ERE City (US)

How to avoid signing your life over to a mortgage
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Post by DividendGuy »

I have looked into condos many times due to my preference of maintenance-free living and being around people. The condo fees can be quite a drag, especially when you're including that as part of a portfolio of expenses (property tax, interior maintenance/repairs, mortgage, etc.). Assessments are another thing. Down here in FL, there have been a few publicized cases of extreme assessments due to the fact that there are so many vacant units and therefore fewer residents to spread the costs between. Buyer beware. I know of one case where each resident was assessed over $5k all in one shot because the foundation of the pool split and the vendor that warrantied it went out of business. Add that $5k on top of your usual dues and bills and that could be quite an ERE-unfriendly situation.
All the same, I continue to rent.

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Post by Mo »

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. Boy, there are a lot of considerations. Similar to Chad, I've thought Pittsburg would be a good place.
Some thoughts on Gainesville, FL, my current hometown. Like any town there are positives and negatives.
On the good side:

Gainesville is actually one of the older cities of significance in Florida. If you believe in things like peak oil, climate change, and the impacts of these situations, realize that Florida was a much different place before the invention of air conditioning and the automobile. Gainesville as a location for people to live predates both of these, and probably is one of the most habitable parts of Florida in primitive conditions. To be fair there was a different railroad system in the 1800s, but even before the white settlers, the area around Gainesville was sustainably inhabited.
Gainesville has great public transportation, with a well developed bus system. The college provides significant benefit, with better medical care and cultural opportunities than one would otherwise get in a city of less than 200k. Employment is relatively stable due to the majority of jobs being linked to higher education, currently one of the more entrenched public funding endeavors. Climate currently is excellent—mild winters, no snow, relatively mild summers (rarely over 100F). Spring and Fall are pretty much heaven. It’s a great place for families and diversity. Florida is good for cycling in the sense that it is essentially perfectly flat, and either coast can be reached by cycle (50-60miles), or in about 1 hour by car. The city has an airport with flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami. Jacksonville, Tampa, and Orlando airports are all around 2 hours drive away (why exactly is an intl airport c/w ERE?) . By Florida standards, housing and COL is less expensive, with a lot of waterfront property and acreage—many lakes, rivers, and farms. I’ve recently looked at a 1 acre plot on a lake access canal for under $40k. The center of the city is relatively cheap, as the suburbanites haven’t yet realized that people will move in again when gas is $8/gallon (or whatever they consider “expensive”). If you believe that the real estate bubble bursting will lead to prices lower than the onset of the boom, know that you could get a very decent 1/1 condo in Gainesville in the late 90s for under $20k. The region around Gainesville remains agricultural with many local farms. Gainesville is centrally located, on higher ground, so hurricanes and sea level risings are unlikely to be catastrophic. It isn’t far from Palatka, which is connected to Jacksonville (a large seaport) by river (this too was a big deal in the 1800s). Florida has no income tax, and a lot of asset protection opportunities.
On the down side:

Florida, the state, as a whole concept, probably peaked in the late 90s, or earlier. It’s become quite crowded, and the result isn’t all advantages. As for Gainesville, as an adult, non-student you don’t always want to be surrounded by 18-22ish age students. Currently the city center is mostly inhabited by students and the poorer citizens. The better off tend to live outside of the city. If the education bubble bursts, what becomes of Gainesville, or similar cities, a ¼ contraction? Food costs are higher than the Midwest, and certain other parts of the south like Tennessee. Property taxes compared to the Midwest are more expensive. Auto insurance is dramatically more expensive than the Midwest. Flights directly out of GNV are limited. The area is prone to droughts and wildfires. The wildfires can be surprisingly bad, considering they get essentially no national media coverage—perhaps these will become worse in the future. The impact of climate change on this area, in terms of habitat and economy is quite hard to estimate.

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Post by chilly »

@Jacob, everywhere I've seen condo's have significant fees (at least $100-$200/month), and the owner deals with property taxes as well. I would never buy a condo. Not that they can't be a financially viable alternative at the time of purchase, but it's that you have nearly no control over a) expenses deemed 'necessary', and b) saving via DIY. Being at the frugal end of the spectrum, I think long term, the association and I are unlikely to agree on many things.
I've also never seen fees posted in MLS listings where I've looked. That may be regional though... a lot of things are (ie. listing mobile homes as single family, including basement in sq. ft., listing mobile home rent). I won't go into another Realtor rant here...
@Jacob, with regard to your investigation process ($50k-$100k), I'm curious what you came up with in NH? I'd expect either very old rural homes, or mobile homes in that range. I think you will find that $N will buy a much nicer home in other areas (NV, FL). In FL, not only could you buy a much nicer home, near the beach, for $100k, but you're property taxes would be at least $1-$2k lower per year.
The only cheap areas I've found in New England are:

-Extremely rural... like south central MA (Ware), far north VT (Newport)... none very conducive to ERE as we are discussing it.

-Very 'urban' cities.... Worcester/Springfield MA, Hartford/Bridgeport/Groton CT, Springfield. Not outside the realm of possibility... just not especially utopian IMHO. Groton probably fits many of your requirements... although CT is tax hell.

-Upstate NY. Very high taxes and insurance though. But Syracuse, Rochester, even the finger lakes region... how about Ithaca - a college town FTW (although, again, more expensive than surrounding regions).

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Post by dragoncar »

Although almost all condos have fees, they aren't always bad, and some don't. I've seen condo fees in the $50/mo range. Many condo conversions also have no fees: i.e. condos where you are sharing the building structure with one other tenant, and you come to your own arrangements regarding maintanance.

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Post by DividendGuy »

There is a lot of talk about real estate on this thread. I've found shared space very ERE-friendly. If enough of us were in one spot wouldn't it make sense to share space to not only conserve resources but also to save money? This could be done in a number of different ways.

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Post by Chad »


I like the Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca/finger lakes region. Spectacular summers, tons of outdoor activities (hiking, great and small lakes, skiing, etc.). And, though it isn't dirt cheap it is by no means expensive. I lived in Rochester for 1 year.

I'm also semi-biased for Pittsburgh, as I have a lot of friends there and it's only a 90 minute drive from my parents and most of my relatives...not mention I do like the Steelers.

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Post by etown84 »

I live in Minnneapolis and think this city should be given due consideration in this discussion. The biking in Minneapolis is phenomenal (unless you are going from suburb to suburb). You can bike straight to the downtown area from many directions if you so choose, and they are also currently expanding the light-rail system to connect St. Paul and Minneapolis. There are many inexpensive cultural activities and free concerts and events held during the summer. I'm currently working on my own inexpensive living situation by buying a small house. The taxes are a bit high within the Minneapolis city limits, but that's my two cents!

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Post by rjack »

@etown84 - Do people actually bike in the middle of winter in Minneapolis?

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Post by jacob »

Ohhh, this thread is like herding cats. Maybe it's better to think of it as determining one city/area in each state? I think this would be an improvement over the current situation already.

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Post by sky »

You may want to consider adding a criteria: cheap ag land within easy bicycling distance of a city that has little or no zoning oversight. Then one person could purchase a 10 or 20 acre "farm" and allow ERE farm help to live on the land in trailers or low cost, self built housing. Call it an organic farming school.

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Post by learning »

I really like this idea, would like very much to live in an area with other ERErs, and would strongly consider moving there either pre- or post- FI. I agree that living near other ERE people would make me happier and psychologically healthier. I also like DividendGuy's idea, mentioned here before, of trying some kind of community housing idea.
As a way to develop criteria and also for sample analysis and data, these books and their associated websites are helpful:
cities ranked and rated

places rated almanac
One thought is that I found that college towns tend to be cheaper than many of the more expensive areas of the country, but they tend to not be the cheapest places. I think the college's presence keeps the real estate higher than other cheaper places. This is for many reasons. Also, for a college town - if it is to be a college town - I would prefer a college that attracts smart students. Another thought is that most of the residents of college towns are transient - undergrads for 4 years, grads for 1-7 years, adjuncts and assistant profs for however long. The real long-term population is the tenured faculty and the staff and administration, which is a much smaller number of people.
One of the things I would like is a place that has something that attracts people to move there and to stay there for a long time. That way, they don't move away after we become close.
I find medium-sized cities to be the best for me right now. Life in a small town or small city is too limited, there just aren't enough interesting people - what is drawing and keeping them there? I second what KevinW said above. My thinking is that for my personal psychological growth over the next decades, I would like to live in an area where there are enough people for me to grow and change with.
I like Vancouver-Portland and Austin, TX. What about Atlanta, South Florida and Seattle?
For the selection process, I would say that a preliminary visit followed by a short-term stay, at least by some early explorers who could post us field reports, would be essential. Here are some notes that I made while city-shopping Montreal, which may help to provoke thought:

is Montreal the best city in Canada?

Montreal is hot and humid now (end of June)

Montreal is big city - I drove for ~30 minutes from edge of city to inner city

is Montreal hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than Toronto?

Montreal is bilingual city, good to already know some French, good place to improve French? accent?

is Montreal really cheaper for real estate?

do French-Canadians prefer Montreal or Quebec? Quebec is much smaller

where is nightlife in this city? downtown area is dead at night. maybe in Old Montreal?

Mont Royal neighborhood and that big park with beach/sand volleyball were very nice

Old Montreal is more like SoHo in Manhattan than like a colonial city like North End of Boston - some stone streets, buildings seem like big stone modern-ish buildings - hopefully Quebec is more beautiful and interesting

nobody has been rude to me and I have only spoken in English

what is future status of Montreal? will Quebec province attempt secession?
For whoever does the initial city-shopping, I found it helpful to visit a few cities first, just to calibrate my expectations for comparison, and to get good at the process of city-shopping. It's not the same as visiting the tourist sites of a city.

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Post by learning »

here's a preliminary list of criteria. has useful info by zip code.
@Jacob - if this is too much, just delete this post.
Notes and Highlights
neighborhoods, suburbs?

Cost to Buy a House

Cost to Rent an Apartment






City income tax

City income tax on retirement income?

City property tax

City capital gains tax

City property transfer tax

City school tax

City sales tax

State income tax

State income tax on retirement income?

State property tax

State capital gains tax

State property transfer tax

State sales tax

State sales tax - gasoline

State inheritance/estate tax

Automobile Registration Tax

Vehicle and Traffic Violation Tax

-Total Sales Tax

investing/trading considerations

real estate investment considerations
Homestead/Bankruptcy/Liability Protection

Depravity of Police, Politicians, Business Owners - are people afraid of being pulled over by police for nonsense as "tax-raising" theft? are people afraid to report crimes to police?

Good Government (what is this?)

Effective services for poor

Effective drug and alcohol treatment programs

Effective criminal rehabilitation programs

No/Little corrupt stealing of tax money

Good, well-maintained roads, bridges, infrastructure

Development, Poverty/Crime reduction policies

Fair courts, police, prisons

What are the prisons like?

Dependence on oil for transportation and electricity
Local News Media
Fair Local Businesses (charge fair prices to customers, pay employees fair wages)
Population (Wikipedia)


Metropolitan Statistical Area
Transportation (can live without car?)


Bicycle lanes and paths for transportation

Public Transportation

Cost and Ease of Parking

Availability and Cost of Taxis

Frequent, inexpensive flights to many places

3 average highest months

3 average lowest months





# sunny days/year

# days/year with precipitation

do cars last long time?

housing modifications to adapt to climate

clothing for climate

Air Quality

Water Quality


High quality university to enroll as visiting student in language classes

Community Colleges

High Schools

Elementary Schools


City parks for walks and picnics

Bicycle trails for enjoyment

Pedestrian zones for walking, errands, living



Inexpensive, tasty, healthy, fast, varied dining

Museums and Galleries

State and National Parks

Outdoor activities








Nearby Cities to Visit (Driving distance in miles,time) [Flying time, nonstop]





TV - Cable

TV - # of Digital Broadcast Channels

Internet - DSL

Internet - Cable

Internet - Cell tower network

Internet - Wimax - Clear/Sprint? Verizon?

Internet - Fiber optic


Cell phone - MetroPCS w unlimited intl?
Natural Disasters (property damage and human injury and death)



Volcano Eruptions


Floods (eg, rivers, lakes)


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Post by Andre900 »

I lived in Gainesville, FL during grad school, 1998-2000, then took a job in Tampa after graduation. Gainesville's resident population is about 90,000, plus about 45,000 students. The students are mostly gone during summer and winter breaks. During school I lived a block from the business school and was able to walk everywhere. But in and around the large campus it's all small, mostly older, cheap apartments, lots of bars, pretty congested, and heavy traffic. Local bus transportation is excellent and low cost. (Free for UF students and about $1 back then for non-students.) The atmosphere is lively and it's mostly pretty safe (despite 1990 serial killings!). A half mile outside of campus and it's like many other mid-size suburbs, including a relatively high-crime area east of campus.
In 2004, I accepted a decent job offer back in Gainesville, and lived and worked about 2 miles west of the campus, and greatly enjoyed it. In 2006, I thought I wanted to be back on the coast and headed 180 miles southeast directly on the beach in Brevard County.
Home prices and rents are all over the board in both places, so it's hard to directly compare, but I'm now paying $750 per month and live 1 block off the beach. A nice grown-up apartment in Gainesville will be the same. Decent 3/2 houses can be purchased for under $100K in Gainesville and in Brevard County (away from the beach). I suspect rents and home prices have bottomed out in both cities.
Overnight temps in the winter (Jan & Feb) in Gainsville often drop into the mid-20s, but reach 60 during the day. Summers are brutal.
The university-affiliated sports and events in Gainesville are enjoyable. If I wasn't such a fan of the beach and the water, I'd definitely be interested in returning to Gainesville to live & work or ER.

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Post by Andre900 »

Jacob, I see that you're interested in Durham, NH, home of Dartmouth. Remember, winter is long, cold, and snowy. Same with all of NH. I grew up 15 miles south of Seabrook, NH on the MA/NH coastal border and spent many summer weekends on the Seabrook and Hampton, NH beaches and winter weekends skiing the NH and ME mountains. I get back to that area every July (except this one) to see family and old childhood friends. Many family members and old friends still like the area. I don't know how they tolerate the winters. But they say the same thing about me and the FL summers. The ones that can afford it, spend summer in NH and winter in FL.

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Post by jacob »

Keene, NH (one of the freestate project cities in NH. Manchester, NH is the other one).
Housing: 90000 (3%SWR = 225/month) + 4000/12 taxes = 558/month

Current housing (RV): 10000 (3%SWR = 25/month) + 495 rent = 520/month
Health insurance for $5000 HDHP/HSA = 151/month

Current similar = 95/month
I figure everything else (but heating) will cost less.

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Post by chilly »

Keene sounds like a reasonable pick. You're number of $90k looks workable, even if a little less powerful than other areas. I'm not familiar enough to know how big of a role Keene state plays in the city - if it could be considered a 'college town'..... but it is in a fairly convenient NH location. That, combined with it's size and comparatively (to VT/NH) cosmopolitan nature, I don't see it as risky as some of the more rural areas may be to collapse.
I am curious about the general interest in the north though. Unless someone truly enjoys winter - either for sport, or whatever reasone, it seems to me that the negatives are very substantial. You certainly can't sanely ride a bike year round in NH. Perhaps you could walk if you were downtown, but wow, that's really pushing the limits of the lifestyle IMHO.
I appreciate the realistic estimates on property tax though! It really is similar to rent in an RV or mobile home park... an interesting correlation.
The health insurance estimate sounds reasonable. About +50%. NY is the real killer. I'm not sure why you'd expect other things to cost less... but I'd agree that probably no more than other places. Alcohol is super cheap for some reason in NH :)
Something to consider... a lot of seasonal properties in the north are much cheaper (with correspondingly lower property taxes). I mean 1/2 kind of cheaper. It makes a not unreasonable argument that the frugal snowbird lifestyle may not be completely gluttonous and irrational. If 15 people chartered a bus and a moving van every 6 months to go from NH to FL... wonder how much would that cost per person?

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Post by jacob »

I love the CA climate of 5% humidity and 85F. I prefer snow storms over 85F and 85% humidity. It seems to be a choice between being holed up inside over winter or over summer respectively. The weather is not really my primary concern (if anything, climate change should alleviate the cold North over a period of decades).
My strategic concerns are in no particular
1) Water (from the sky or from lakes).

2) A culture of enlightenment/cosmopolitan/mind your own business. Preferably avoiding too much of this mentality---I just wouldn't be able to communicate with my neighbors.

3) Survivability w/o oil --- in particular, are the current 'settlements' like they were 100 years ago. Are they sustainable? (I think much of the south, especially the south west is unsustainable. A lot of A/C-dependent developments. Too many people relative to the natural occurrence of water.)

4) Access to transport-preferably not road-only, proximity to major cities (1-2 hours away); not in the middle of nowhere and 5 hours away from everything.

5) Not a big city, too many regulations, zoning, etc. Quick quiz: If I wanted to set up a steam engine generator to charge a battery bank with bio gas, can I do so without interference? What if I want a hen house?
My tactical concerns
1) Should be viable on a savings level of $250k tops. ERE aims lower: We'd be excluding a lot of people if the particular city is un-FIable on less than 500k. This means rents in the <$300/person range or housing prices $100k.

2) No impending state default.

3) Access to location-dependent jobs.

4) No killer level health insurance costs.

5) Low level of regulation.

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Post by KevinW »

"I would never buy a condo."
Like any other expense, the fee should be considered on a cost/benefit basis. Often it's a bad deal but not always. Consider that some functions such as snow removal are prorated among the units which is inherently cheaper than each household maintaining its own facilities. And major exterior maintenance (roof) is amortized which is helpful when living off capital.
Also don't discount your ability to influence or take over the HOA. Consider it a Renaissance man challenge.
"I would like access to a large body of water to connects to the ocean in one way or another."
Does river access count? NH and MA had a network of rivers and canals before the highways were built. In fact my sweethearts, Manchester and Nashua, are on the Merrimack R. which flows into the Atlantic.

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Post by jacob »

Rivers definitely count. Barge transport for the win.

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Post by KevinW »

"why exactly is an intl airport c/w ERE?"
There needs to be some way for people to move in (or out) without a car. An airport, train station, or public transit connection to those would suffice.
Also an airport implies that taxis and rental cars are available, and those help make living car-free feasible.
I checked, and there's a van service that will take you from Seabrook to MHT or BOS airport for $120. Not ideal but sufficient for rare travel.

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