'll find like minded folks.
posted by fshgrl at 5:32 PM on September 10, 2007

That's not exactly the ecologically minded person's solution.

fshgrl, why is camping out in those places not ecologically minded while buying a yurt out in some rural area is? The ones I'm thinking of are pretty heavily used, like camping in a sandbox. I'm not saying either is particularly awesome environmentally, but what's the difference? The way I see it, the campground space is already altered while if I bought land with a yurt, I'd be more likely to disturb habitat by widening the driveway or something.

But it's a good point -- for $60K, you could probably buy a cheap house in a small town in many places. I'm remembering that one of the nicest Victorian houses on Main Street in some small northern Indiana town were about that much (four years back, so you'd probably not be able to afford the nicest house in town anymore).
posted by salvia at 7:29 PM on September 10, 2007

Carrboro, NC
posted by ZackTM at 9:04 AM on September 11, 2007

I think maybe don't be in quite such a hurry? And if an actual location change is required, see if you can lay some groundwork for future employment.

Pausing for a few months right now could make a big difference. I'd lean towards selling the house, or at least putting it on the market [it may not sell, forcing your hand]. This would at least let you deal with real scenarios instead of hypothetical ones regarding what you can get for the house.

I'm a bit more concerned about future job prospects if you leave your city. Either pick something freelance-y yet portable that you can launch quickly, or pick a job that exists most places and get a position doing it now. I'm thinking catering server, Hotel, or other service industry type stuff. Can you get licensed as a massage therapist in a few months time? That also seems pretty portable.

Seasonal resorts will often provide housing for staff. So if you can be a therapist at a resort, or a banquet captain at a resort, that might be fun. But what are you going to do when the kids need to be in school?

You could also buy a mobile home to live in. This would give you some flexibility in locations, the opportunity to move on or settle without the transaction costs. And would shield you from some pain if you "guess wrong" about a place to live or a job path to choose.
posted by Mozzie at 11:36 AM on September 11, 2007

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