"Open Mike" is a series of weekly off-topic posts on TOP that feature Yr. Hmbl. Host venturing far afield.
Where to, Mister?
"If you could have one wish, what would you wish for?" You know that old question.
One of my favorite answers came from my cousin Elizabeth Lynch, a wise soul. She said, "I'd wish all my friends and all the people I love lived in the same town as I do."
That would be nice, wouldn't it? And just as impossible as most other answers to that question, whether it be an end to war or a golf game like Rory McIlroy's.
"Where to live" isn't as pressing or important a question as how to live, but it's in the same general category. And it pinpoints a class of people I envy: those who really like where they live. I wonder how common that is? I seem to know a lot of people who love where they live, but I'd guess that, like happy couples, they're a minority overall.
I can't live absolutely anywhere—there's this whole issue of the nexus laws that I have to worry about. I can't live in California or Colorado or Illinois, for example. At least until such time as a national uniform sales tax might get passed. But since I make my living, such as it is, entirely on the internet, I could theoretically live almost anywhere.
A momentary digression: one of the great book titles of recent years is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. (It's a lovely book, too, one of my favorites.) The omnivore's dilemma is: if you can eat anything, what should you eat? (The opposite is the panda, which can only eat one thing: bamboo shoots. Being a panda means never having to decide what's for dinner.)
Taking a page from Pollan, I'd call my problem the peripatetic's dilemma. If you can live anywhere, where do you live?
I want to thank all the many people who responded in any way to my hasty and offhand post the other day about possibly moving to Florida. It drew lots and lots of generous responses on and off list. In truth, the only reason I was looking at the Gulf Coast is that it looks like that's one of the few areas in the U.S. where I could afford a house anywhere reasonably near a body of water and a beach. I got very interested in hurricane-proof housing a few years ago (housing is—abstractly—one of my interests), and ever since then I've had this daydream of building a small (~950 sq. ft.) Topsider prefab house on a hurricane coast somewhere.
"Pipe dream" would probably more accurately describe that. At a certain age we come to know our own patterns all too well, and I'm just not good at life planning. A much more sensible scheme for me would be to plan to get married and then leave it to my wife to decide where to live. :-)
On wings of ether
Since that post, though, I've taken a whirlwind virtual tour of the country. When anybody suggested a certain area to me, I'd go to the semi-addictive Zillow.com and zero in on that area of the country and start looking at houses.
The tour has not been entirely pleasant. For one thing, it confuses me. Too much data and too many choices makes the act of choosing more difficult, not less, as anyone who has had to buy a camera recently knows all too well. For another thing, seldom have I had to look at so many bad photographs consecutively—most of them tiny. It's left me with eyestrain and a slightly sick feeling in my stomach—a lot of real estate agents need to take a course, is all I'm going to say.
But the main lesson of my Grand Tour is that...I really can't afford to live anywhere I would want to live. Either housing prices have to go down further, or I need to earn more. (For the record, I'm not complaining, I'm just sayin'.)
Other peoples' fantasies
One website singled out Naples, Florida, as one of the most undervalued real estate markets in America. Really? From the looks of the Zillow map, you can't smack a tennis ball in Naples without hitting a million-dollar-plus house. One house I saw listed was described as "a stopover house...a pleasant enough place to live while your beachside dream house is being constructed." The cost of this temporary layover pad? Upwards of five million bucks, fer pete's sake. Who are these people?
One nice conclusion of my virtual journey...I don't covet big showpiece houses. Don't need a swimming pool, don't need nineteen rooms, don't want to live in a place that resembles a very fancy hotel or a mansion-turned-museum. That's not the fantasy for me.
What is? I looked at the tiny mountain town of Bisbee, Arizona, an arts enclave near the Mexican border. Some people in Bisbee have part-residence, part-rental properties. And the town and surrounding area is almost painfully photogenic. Now wouldn't that be fun? I could live in the residence part and rent out the rental part to TOP readers from all over the world who want to come visit the Old West! I picture an endless procession of new friends to talk shop and look at pictures with. Nice thought.
That fits in with another long-time pipe dream of mine. The way I logicked out Liz's wish is that if you can't have all your friends in the same town, then the next best thing would be to live in a place where all your friends would want to come visit. Accordingly, my lottery-daydream for years now has been to live in some spectacular spot in Hawaii...and have a commodious guest house. Not because I'm particularly attracted to Hawaii—I don't even swim—but because the catnip-lure of free accommodation in Hawaii would probably mean I'd see all my friends and relatives sooner or later!
I'll always love that idea. I'd never pull it off in two lifetimes, but I love the idea.
I can't look at California. They don't allow Amazon affiliates there, and without Amazon income I'd be pounding the pavement.
Two readers suggested Santa Fe. I will say that Santa Feans have the best taste in the country when it comes to interior decor—the local standard is quite high, if the dozen or so listings I looked in on are any indication. Alas, as it true in many areas, the prevailing prices put Santa Fe out of my modest reach.
So guess what? The best single house I found in all my online peregrinations was right here close to home. Only a dozen miles from me, in the genteel old neighborhood where the Mayor of Milwaukee lives—and right down the block from a pair of old friends (hiya, Dan and Barb). A gorgeous restored 1910 Craftsman-style house with lots and lots of woodwork (look at the interior shots. I love wood. The more a house has, the better).
Alas, it has a signed contract already. It was too expensive—and, truthfully, too extensive—for me anyway.
But maybe the biggest lesson of looking around is that I'm better off staying where I am.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Sean: "I'm one of seven siblings raised in inner city Manchester, England. Everybody I grew up with, friends and siblings alike, still live within five miles of me. It's one of the very few benefits that a lack of social mobility brings."
Mike replies: Very true, very true. And it's a big advantage. (Assuming you like your friends and siblings.) There are people here in Waukesha like that.
But actually that's one more thing to watch out for if you're moving: stumbling into too tightly-knit a community can tag you as a permanent outsider. Here in the U.S. we're nomadic, generally, so that's not much of a danger, but once a long time ago I almost moved to a small town where, it turned out, everyone's great-grandparents had known each other. Maybe not literally. My eyes were opened when one of the townspeople answered my question by saying, "I've been here twenty years, so I'm still a 'mover-inner.'" Yikes!
Featured Comment by William: "Thanks for sharing the beginning of your journey. Real estate prices in Florida are depressed. I visit friends in Naples and I know exactly what you're talking about.
"I do think the U.S. real estate brokers are fools. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) software is a joke. It's like time-traveling backwards about 15 years. At least 80% of buyers look online first and the brokers won't invest in software that shows decent-sized images. Is bandwidth and storage that expensive? The most successful agents have private web sites that show much higher quality photos. Still, it is easy to find listings for million dollar homes with photos that appear as though they were taken by a random stranger off the street who never operated a camera before. I won't even start to rant about the HDR photos that make me wonder if there had been a small house fire and no one bothered to clean the smoke damage off the walls and ceilings.
"Anyway, you should head down to Florida and take in a few spring season baseball games. Find realtors in towns of interest who uses a pro photographer (they will be the most professional agents). Get a feel for the place. Change can be good."