Reviews & Comments
Annapolis, MDEnjoyed Annapolis- But Chose Another City
When we were trying to decide where in the USA to relocate to, Annapolis had enough interest that it made our list. Ultimately, we found a different city that offered many of the same amenities at a fraction of the price. Here's what we found.
With an historic downtown, Annapolis shares many of the same amenities as Wilmington NC (where we happily chose!) in terms of walkability, being a port city, and any number of good restaurants.
The weather in Annapolis is decidedly colder than in Wilmington, where winters are far more mild. Against that, Annapolis will give access to all that the DC Metro Area has to offer- so proximity is a big plus, in terms of culture and six figure salaries.
But is it really worth it? We were looking for quality of life. Traffic in the DC Metro area is amongst the worst in the nation. There are no sandy beaches in easy reach- Wilmington offers several, only 15 minutes away. The cost of living in Annapolis is incredibly high- around 40% above the national average. The average house is over $400k.
Wilmington, by contrast, offers an average home price of closer to $200k and cost of living below 2% above the national average.
While the restaurants in Annapolis are plentiful, the ones in historic downtown are not inexpensive. You can easily spend over $100 for two people. The shops have mostly become higher end boutiques, but the whimsical artistic shops have long since closed.
Bottom line: if you need to live in the DC Metro area for work and appreciate walkable historic communities, Annapolis MD and Old Town Alexandria are both waterfront cities that offer charm and historic downtowns. But expect to pay a hefty price tag and know that the winters will still be cold.
If, like us, you can work remotely, Wilmington gives you all that Annapolis has and more, at a fraction of the price. The local airport has easy flights to NYC and is never crazy busy.
If you're still looking to stay somewhat close to DC and Annapolis is too pricey, you may want to consider Fredericksburg VA. While not on the water, the downtown is historic and the in town homes are often less expensive.
Myrtle Beach, SCYes to The Carolinas But No to Myrtle
We were looking for a new city, and Myrtle Beach had had enough press that we were curious to check it out. A 30something and 40something couple, both of us have travelled extensively, both nationally and internationally. Our goal was to find warmer weather, a lovely historic home, an artsy and creative city where prices were still affordable.
Myrtle absolutely delivered on the warmer weather and being near to the beach is an added bonus. There are extensive golfing opportunities and lots of outlet malls and chain restaurants. If you are considering retirement, this may well be a city that you would want to consider. The newer communities offer some great layouts and nice amenities. Although it is true that traffic increases seasonally, that’s still infinitely preferable to the year round gridlock of DC, NYC and LA- all places that we have lived.
As a younger culturally minded couple who is considering starting a family, however, Myrtle just wan’t for us. We were searching for an historic neighborhood with walking distance to downtown- Wilmington NC (Where we landed! Yay!) has more than 300 blocks of historic homes. Downtown proper is fun and funky, the restaurants are locally owned and operated- cafes and coffee shops, vintage clothing stores... lots of dog parks, micro breweries. There is an undeniably artsy flair here, that we just didn’t find in Myrtle. There are plenty of golf courses, new developments, shopping amenities and big box stores, but the design of Wilmington is such that you have a choice- it isn’t entirely one way or the other. We love it.
Bottom line- If you’re looking for affordable housing, great weather, inexpensive golfing and sprawling suburbia does not bother you, Myrtle offers that in spades. There is an abundance of chain restaurants and several beaches. If your preference is for a port city with incredible history, unique eats and a dog friendly town where porch parties are common, Wilmington is possibly the best kept secret on the East Coast. With direct flights to NYC and other areas, major cities are easily accessible. ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and ‘One Tree Hill’ were both filmed here, and with neighborhoods this beautiful it’s easy to understand why.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach Sucks (If you live here)
So sorry to hear that Myrtle isn’t working out for you. Many of my friends are GLSBTQ and I was concerned (when I visited) that is might not be the most open minded area. Have you visited Wilmington NC? We are not that far from you and the scene is much different. My friends have come to visit, love it, and are considering moving. Our neighborhood is full of “hate has no home here” signs; we are a mixed couple and our circle of friends is very diverse. We moved here having lived in DC NYC LA etc and love it! Would be happy to show you around if you wanted to visit
Baltimore, MDWe Visited Baltimore, But Picked Another City
A port city that is accessible to the DC metro area, Baltimore has undergone something of a renaissance. Once plagued by crime across the board, the extensive redevelopment of DC’s sister city have included stadiums, great hospitals and urban neighborhoods that are walking distance to fun eats. While we did not choose Baltimore as our final destination (we searched all across the USA to find our city!) we enjoyed it- more than anticipated. Here’s what we found.
Pros: If you’re looking for affordable housing in a major metro area, Baltimore will be hard to beat. There is a seemingly never ending supply of row houses that will sell for as little as a used car. That being said, you get what you pay for- make sure to walk the block and check the neighborhood stats before writing an offer. If you’re looking to live that first episode of Fixer Upper, Baltimore offers a great selection of opportunities.
Baltimore is a very walkable city. Unlike many other places that we visited, you can explore blocks upon blocks of different neighborhoods and not need the use of a car. The local eats are great, with a good selection of international and national cuisine. Winters are significantly less harsh than, say, NY the New England area. Prices of housing stock are unbelievably inexpensive. This combination has been a decided draw for many young professional-ish couples and singles, with a creative edge. The outlying suburbs have some absolutely incredible homes, at a fraction of the price that you would pay for a condo in nearby DC. Airports are accessible, healthcare is great and the newly redeveloped waterfront is very pedestrian friendly. The nightlife offers comedy clubs, dining, theatre- anything and everything you could reasonably expect of a major city.
Cons: For us (a 30 something and 40 something couple) the crime was above our comfort level. Neighborhoods change in Baltimore, and quickly so. We have lived in other cities with major crime and in transitional areas (DC, NYC, LA) but the extent of the dilapidated housing and drug stricken communities within Baltimore is vast. We’re talking hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of streets, of gang related activity, where drugs are clearly a major issue. In the event of a recession, our judgement was that Baltimore could be disproportionately affected. While DC is not far, as the crow flies, traffic in the metro area is now among the worst in the nation- one test trip during rush hour that should have taken 45 minutes, was three hours. Perhaps our biggest concern was that property taxes seemed to be out of control. Several homes priced in the 200s to 300s had annual property tax bills of over $10k.
Ultimately, Wilmington NC was our winner. Unlike the brick row homes of Baltimore, Wilmington has plantation style homes that date back to the civil war, when it was spared destruction. While neighborhoods are transitional here, the extensive urban blight that encompasses much of Baltimore (make sure you explore before you buy!) is just not a reality, here. As we are considering starting a family, a beautiful historic home that is walking distance to a fun and funky downtown, 20 mins to the beach, amazing eats, dog parks and people parks galore- it’s hard not to be won over by Wilmington.
Bottom line: If you are experienced with renovations and enjoy the dimension of a gritty urban experience with a great night life, want to be in a major metropolitan area, are on an incredibly low budget but determined to own your own place, you will be hard pressed to beat Baltimore. If you are willing to compromise on some of the benefits offered by a major metropolitan area (open air concerts that are free in summer but not access to the prestige of the Kennedy Center) but are in search of warmer weather, porch parties and a diverse city that still has a fun and funky vibe, Wilmington is hard to beat.
Sarasota, FLWhy We Liked, But Left, Sunny Sarasota
With white sandy beaches, a sunny climate and more cultural appeal than many other Floridian cities, Sarasota is a popular retirement destination- and with good reason. Haing lived there for a number of years, here are our lessons learned. While we ultimately chose to leave the sunshine state (and are very happy with our choice!) there are definitely some tempting draws.
First, the positives. With what has been voted the number one beach in America, Siesta Key’s white quartz sand and tropical blue waters offer year round family entertainment- free of charge... if you can get a parking place. The health care is great, downtown continues to undergo redevelopment and outlying communities offer easy proximity to golf courses, shopping (some of the malls offer concierge parking) and entertainment. The ballet, opera and West Coast Black Theatre Troupe are just a few of the cultural amenities on offer.
About 20 minutes drive from downtown, Lakewood Ranch has a number of gated communities and suburban developments with tennis courts, pools, and other modern amenities. Downtown Sarasota is walking distance to historic Laurel Park, which had traditionally been home to a number of quirky bungalows and older homes. Due to land prices, however, many of the cottages have now been razed in favor of McMansions. If Tony Soprano wanted to build a Miami style monstrosity, this would be where he’d do it. ‘West of the Trail’ (that’s Tamiami Trail, the equivalent of Sarasota’s railroad tracks) housing is traditionally more expensive. East of the trail are less impressive homes, more budget friendly, but still easily accessible to downtown.
Siesta Key, one of the nearby islands, is increasingly a vacation destination popular by Spring Break seekers, and traffic in summer can be monstrous- we’re talking one hour or more to get on and off island. By contrast, Lido Key is much more retirement oriented, with a quieter and more laid back ambience. Permits, however, can be sticky- at one point, you needed a permit even to paint the interior of your home a different color.
Also walking distance to downtown, Gillespie Park (where I lived) offered cute and funky bungalows. Unfortunately, the crime was above my comfort level. While you will always want to do your own research, much of downtown Sarasota remains affected. To a large extent, Sarasota remains racially segregated and tensions are palpable. Make sure you check out a neighborhood at night and walk the blocks, before writing an offer.
If you’re considering moving here, there are cons to consider. Traffic in summer swells significantly. Flood /hurricane insurance can equal or even exceed your mortgage, especially if you own an older home in an ‘at risk’ are. This is an additional coverage to your standard ‘homeowners’ insurance, and if you have a mortgage your lender may more than likely require both coverages. It is not uncommon to find older homes with homeowners insurance polices that are a fraction of the flood insurance coverage- for example, $2000 and $10,000, respectively. Yes, you read that right. ALWAYS be sure to obtain homeowners and flood insurance quotes personally for the home you are considering, before writing an offer or purchasing a home. I was licensed as both a real estate agent and a mortgage loan officer in this state; I cannot overestimate the importance of doing your research, before you buy.
In addition, make sure you are prepared for property tax sticker shock- not when you are looking at homes, but after you take title- your bill may double, triple, or increase even more so- and quickly. This is because Florida operates a Save Our Homes act, which limits the appreciation that an assessment of a property can be changed by. If memory serves, to 3% a year. So, if you are buying a home for 700,000 that has been owned by the same family for 30 years, their assessed value could conceivably be less than $150,000. When the property is re-assessed (the prior assessment does not transfer to the new owners as a grandfathered benefit) your assessment (and therefore your property taxes!) are likely to increase significantly. Further, Florida is one of the most expensive states to insure your vehicle in- always call your insurance carrier to get a quote of what your new premium will be, prior to making the move. My auto insurance doubled, moving from VT to FL- and I had a ‘perfect’ record.
Please always consult with a financial planner before moving. Yes, there is a savings in the state income tax- just make sure that the sticker shock of the other costs will not turn your budget upside down.
Ultimately, while we did love the sunshine and the beaches, both of us are working professionals. In our 30’s and 40’s, we wanted to be in an environment with many other couples our age- although very popular as a retirement destination, Sarasota is by no means a place to move for job mobility or if you are a young professional with a career focus outside of health care and the service industry generally.
Having travelled extensively both nationally and internationally, we were looking for historic neighborhoods that were affordably priced and walking distance to downtown. While we appreciate the befefits of gated living, we preferred kayaking to golfing. A fun and funky downtown, a preference for small independently owned shops, great eats, an abundance of dog parks and playgrounds- we found this all in Wilmington NC... and for far less than we would have paid in Sarasota. The open air concerts, and the laid back hippie vibe are a throwback of what Sarasota used to be, until so many of the areas changed hands.
Bottom line: If you enjoy boating, drinking, golf clubs and shopping, if chain restaurants (good ones) are a draw, if you are entering retirement and looking for a place in the sun to call home, Sarasota is a great contender. The gated communities often offer security on site, which many people appreciate. If, however, you favor more independently run cafes and coffee shops, if you enjoy walkable historic communities, if you’re looking for a fun and funky downtown, come check out the port city of Wilmington NC. The beaches are great, the prices are less and the local airport provides easy and reliable transport. There’s a reason we are one of the fastest growing cities in the USA.
Charleston, SCCharleston: Pro’s, Cons and Why We Moved On
If you’re considering relocating to an east coast city with an historic appeal, walkable downtown and great restaurants, Charleston should absolutely be on your short list. While it took us four spreadsheets, months of research and weeks of travel to find our perfect place (hint: it wasn’t Charleston), this is a city that is well worth your time.
Starting with the positives, Charleston does not have such oppressive summers as some of the southernmost cities- ie, New Orleans and Florida. Unlike other towns with a walkable, historic downtown, our experience (make sure to do your own research!) was that urban Charleston was significantly less affected by violent crime than, say, Savannah. The employment options are also somewhat better.
Price wise, the trendy historic homes are affordable if you are bringing equity from a major metropolitan area- case in point DC, NYC, LA. Although we had both lived in these areas, we were looking for 2,000 s/f or more in an historic home (not a condo) for less than $500k and ideally less than $400k. You would need to double and likely triple those numbers to find what we would have wanted in Charleston. If you’re prepared to live in suburbia, however, those numbers will be far less- but with all the traffic, that wasn’t for us.
Much like Old Town Alexandria and Annapolis MD, Charleston SC is now a waterfront city filled with higher end boutiques and services. Gone are so many of the whimsical artistic shops and cafes that used to define downtown. You will find galleries, high end antique shops, restaurants... and you will pay the corresponding prices.
Ultimately, we were searching for a fun and funky downtown but we wanted great locally owned restaurants cafes and shops that were affordable. Walkability was a big priority for us, and we have lived in Wilmington NC for almost a year now. Carolina Heights, Carolina Place, The 4th St Corridor are areas in our city with stunning historic homes that have been featured in many films and series. The artistic flair of Wilmington, the diversity of the people who live here... those were big draws. A port city, we are 20 minutes to the beach and our airport has direct flights to NYC, where one of us is based out of.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a more refined historic city and less of a hippie /small business /artsy vibe, Charleston is a good option. The traffic may be frustrating, but there is enough entertainment that you will not be bored. If budget is a consideration and you have a preference for the more eclectic, diverse neighborhoods, Wilmington NC is where it’s at!
Savannah, GAWhy We Nearly Moved Here, But Chose Elsewhere
Savannah. The beautiful, historic squares, charming streets, tree lined with hanging Spanish moss. This city was absolutely on our short list of ‘possible places to move to’, as we scoured the USA. It made it to our semi finalist list, but ultimately we chose another place- here’s why.
First, the positives. Undeniably better weather than many northern locales, Savannah is not far south enough to suffer from truly oppressive summers, as one finds in New Orleans and Florida. Such a beautiful city that it was spared destruction during the Civil War (as was Wilmington NC, where we ultimately chose to move!) the squares (parks around which houses are constructed) are some of the most charming in the country. Forsythe Park is particularly worth noting.
Amenities such as SCAD (Southern College of Art and Design) offer a youthful, liberal counter balance to the more traditional and conservative base, a nice mix. Many of the outlying gated communities offer a sense of security.
Against those factors, we aren’t a family that wanted to live the gated life. A mixed couple, where we had felt our races to be a non issue in both New Orleans and major metropolitan areas, the segregation within Savannah is still aparrent. Many neighborhoods are predominantly one race or another, and tensions are palpable. As small business owners, we were concerned by recent decisions that evidenced the continued influence of ‘old money’ vs ‘new ideas’. Airbnb, for example, has become significantly restricted- in many areas, people can’t even rent one room of their five bedroom homes. These weren’t whole house rentals, just families trying to earn some extra income in a city with already limited employment opportunities.
The crime, too, is extensive. For us, the risk wasn’t worth the reward. One of the best things we have learned in our search for homes is to research the difference between the nature of crimes reported: muggings and petty theft don’t bother us as much as murder and rape. The areas that fit within our budget (Under $500k, preferably less than $400k) were historic and walkable to downtown, putting us near statistics that we didn’t want to become a part of.
Wilmington NC offered us historic homes, a port city, a fun and funky downtown peppered with great eats, more than 300 blocks of historic homes, higher wages, 20 minutes drive to sandy beaches, less oppressive summers while still avoiding winters, a much more diverse population- and we were well below our budget! A great film industry (Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill were filmed here) dog and people parks, and houses at significantly less expensive prices. We purchased a 3000 s/f home that had been on the historic homes tour, is a 20 minute walk to downtown, and our neighborhood (Carolina Heights) is so much more scenic than what we could have afforded in Savannah.
Bottom line: If income isn’t a necessity for you (retired etc) and you don’t mind uber-ing after hours, if you’re not as concerned with crime, Savannah is a lovely scenic city. If income is a necessity and you are looking for a city that has a fun and funky vibe, vs a formal and traditional one, whilst still offering historic charm- check out Wilmingon NC!
Big City Crime Rate in a little town
Are you still in Savannah? We also visited, but decided to buy in Wilmington NC. If you are considering moving, Wilmington offers much of the same historic appeal as Savannah but the vibe is more small business friendly. You’re still near the beach, but the opportunities career wise are greater... plus we have the film industry. Good luck with your search.
If you are still in Savannah and considering other areas, have you visited Wilmington NC? The unemployment is much better and there are equally beautiful historic homes, at even lower prices. If you are a chef or in the culinary industry, there are all sorts of creative, independently owned eats and cafes- we would love to have another!
Fredericksburg, VAWhy We Chose to Forgo Fredericksburg VA
Fredericksburg has an undeniably small town charm and an all around appeal that is hard to beat, in the context of its proximity to the larger DC Metro area. The downtown proper of this historic community has an easy going and decidedly un-stuffy personality. Unlike Old Town, Alexandria (which has it’s own signature style) Fredericksburg has not yet been entirely overrun by trendy boutiques and pricey restaurants- while there are a variety of establishments to choose from, the cafes and whimsical shops are still present.
Unfortunately, traffic surrounding the DC area is now amongst the worst in the country. Outlying areas are sprawling, and gone are the days of a quick and easy commute to the our nations capitol. True, there is a commuter train, but by the time catching a metro at the other end is figured in- well, it’s probably going to be at least 3 hours out of your day. Minimum.
There are not a lot of employment opportunities in Fredericksburg proper, but if you either work remotely or only have to take the train in once a week or so, it could be a great option. Because it’s not a port city (like Annapolis or Old Town Alexandria) prices are considerably less for ‘in town’ historic homes.
We (couple in our 30’s and 40’s) have both travelled nationally and internationally, with one of us working remotely out of NYC. Fredericksburg was on our short list, but we ended up choosing Wilmington, NC- and have since discovered several other prior Fredericksburgians who made the same choice.
By contrast, houses in Wilmington were just as historic (almost 300 square blocks of historic homes make up the downtown), significantly cheaper, often larger lots and gardens, lots of dog parks an people parks, as a port city we have a beautiful boardwalk, great eats, a 20 minute drive to the beaches, reefs and kayaking nearby... and with a significant film industry, there’s an abundant creative and diverse community. Open air summer concerts, better weather... and an airport that is never impossible to get to, with flights straight to the city.
Bottom line: If you need to be in the DC metro area for work and commute in once a week or so, Fredericksburg will be tough to beat. But if you genuinely work remotely, Wimington offers more culture, a fun and funky downtown, and far more impressive homes for the dollar. It’s still a relatively unknown town and prices likely won’t stay low forever- luxury condos are already going up, along the riverfront.
New Orleans, LAWe Wanted to Move; the Police Warned Us Not To
New Orleans... there’s no other city like it. The food, the entertainment, the architecture... this is a city not to be missed. A thirty and forty something couple, we are well traveled (internationally and nationally) and searching for a place to put down roots. How could you not to fall in love with so much soul, beauty and history?
If youre thinking of visiting, absolutely go! The people and the experience is a customized blend of so many cultures. Diversity is aparrent in language, in music and in love. As a mixed couple, living in present day America, New Orleans was reminiscent of another time, a dawn before the days of so much judgment and hatred divided us. Of course, the weather absolutely can be oppressive, but nowhere is perfect, right?
Having lived in (and loved!) many transitional neighborhoods (DC, NYC and LA) we were not at first put off by the crime. We were after a walkable historic neighborhood with great eats and green spaces. Although the price of real estate in NOLA has catapulted skywards, we were willing to sacrifice space to live our dream.
Like many dreams, however, we had a somewhat abrupt awakening. As local police explained to us, NOLA has incredibly high crime rates... and we’re not talking mere muggings and petty theft. Rape, murder and violent crime occurs continually and thoroughout the city... although some areas may be less affected than others, these brutally tragic and life altering incidents (carjackings are a reality of life) weave their ways through so many neighborhoods. The city of New Orleans has fundamentally flawed infrastructure- pot holes can require an SUV with off road capabilities, just to navigate an otherwise upscale neighborhood. As one Officer pointedly asked us “Dont it tell you nothing about the corruption here that we cant even get these roads straight? Crime here ain’t never gonna change. It ain’t worth it.”
It was the last three words that stayed with us. We subscribed to a neighborhood bulletin whilst in town (thanks to our realtor) and the violence was sobering.
Equally worrisome, as was reported in a New York Times article, the USA has not functionally supported the levies surrounding NOLA. In the era of climate change that we now live, it’s no longer a matter of ‘if’, its ‘when’ and ‘how badly’. NOLA is functionally below sea level- think about that. Many of the houses (we toured almost 100) have extensive structural damage, due to the flooding. Are you really able to make a financial investment into a city like this? I’ve heard it said that NOLA is tantamount to a bad relationship that you just can’t leave, because the good times are so overwhelmingly intoxicating- and that’s a fair analogy. But there’s an instrinsically violent side, as well. For us, the police officer’s four little words (“It ain’t worth it”) were sobering.
What you think a neighborhood looks like at lunch time, is often worlds apart from the reality of that same area late at night. More than once, we thought we had found our forever home- only to come back “after hours” and realize that there were major issues that we would never have uncovered, had we not returned.
Ultimately, the violent crime was a dealbreaker. So, too, was risking our financial future in such an at risk area. We ended up picking Wilmington NC- beautiful historic homes, walking distance to downtown, great weather, fun and funky with an artsy vibe- and our favorite place to grab drinks here is (no joke) called Bourbon Street. We are 20 mins drive to sandy beaches, a boat ride away from untouched barrier island, steps to loads of cafes, fantastic eats and so many dog /people parks... the houses here are less than half the price we would have paid in New Orleans. We still got hit with our hurricane (thanks Florence!) but the worst damage that happened was a few shingles off our shed. We can only imagine what it could have been, had we been living in New Orleans.
All of that being said, if the violent crime isn’t a concern for you and youre not planning to invest in buying a home, NOLA is an incredible scene. The Magazine Street Area is fantastic!
Asheville, NCWhy We Passed on Asheville
Asheville is a cool city, no two ways about it. This is the Austin TX of NC, but -and here’s the kicker- without the jobs. The eclectic neighborhoods, the artsy vibe... there are fun eats and a good overall quality of living. Winter is never too harsh, but the skies are often gray and you will get the seasons. The nearby mountains offer great hiking in summer. If you are retired, or not in need of earned income, Asheville should be on your short list. Still, housing isnt cheap- your dollar will absolutely go further than in NY, CA or DC- but is Asheville the best fit for you?
We (a 30 and 40 something couple) asked ourselves the same question. One of us works remotely out of NYC, and more sunshine, a fun and funky downtown, diversity of thought and in people... this was our ask. While we liked Asheville, many of the local transplants (read: advanced degrees, now working for $10 an hour in retail) warned us not to move unless we both had jobs lined up. Since the neighborhoods weren’t total bargains, we decided to keep looking. As both of us enjoy travel (national and internationally) we were also a bit concerned that Asheville might be somewhat ‘cut off’ from other major cities.
If you kidnapped the city of Asheville, cut the housing prices, kept the awesome restaurants, added more dog parks and the kiddie friendly green spaces, but made it into a port city (yay waterfront!) 20 minutes from the beach, you'd have.... Wilmington, NC. Possibly one of the best kept secrets on America’s East Coast, Wilmington was never destroyed during the Civil War- so many of the historic neighborhoods are walking distance to downtown. Dawsons Creek and One Tree Hill were both filmed here (amongst others) and trendy Carolina Heights has visits regularly from fans wanting to snap selfies with their favorite houses. The tree lined streets are somewhat Savannah-esque with their hanging Spanish moss... and many of the micro breweries (there are more by the week!) and restaurants are dog friendly. Our local airport is less than 10 minutes drive away, offers direct flights to NYC, and we are always able to book flights without a worry.
We feel incredibly lucky to have found Wimington, while the prices were low. They can’t stay this way for forever- the riverfront is undergoing a resurgence, luxury condos are being constructed and there are neat houseboat communities getting developed along the river.
Ultimately, where Asheville brings you the mountains, Wimington offers the beach. One is inland and one has water... but when your dollar goes so much further in one city than the other, its hard not to resist the draw!
Alexandria, VABattle of the Port Cities
Old Town Alexandria is a charming port city, with lovely historic homes, fun restaurants and sweet shops. Its easy proximity to the hustle and bustle of DC offer something of the best of both worlds... until you get your mortgage bill, that is.
We travelled all over the USA and Old Town has many pros. All of the culture, the museums and nightlife of DC is just across the river and a great dinner is only steps away. Unfortunatley, historic homes in good repair above 2000 sf are well above $1M... and this was more of a mortgage than we were looking for.
By contrast, the port city of Wilmington NC offers better weather, is also on the river, but has some added bonuses. The fun and funky downtown has an artistic flair that Old Town has long since lost, with the incoming expensive boutiques. Great eats, at a fraction of the price- a plethora of historic neighborhoods, most of which are walking distance to downtown. Large lawns, lazy front porches... this is where ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and ‘One Tree Hill’ were filmed- remember those homes?
For less than $300k, you can buy a charming bungalow, walk your dog to a cafe where they have biscuits waiting for them. A 20 min drive takes you to the nearby beaches- and yes, you can bring your dog swimming. Porch parties and neighborhood get togethers are frequent... it’s everything that Old Town used to be, before the prices skyrocketed.
Bottom line: If you’re a single professional couple who needs to live local, Old Town offers you charm that is hard to beat in the DC Metro Area. If for any reason you want to shave 2/3 or more off your mortgage and can work remotely, come to Wilmington. There are plenty of parks, and our area is filled with northern transplants who made a lifestyle choice... we love it!
Silver Spring, MDWhy We Left Silver Spring MD for Wilmington NC
Growing up in Silver Spring, my family and I have been residents for the better part of 25 years. Although some of the development has been great (Discovery Channel, new restaurants etc) the influx of crime and high rise apartment buildings, of traffic and pollution, have changed the character considerably. Murders, muggings and randomized violence are a stark reminder of how much the area has changed.
We wanted to find a community that had the same leafy feel as Silver Spring, communities with older historic homes, a little bit more sunshine and half price mortgage. As a mixed couple, diversity and tolerance are significant issues- one of the great things about the DC Metro area is, undeniably, the melting potted-ness of it all.
Wilmington NC is much of what Silver Spring /Tacoma Park used to be, for about 1/3 the price. Lots of sunshine, porch parties, historic homes, communities walkable to downtown, less than 20 minutes to the beach. An abundance of cafes, restuarants and coffee shops will not help your waistline. #firstworldproblems
And once your dog learns that they will give her cookies for stopping by? Life as you know it will be over. The waitstaff will learn her name, you will be dragged all the way to downtown on a regular basis.
We loved Silver Spring for many reasons; my parents still live there. Increasingly, however, communities like Wilmington NC are providing viable alternatives for those of us who work remotely. Porch parties, neighborhood get togethers, beautiful historic homes... and likely for less than we would have paid for a two bedroom condo in Silver Spring
Check out our new city. We sure are glad we did!
Burlington, VTWhy We Left; Taxed Out of Vermont
Having lived in the Burlington VT area for more than a decade, I wish I would have done my research before relocating. Yes, VT has some great draws- but the cons far out way the pros.
Property taxes are out of control. The house I bought soared from only $4.5k to more than $14.5k in a matter of years. Yes, you read that right. The winters are long and brutally cold... and you are taxed left right and center. The incredibly high costs of living and the shortage of higher paying professional jobs make it very difficult.
If you are living on a lower income, VT is great. Some of the best views in the city of Burlington are on the upper floors of apartments that are assigned affordable housing vouchers. As a young professional, it was frustrating to watch those in receipt of vouchers qualify to live in downtown apartment where they had subsidies... many of us who were middle income earners, couldnt afford the same apartments. We made too much to qualify for subsidies, but not enough to where we could swing the full payments.
Vermont has had an exodus of middle and upper income earners. That’s one of the reasons they were offering a subsidy to recruit new residents. For lower income earners, the benefits are significant; one woman I know on Section 8 had her house paid for, her fuel bill paid for, her groceries provided for, her health care paid for, even gas for her vehicle. Do I blame her for moving to VT for these benefits? Can’t say that I do.
I worked as a real estate agent in Vermont, and most of my clients were moving out of state. Sadly, many did not want to leave, but the taxes were forcing them out. All of them have built happy lives in other parts of the country, and they all said the same thing ‘If you are a professional and not qualifying for subsidies, Vermont is a very hard state.’
That being said, Vermont also has some good points. I know of several individuals who moved to the state because of the amount of money that the state spends on special needs programs -aids, special tutors etc, for children with learning difficulties. Because these benefits are paid for, it’s a huge benefit to the families who need them.
Further, the health care does provide income related subsidies. Many states did not accept the subsidies, so a person cannot qualify for a partial credit towards their health insurance, until they make a certain amount. Vermont takes the common sense approach of letting the poorest qualify for the greatest subsidies.
For a state where the service industry (historicallylower paying jobs) plays such a huge part of the employment statistics, VT does a great job of extending benefits to all. In the end, however, Vermont may discover that consistently taxing those residents who are working at higher and higher levels, may not be the best plan.
We were functionally taxed out of the state. Wilmington North Carolina gave us fantastic weather, more than twice the house for the money, a property tax bill that is less than half of VT. We can walk to downtown, the beach is 15 minutes away, there are dog parks and kiddie parks everywhere. Our downtown is fun and funky, lots of cool second hand shops, antique shops, cafes and great eats. We stayed in VT for 10 years- Wilmington is night and day. We only wish we would have known this years ago.
Durham, NCNo to Durham But Yes to Wilmington NC
Durham. We had friends living locally, the marketing made it seem hip and affordable, the weather looked good. So what was not to like?
We are a couple in our 30s and 40s, looking for a walkable eclectic community, dog friendly... brew pubs, great eats... and preferably one of those beautiful, historic homes that would be affordably priced and near to all of the above.
Durham delivered on a lot of fronts, but it had a couple of significant drawbacks. We didn’t want to spend more than $400k and going below 2,000 sf was challenging. Suburban sprawl is not our thing, and the surrounding areas are an explosion of minivan metropoli. The gridlock is getting worse, not better. If you’re looking for a newer home and don’t mind sandwiched between other identical Truman Show-Esque looking homes and don’t mind driving everythwere, then there are a lot of options in that price point.
Only a few hours to the East of Durham, we discovered the port city of Wilmington. One of the few southern-ish cities in the US that was not destroyed during the civil war, Wilmington neighborhoods upon neighborhoods of unique historic homes- most all of which are walking distance to downtown. There is an abundance of green space, great for walking the dogs and letting kids play. Unlike Durham, Wilmington is also close to the water- only 15 minutes to Carolina Beach.
The fun and funky historic downtown has a great variety of coffee shops, restaurants and cafes. Castle Street and the Soda Pop District are up and coming, with cool antique shops, creative spaces and retro clothing boutiques.
Best of all, the prices were so much less than Durham. They are climbing, though, and likely will not stay low forever. Fixer uppers in transitional neighborhoods are still available for under $100k, historic renovated bungalows are under $300k, cute cottages being priced somewhere in the middle. Our neighborhood (where Dawson’s Creek was filmed- remember those porches?) has many former residents of not only NY /DC, but also Raleigh and Durham... ranging from $300k to $500k, these historic homes are gorgeous.
We enjoyed visiting Durham, but found it pricey relative to what was offered. More soulful than Raleigh, but as a friend of ours who recently moved here from Durham said ‘Wilmington is all the best parts of Durham combined, but with a way lower price tag.’
Wilmington, NCTwo Very Enthusiastic Paws Up!
Update- we have been living in Wilmington for almost a year now... so here it is, the paws-itive and the negative. We stayed through Hurricane Florence, we helped our community rebuild, and we have learned a thing or two along the way...
1) The Restaurants Here are a Hazard. Really.
We adopted Miss Charlotte Anne (a husky mix) after her family could no longer care for her. Miss Charlie had learned that many of the local coffee shops and restaurants keep biscuits on standby. She will now drag us, raining or otherwise, to every place that she knows has a cookie. Particular hazards of note include Fork N Cork, Bourbon Street (check out the Bloody Mary’s!) and Elijah’s- slightly more upscale and on the Boardwalk, a great place to watch the sunsets.
2) The Kindness and Compassion of the People Here Will Shock You
It was my first day with Coldwell Banker Seacoast Advantage when we realized that there were close to zero overflow shelters prepared for animals, and Florence was about to make landfall. I appealed, and CBSA reached out directly to other agents, and donated -YES DONTATED- buildings to serve as distribution centers and shelters. Those efforts resulted in more than $44,000 being raised for Pender Humane Society and more than $150,000 of product being distributed to the local community at our location on Blue Clay Road
3) Drive Bye Brownies
If you think staying away from downtown will help your waistline, think again. In Carolina Heights, where we live, our front door has more than once been the location of a Drive By Brownie Incident. Neighbors will drive by, leave brownies on your front porch... they will knock at your door with chocolate covered pretzels... and if you work from home, this is an issue
4) Wilmington Is Changing
The Riverfront is undergoing extensive redevelopment. A Port City, there are houseboat communities are on the horizon and multiple luxury condo developments are going up. So, too, are the newer communities with amenities including pools, tennis courts and golf clubs.
Price wise, the value is still unbeatable. We paid under $400k for a 3000 sf home with a bed and breakfast license... (translation: we have guests overnight on Airbnb and include a map to the local diner!) this house would have been twice as much in Raleigh, three times as much in New Orleans and four times as much in DC.
Across Market Street, historic bungalows can still be had for under $300k, some of the more up and coming areas (still walkable to downtown) include renovated cottages for under $200k. Fixer uppers under $100k are not out of the question.
It took us four spreadsheets, three months of research and weeks upon weeks of travel to find our city. With cosy wine bars, cute cafes and a creative welcoming community, we couldn’t be happier. As with all places, stay local (ie in the community you are considering) before you make an offer. Walk the block, meet the neighbors... no place will be perfect and there is an uptick in traffic during the summer months.
Most importantly, be warned that Wilmington is big on animal rescue- chances are, with in a year, your house will have added a furry friend or two.