Downsizing is becoming a “thing.” I’ve received quite a lot of feedback on this issue, seems like a lot of people are at least thinking about making similar changes. I’ll probably post more about the philosophy of it somewhere down the road, but for now, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts, and create a personal relocation guide.
Here’s my list of factors that should be considered when relocating. While I’ve thought long and hard about this, I seriously doubt I got everything completely correct on the first draft. Since it’s almost a certainty that I’ve left something out, please post your thoughts in the comments
Some definitions to start with.
Urban in this context means that most people live in structures that contain multiple housing units. Could be apartments, co-ops or condos. In some cases, there may be offices, retail or services in the same structure.
Suburban is usually defined as consisting of areas where a home is located on individually owned land. The home is occupied by a single person, family or other closely related people. These are bedroom communities. I like to think of them as a large group of tiny castles in small kingdoms that share infrastructure.
There are intermediate areas as well. Some older cites have row houses, for example. Buildings there may share walls, or the walls might be extremely close together. Areas with small houses on small lots, where each house may even have a tiny garden also fall into these transition zones.
There is also rural. The US Census defines rural as not urban, a definition that covers a lot of possibilities. For our purposes, rural means outside of a defined area of 2500 to 50,000 people. Let’s define a typical rural resident as someone who can’t look out the window and see what their neighbors are up to. Off Grid is also rural, but also without services typically provided by municipal or state government, such as electricity, land line phones, and internet.
The urban, suburban or country decision is as individual as it gets. One of the buzzwords these days, especially with Millennials, is ‘Walkability.” That means a neighborhood where the services you use daily don’t require an automobile to get to. A person should be able to get their groceries, go to a pharmacy, and have some entertainment options, such as movies, restaurants within walking distance. That’s a fairly subjective definition. After all, what a 22 year old person considers walking distance may not work so well for someone 55 or older. And let’s not forget that if you live in an apartment, condo or small house with a small yard, nearby public spaces can make a huge difference. A walkable neighborhood also means you are much more likely to know your neighbors, it makes a close knit community possible.
Walkable neighborhoods need not be confined to big cities, it’s perfectly possible to have them in medium sized or smaller towns. For me personally, I’m OK with the right suburban neighborhood, but a walkable location would be a big bonus.
The Top 10 things to consider when relocating
1: Cost of Living
The cost of housing is usually cheaper, sometimes dramatically so, in small towns, and since the home is cheaper, property tax is likely to be much less.
Utilities, including the cost of water, sewer and electricity are generally higher in small towns. Broadband internet may double in cost, along with local cable or satellite TV.
The cost of groceries is often slightly higher in smaller towns.
Income Tax varies quite a lot from state to state. In some states it’s zero, but that difference is usually made up with higher property tax.
Insurance can vary substantially, I don’t know if there is a rule of thumb, so it’s wise to check.
2: Local Economy
Are jobs leaving the area? Are there large and stable local job providers. Census data provides basic population data, but there is no substitute for checking local sources.
Are the large employers based on resource extraction or industries that produce pollution or toxic waste? Here in the south, we have had that problem in spades. Many small towns had a textile mill as the major employer. Once the mill closed, the town disintegrated.
Does the city or country administration have a plan for attracting new employers? How successful have they been?
Is there money to expand and improve infrastructure?
Do the people, and local government embrace change?
3: Social Opportunities and Entertainment
Movies and restaurants are the obvious things to consider, but what about support for hobbies and similar interests? I keep most recreational activities in this pot.
You should include churches and other spiritual needs as well.
Is there good quality ‘over the air’ TV? Is Public Broadcasting System available OTA?
For those of us who have cut the cord on Cable TV, what is the local library system like? A good quality library says a lot about the values of the community.
4: Health Care
What is the availability of Hospitals and emergency care? Important at any age, critical if you are older. Also, think about on-going care if you have specialized needs, such as allergies. Is assisted living available and affordable? Even if you are decades away from thinking about this, what about family?
Climate can dramatically effect the cost of insurance. Fire insurance in some parts of California is extremely expensive. You would want insurance for hurricane and storm surge along most of the eastern seaboard and the southern gulf coast. Tornadoes in the Midwest are another issue to consider.
Climate and other local environmental issues will play a big part in the cost of building. In the colder regions you will need better insulation and windows. If you’re in an earthquake zone, building codes are likely more stringent.
There may be costs for snow removal or snow tires. In the southeast, humidity may be an issue. South Florida now has to contend with tropical diseases. In very hot areas like the southwest, heat may affect outdoor activities. Some areas are drought prone, what about water?
Are there nearby national parks? How about local parks for walking and cycling.
Is the area you’re thinking about prone to natural disasters? Every area of the country has something to consider beyond climate. The west is having terrible wildfires, some places in the southeast seem to be having one hundred year floods every ten years. Where does the local drinking water come from? Are there factories or chemical plants upstream? It’s worth checking to see if there are Superfund sites nearby.
Every family will check the quality quality of nearby schools. But what about Adult Education? Maybe you want to take cooking or woodworking classes. If you plan some DIY work on your new awesome small house, are there local resources available?
Nearby universities or community colleges have some bonus benefits, such as cafe’s that are open late, laundromats, and entertainment.
Is public transportation available? If not, all may not be lost, robot cars are coming, so public transportation may be less important. Is the municipal government likely to be an early adopter, or will they resist until hell freezes over?
What is the total cost of owning a car?
Are there safe bike paths? Meaning better than a white line on the road.
Evacuation routes? Think about natural or man made disasters
This is a really difficult topic to get a handle on. There are crime statistics available for most cities and towns, but when you drill down to the neighborhood level, getting numbers that mean something is going to be a challenge. It may be that you have to talk to the locals, and maybe the police.
Are there militarized zones like Detroit or Chicago? Do think those areas are likely to expand? There are plenty of areas around the country where crime problems are not going to improve within your lifetime. Those are reasonably easy to identify. The more difficult problem might be smaller town that looks OK on the surface, but is already on the way to becoming a meth hotspot. Street crime can be a problem in cities. Small towns frequently have problems with property crime and may have problems with local meth labs.
How long does it take the police to respond to a 911 call?
If you are a 2nd amendment believer, can you get a concealed carry permit?
Are there other security measures you should take, and what would be the cost?
10: Does local government have a plan, or even a clue?
To me, this is a very big issue. From medium sized cities on down, every municipal authority wants to attract people that are going to benefit the community. Mostly that means Millennials. We know that this demographic values experience more than previous generations. So walkable communities matter, so does high quality internet, and education. It’s a valuable exercise to walk through the city center, both during the workday and after dark. I would like to see people coming into town after dark for entertainment. If walking the streets after dark doesn’t feel safe, I would continue my search.
Some Checkpoints: Does the community you are considering have a plan for gigabit internet? Will it be a problem to put solar panels on the roof? Do they have a plan to put in bike trails? The more I get into this, the more I think a visit to some local city council members to ask some hard questions would be a good idea. Zoning an a big issue. Do you see warehouses or industrial areas in the middle of residential areas? Many city councils have sold out to real estate developers, or anyone who brings a few jobs into the area. A good zoning plan and enforcement are key to maintaining stable neighborhoods.
Ask yourself this question… “Should you move to a town that doesn’t have its own relocation guide and city development plan?”
Update: LeeM mentioned some very valid points in comments. In his list was a stable and growing religious community, which is likely to be more involved, and frequently supports local charities. This touches a more important area, tolerance. A community with diversity in religion, culture and race will be more interesting and vibrant place to live.
Community volunteerism is another indicator of a town that moving forward. Habitat for Humanity would be a good place to start.