Author Topic: Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities  (Read 1815 times)

Trudie

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Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities
« on: May 06, 2016, 08:52:26 AM »
Im calling my dilemma a tale of two cities.  Right now we live in a small, very nice college town in the upper Midwest.  Its got a vibrant downtown and many amenities we enjoy (bike trails, access to college facilities where my husband works), but weve decided it wont be a good fit when we achieve FIRE.  Our next destination is one of two places:  Ames, Iowa (3 hours from where we currently live; close to family) or the front range of Colorado -- mostly areas west of 1-25, possibly as far north as Fort Collins and to the Northwest of Denver).  We like university towns the best.

I've taken copious notes and spreadsheets comparing both places - COL, amenities, health care, etcetera -- and they both have their pros and cons.  I would say our top ten desirables (in no particular order) are:  (1) Finding a decent, smallish 1-story new(er) home on a manageable (translation:  small) lot for around $400K for which we would pay cash; (2) To live in a place with a strong "town" vibe -- a real downtown, good city services, bikable/walkable that's not so much into strip malls; (3) Excellent public library; (4)  Affordable access to municipal rec services -- rec center, trails, golf courses; (5) Access to health care, including good hospital in town and a decent academic medical center a little further afield for second opinions; (6)  Within one hour of a major airport, that we could get to by shuttle or public transport to avoid long term parking; (7) Strong community "ethic" - a few churches in our denomination, Rotary and other service clubs we could get involved in, a university relatively close by; (8)  Decent climate -- we like seasons but like to be outside; (9)  Opportunities for further low-cost learning, through public library and local community colleges; (10) A bit of decent retail a bit further afield (30 minutes or so) like Costco and places we shop every 6 weeks or so but don't necessarily need in our back yards.

We already spend lots of time in Ames.  It is close to family, so we get through many times of year.  It meets most of our requirements except the climate (major drawback) and the Des Moines airport is not quite the Denver airport.  Being within an hour of family has its pros and cons.  And, on the one hand we're very familiar with it, but on the other hand it's the "safe" choice.  We'll find housing in our price range (even if we build) but the existing inventory isn't great and --consistent with how we do things here -- I think we will get stuck with too much lawn.  (We want less to mow.)  My husband is more gung-ho about a condo.  I'd like my own four walls and a small yard to do raised beds and xeriscaping.  This may not be consistent with the rules in many HOAs.  Many Iowans love their lawns and treat them like a crop.  (I can say this as a native, who's also lived here 40 years of my 45.)

The front range meets all of our requirements, although housing will be more of a challenge.  And, of course, we aren't connected there at all now so it's hard to sift through the emotions of one place over the other (the "known quantity" versus the "adventure" of starting afresh).  But, where it does stand out is that we will be more content with the climate year round and won't feel cooped up all the time.  Although housing may be a challenge as well, I think that we are more likely to get exactly what we want in the end (although it will cost us).  We've spent several weeks over the past few years exploring the front range (we rent properties in residential neighborhoods) to try to get a feel for the place.

I'm curious how others have evaluated their FIRE destinations -- beyond the paper and pen approach?  I mean, looking stuff up on the internet is easy.  Really wrapping your head, heart and soul around it is hard.

ZiziPB

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Re: Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2016, 09:43:31 AM »
Hi Trudie, I think trying to find a perfect location is similar to trying to find a perfect house.  There is no way you will find a place that will meet 100% of your criteria.  You'll have to compromise somewhere, the question is what are you comfortable giving up. 

For me, being close to family is important.  There is no substitute for having that built in safety net and instant community.  If I were to move somewhere totally new with no built in connections, I would probably rent for a while before making a decision to buy a property.


sjc0816

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Re: Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2016, 11:46:24 AM »
I'm not familiar with the Colorado location you're looking at...but I am an Iowa State grad currently living in DSM and we are in Ames a lot.  I love Ames...LOVE it, but I don't think it checks off many of your boxes. It's a university town, but I don't think it has much of a town/community vibe....it doesn't have a true downtown (unless you consider old downtown...which is nothing special)....it doesn't seem overly walkable to me. The weather and the winters are pretty rough.

When I think of retirement, I don't think Iowa. And that's coming from someone who LOVES the state and Ames...and Des Moines for that matter. But we're in a different boat....raising kids....etc.

On the flip side. It's affordable and easy living. GREAT people. If you are a native Iowan then you are aware of the weather. Family can be a good thing or bad thing, as you said. 

If I were you, I'd probably do Colorado but rent for a year or two to make sure you love it before committing.

Trudie

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Re: Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2016, 12:48:20 PM »
I'm not familiar with the Colorado location you're looking at...but I am an Iowa State grad currently living in DSM and we are in Ames a lot.  I love Ames...LOVE it, but I don't think it checks off many of your boxes. It's a university town, but I don't think it has much of a town/community vibe....it doesn't have a true downtown (unless you consider old downtown...which is nothing special)....it doesn't seem overly walkable to me. The weather and the winters are pretty rough.

When I think of retirement, I don't think Iowa. And that's coming from someone who LOVES the state and Ames...and Des Moines for that matter. But we're in a different boat....raising kids....etc.

On the flip side. It's affordable and easy living. GREAT people. If you are a native Iowan then you are aware of the weather. Family can be a good thing or bad thing, as you said. 

If I were you, I'd probably do Colorado but rent for a year or two to make sure you love it before committing.

My husband grew up just outside of Ames, so I think there's a bit of a nostalgic pull and also the pull of family nearby.  And also, ISU basketball -- Woot woot!  I'm always singing the praises of Ames and Des Moines to others as in, "You wouldn't believe what these places have now!" and I sincerely mean it.  It has much to offer.  But you're dead on about the weather in Iowa, which is even worse further north where I'm from.  Crappy winters aside, even in the summer we get very few days where I enjoy being out in it.  So, there's not only the lack of sunshine and cold to factor, there's the humidity and otherwise less-than-ideal summers.

It's not as if we'd need to make a decision immediately on our FIRE date.  In fact, it might even be beneficial to hang onto our current house, spruce it up to sell, and head for other parts of the country on a grand tour and to rent awhile.  It's hard to come to a decision if you're doing the tourist thing.  You really have to immerse yourself for awhile.

I'm partial to Fort Collins and Longmont myself...

sjc0816

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Re: Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2016, 01:13:56 PM »
Well since you mentioned it! ISU basketball is THE reason we are in Ames a lot. We are slightly obsessed with our Cyclones. ;) I can understand the nostalgia-factor and ultimately after our kids are out of college, we will likely keep our DSM house but go somewhere else during the winter. We love living here that much...but won't be able to handle the winters. That's always an option.