It’s hard to believe, but The Wife and I have been at our current home for almost two years. (*insert obligatory “time flies” statement here*) I guess because of that, and because our landlord just told us our rent was being raised by $140, lately we’ve been talking a lot about moving. We figure that at just a couple of hundred more per month, we can afford to buy a town home. Here’s the catch: we live in Fort Lauderdale. We can afford town homes In Tampa, which is a 4-hour drive away.
(FYI: Town homes in Tampa can start at about $130,000 for fairly decent ones, whereas in Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding areas not even condominiums start out that low.)
This past weekend we went back to Tampa to start looking at different places. Actually, we went for other reasons, but we got a chance to look at different places. (Around Carrolwood, Westchase, and Riverview, for any Tampans who might be interested.) We saw a number of places we liked, a lot we didn’t, and very few in between. We didn’t exactly fall in love with anything, but that’s ok. In fact, that’s a good thing. I don’t think we would’ve made it out of there if we had. It would have been like “Yeah, just call someone to send all the stuff here. We be stayn’!”
Being there this weekend, it was all we could do to talk about how we’ll again be close to our families (all of whom live in the Tampa/St. Pete area). Of course, the fact that we both essentially grew up there — I moved there when I was about 10 and The Wife was born there — didn’t escape us, and the emotional tug of that alone was pretty intense. Also, most of our friends are in Tampa, so we’d be pretty much right at home.
But, as we headed back to Fort Lauderdale, we came to an interesting realization: We really don’t want to move back to Tampa. Not that we don’t want to own our own place, but… well, neither one of us really likes Tampa all that much. (Shocked? We were.) I mean,
it’s kind of dumpitty sure, it’s a great town, and I sure as heck wouldn’t mind living there, especially given all the aforementioned reasons, but the truth is that we both like the Fort Lauderdale area much better. It’s generally cleaner looking, the people are more willing to interact with you (in both good and bad ways; I would describe people here as “abrasive”), there’s a great deal more diversity here (except when it comes to non-Indian Asians; Tampa has this place beat, hands down), and it’s never at a loss for career and business opportunities. In fact, here, we’ve both got great jobs, better than just about anything we’ve encountered in Tampa (although I wouldn’t mind working for OSTG again, though a few bad choices in the past kind of burnt a few bridges for me there), and for the industries we’re involved in, this place is perfect.
I guess our problem with Ft. Lauderdale is the cost of living. Sure, gas is high everywhere, but the average home cost here is about $350,000, while apartments (at least 1 bedroom) start at $750 for a 600sqft compartment in a crappy part of town. In fact, just a mile down from us is a neighborhood in which the starting home price for new homes is $900,000. Heck, those things are everywhere, which is great for building your dreams and giving you something to go for when you still can’t quite afford it as well as you’d like, but isn’t all that good when you’re trying to buy your first home. Sadly, it really isn’t all that much better in Tampa, and I guess that played a part in our decision. The difference is that in Tampa, at least you can still find good places in relatively good neighborhoods (trailer parks and project neighborhoods need not apply) for under $200,000.
Another problem here that we really haven’t faced in Tampa are hurricanes. Yes, I know “Florida” has gotten the hurricane smack-down the last couple of years, but honestly, the only way I’d be scared by a hurricane in Tampa is if someone bussed in, gave it a shotgun and told it I was talking smack about its momma. The only upsides I can think of when talking about hurricanes are that we usually get a couple of days off of work (even though we have to make them up later), and they usually give us more stories to talk about. (“Man, do you remember Katrina? It was only a Cat 1 when it hit US!”)
Tampa, however, has its own problem: it’s the lightning capital of the world. (Actually, this applies to all of central Florida.) I don’t think I ever, save for once, saw it rain without there being lightning. When I first moved here from Puerto Rico, this was a major surprise — and a bit of a bummer; I used to love going outside and playing in the rain. (If you’ve never done that, you really have to try it sometime.) On the bright side (no pun intended), lightning storms make for great conversation while sitting at home and enjoying the view, but only if you’re into the nature-esque. Most 10-year olds aren’t.
So each having their own ups and downs, The Wife and I decided to stick around in the Fort Lauderdale area, at least for the next year. Besides, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale aren’t the only cities we’re thinking about. While I fancy the Orlando area a bit (The Wife disagrees with me on that one), we’ve been talking a lot about moving up to North Carolina (Asheville or Raleigh), Georgia (near Atlanta), Tennessee (near Knoxville, where there’s still a lot of cheap land), Texas (Austin and surrounding areas), and Colorado (Fort Collins). While we’ve only been to some of those places (we’ve gone to and absolutely love Raleigh, I’ve spent time in Knoxville and Texas, and The Wife’s spent time in Colorado), the others we started thinking about after reading Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” list.
The “Best Places to Live” list basically uses a number of metrics to decide which, given all factors, are the best places in America to live. According to them, here are the 10 top places to live:
1. Fort Collins, CO
2. Naperville, IL
3. Sugar Land, TX
4. Columbia/Ellicott City, MD
5. Cary, NC
6. Overland Park, KS
7. Scottsdale, AZ
8. Boise, ID
9. Fairfield, CT
10. Eden Prairie, MN
While I don’t exactly agree with the list (Columbia, MD?!), the list itself isn’t bad — or doesn’t seem so — and seems pretty informative and useful. It becomes even more useful, however, when you start reading some of the comments left by readers regarding the places mentioned on the list. Here are a few examples:
“Fort Collins??? If you don’t mind the smell of “livestock” blowing in the wind, expensive food, 900 new homes being built per year, large homes built on postage stamp size lots, water shortages. Are you kidding?” — Bruce Smith
“I just spent 2 weeks this past June in Ft. Collins, and have not stopped thinking, or talking about it! I played golf, hiked in the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Front Range hills around Horsetooth Reservoir, and Pudre Canyon. I have always loved the outdoors, but I was blown away by the beauty that was everywhere! Ft Collins was the cleanest town I have ever visited, and had no trouble driving around and locating anything I wanted or needed. I can’t wait to go back again next Summer!” — Dennis Martin (who, by the way, is from Tampa; his mentioning Tampa in his list makes it the first and last time the name “Tampa” is found anywhere in this comments list)
“Scottsdale in the top 10? Obviously selected by someone who has never lived in the Phoenix metro area. It has the most vain and superficial people I have ever met – appearance and material goods are everything, substance is nothing. High maintenance self-centered people who have little grasp of reality outside of their own self imposed importance.” — Bill
“I was surprised that Chattanooga, Tennessee didn’t make it. We’ve got a great down town, low cost of living and outdoor amenities that rival anywhere else in the country.” — Matt
“Columbia/Ellicott? This isn’t even in the top ten for the DC area…very amusing indeed.” — Debbie
“Thank goodness. My favorites didn’t make your list.” — Gary Pundsack
Of course, there are a lot more entries. If you’ve ever wanted to look for a place in which to get a brand new start, you may want to check out the cities on this list, as well as the reaction of some of the readers. My favorites were these two:
“By coming up with a single list of what is ‘best’ you are essentially saying that all people want the same things. I think that it would be better to have a few categories so that people could choose one that they identify with. For example, the top 3 cities on your list are going to appeal to completely different groups of people. I’ve been to all 3, for example, and would live in Ft. Collins but not even consider Naperville or Sugar Land. Why? Because I like to ski, kayak, paraglide, and do other activities that require mountains.
So you might want to think about some categories like:
‘urbanites” (music, restaurants, hip coffee hangouts, etc. get extra weighting)’
‘outdoor mountain sport lovers’
‘retired” (want to be close to a hospital, quiet, safe, …)
and so on. Each category would have criteria that it must meet (like having mountains nearby) and then the other criteria would be weighted differently for each category.” — Bill
“Folks, this list and 95% of the comments here are just plain silly:
First, the grass is always greener where YOU live, no matter what the stats and percentages and crime data are. Comparing cities/towns is like comparing peoples’ tastes in automobiles and fruit. Leave it to humans to compete for who lives in the “Best Place”. Good grief…
Second, substantiating my digs in point #1, if I remember correctly, ALL of the California cities cited in the top 50 are inland, waaaaaay off the coast, in smog-ridden, barren, San Bernardino/Fresno-style places: Simi Valley, Santa Clarita. Haahaa. You may as well have included Palmdale and Norco.
And by the way, I am not surprised, dismayed or concerned that my little town was not included. But it’s a great town… just like yours ;)” — Brad Jensen
As for myself and The Wife, we’ll be staying in our great, not-so-little town of Fort Lauderdale for at least another year (probably).