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There and Back Again (Relocation Update)
Old 08-16-2016, 09:28 AM   #1
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There and Back Again (Relocation Update)

Tl;dr Quit work and sold home in San Jose. Traveled for 2 years across the US and Canada to look for a cheaper/better FIRE location. Ended up back in California (San Diego).

This is going to be a long post, but I'm hoping it will be of interest to those looking to move as part of their FIRE process. In spring 2014, DW and I pulled the plug on work and declared ourselves officially FIREd. We were living in San Jose and in order to make the finances work, we needed to sell our house and move to a lower cost of living area.

We drastically downsized and sold/donated/threw away everything except what would fit in our car. We have a honda element, which has a huge amount of cargo space, but we also needed to make room for our dog and her crate, bed, etc.

For the next two years, we traveled all over the US and Canada checking out various spots including Ames IA (her family), Boulder/Denver, Toronto (my home town), Santa Fe/ABQ, Bishop, and finally San Diego.

Boulder was the first place that we thought could work for us. The city is very nice with an incredibly mild winter, superb hiking and trail system, beautiful scenery, low crime rates, etc. But we decided to push on because we thought we might find someplace we liked more and kept it as a backup.

Our last stop was San Diego and we arrived here in November. It's very hard not to enjoy SD with the weather, beaches, outdoor activities and the culture was comfortingly familiar. Housing in SD is cheaper than most major areas in California, but it's still damn expensive. We decided to stay if we could buy housing in our price range (to lock in costs). We started looking in Feburary and closed on a condo in downtown at the end of July.

I had misgivings about buying now due to home valuations (considered high when compared to historical rents/incomes) plus we are at very low mortgage rates. On the other hand, waiting runs the risk of getting priced out of the market. Ultimately, the wife did not want to rent anymore, is thrilled with our small loft style condo, and is happy to have our own place again.

We've been in our condo for two weeks now and we've been busy moving, painting, and setting it up to our liking. I had no tools other than a leatherman so have gone on a bit of buying spree. Wife is busy looking at furniture and deciding what pictures we want blown up and put on the walls.

In hindsight, we would have been better off heading straight to San Diego right after FIREing due to rapidly increasing housing prices. Not sure why we didn't do so, but we probably had to leave CA to realize how much we like it.


Some observations:

* Cost of living didn't vary much (outside of housing) no matter where we lived. Food (grocery) is pretty much the same and while services/gas/restaurants might be a little less in the midwest and mountain states this can be offset by winter costs (clothes, auto, heating).

* Having too much choice made decision making difficult and led to analysis paralysis. It would have been easier had we visited many of the places before FIRE and come up with a shorter list. But we never had enough vacation time to do this.

* If we had more money we probably would have stayed in San Jose. However, I think this would have been a mistake as SD overall is a better place for us as retirees. Staying in SJ would have been a local minimum in optimization terms.

* The constant travel was awesome at the beginning but started getting tiresome sometime after a year or so: It's hard to make friends in a new place and then have to move right when you start to know people. We also began to miss certain comforts like having a couch, books, big screen tv, paper shredder, and more than 1 pot and 1 pan.

* It's possible to furnish an apartment for basically nothing if you are careful buying and selling furniture on the used market. Had some good finds on freecycle and dumpster diving (best skill from grad school).


Picture 1: All our stuff when we arrived in Boulder.
Picture 2: Car packed up ready to leave Boulder. We ended up with a bit more stuff than when we arrived so we got a roof bag. Extra cargo was for camping gear, cooler, winter clothes, and two tables we hadn't managed to sell.
Picture 3: Our net investible assets.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg all-our-stuff.jpg (171.9 KB, 73 views)
File Type: jpg leaving boulder.jpg (724.0 KB, 81 views)
File Type: png net-worth.png (35.2 KB, 83 views)
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Old 08-16-2016, 09:41 AM   #2
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WOW!! What a timely (for me) and informative post!!! Thank you.

We are 2 years away from doing the very same thing ---- by boat. Selling out everything and living on the boat for a year or so. We will do the "Loop" and then focus on waterfront FL locales (as of today), shopping for a place to buy a house. I think the boat may hold a bit more "stuff" than your Element, but we'll be living in it, though.

One thing to consider about your "hindsight" comment - if you HADN'T done all of that exploring and traveling, you would have always been wondering throughout the next phase of your retirement, "I wonder if there is something else?" That would nag me to no end.....
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Old 08-16-2016, 10:13 AM   #3
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Welcome back to CA! Yes, it's a good place to live -
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Old 08-16-2016, 11:48 AM   #4
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Welcome back to CA! Yes, it's a good place to live -
If you like living and dying in traffic and unbelievable density you'll fit right in. The SF Bay Area and SoCal regions are nothing more than parking lots when it comes to driving, with the population growth projections off the charts. Leave it to SoCal to have stopped freeway traffic...at 3 in the morning! Like all coastal cities, SD is quite nice, but it's a nightmare to get in and out of. Took me an hour to get in on the 5 (I think) when I was down there just a few years ago, and I decided I never wanted to repeat that experience again. If you stay in your neighborhood and don't drive, you should be fine.
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Old 08-16-2016, 11:50 AM   #5
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OP, you need more stuff - like skis and golf clubs for starters, heck even a tennis racket?
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Old 08-16-2016, 12:00 PM   #6
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If you like living and dying in traffic and unbelievable density you'll fit right in. The SF Bay Area and SoCal regions are nothing more than parking lots when it comes to driving, with the population growth projections off the charts. ....
This would be my personal reaction too, which is why we never took the opportunities to move to the west coast. BUT, there is a reason why it is so crowded. Son and his bride love it in San Fran. More frequently than monthly (or so it seems?), they rent a car for the weekend and climb in Yosemite, and they can bike to Napa for weekends as well. They walk to work in the City, have access to great dining/entertainment, and save a large amount of money. Great place for two young engineers who love the outdoors.

OTOH, when it comes time to raise kids, their plans are to move unless one of them has the option ship come in.
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Old 08-16-2016, 12:08 PM   #7
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The driving thing is not a problem for us retired folks that get our "city driving" done between 10 AM and 2 PM. Freeways are clean and green -
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Old 08-16-2016, 12:18 PM   #8
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This would be my personal reaction too, which is why we never took the opportunities to move to the west coast. BUT, there is a reason why it is so crowded. Son and his bride love it in San Fran. More frequently than monthly (or so it seems?), they rent a car for the weekend and climb in Yosemite, and they can bike to Napa for weekends as well. They walk to work in the City, have access to great dining/entertainment, and save a large amount of money. Great place for two young engineers who love the outdoors.

OTOH, when it comes time to raise kids, their plans are to move unless one of them has the option ship come in.
It is a nice place to be retired. There is a lot to do within the Bay Area itself and many day or overnight trips like Napa, Santa Cruz, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. We live near a Bart station and also drive outside the commute hours, so traffic isn't a big issue for us. We raised kids in the suburbs. DH had a regular job and I worked from home around the school hours.
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Old 08-16-2016, 12:24 PM   #9
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Photoguy - Thanks for the update. San Diego is a great place! Enjoy your new condo. I think when we move to a retirement village some day it will be SD or Orange County.
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Old 08-16-2016, 12:39 PM   #10
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Great post with good information. Glad you have found your new "home".
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Old 08-16-2016, 01:24 PM   #11
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If you like living and dying in traffic and unbelievable density you'll fit right in.
You know, although I can't help but agree, I've come to the conclusion over the years that California is one of those states that people absolutely adore, or can't stand.

San Diego is a prime example. Of all the (many) places I have ever lived, San Diego is at the absolute bottom of the heap for me, for so many reasons. (OK, I have never lived in downtown Detroit. ) Plenty of others that I know are not eager to live there either.

On the other hand, I know that many consider San Diego to be heaven on earth. There was even a local myth at the time I lived there, asserting that everyone would live in San Diego if they could afford it. Those who love San Diego are probably utterly thrilled to discover that some people are not actually trying to live there at all, so that there is more room for those who really do adore and appreciate San Diego.

Photoguy, congratulations on finding a great retirement location! Of course what is, or isn't a great retirement location depends on what the individual retiree thinks, not on a vote of the general population or participants on a forum. I'm sure New Orleans would be at the bottom of more lists than San Diego, for example. We love it here, though, so for us it is the right choice.

Also, I love the photo of all your possessions while traveling about! I notice that dog things took up a lot of space, so I am especially impressed by how you cut back to the absolute minimum for your own possessions.
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Old 08-16-2016, 01:25 PM   #12
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts and process Photoguy!

I am a few steps behind you, doing a reckon mission on every travel I do from a "do I want to live here" perspective. New Zealand and Nepal are high up on the list right now.

One question: why not Boulder in the end? I mean a bit more detail plz, since it was 'backup'
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Old 08-16-2016, 03:13 PM   #13
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One thing to consider about your "hindsight" comment - if you HADN'T done all of that exploring and traveling, you would have always been wondering throughout the next phase of your retirement, "I wonder if there is something else?" That would nag me to no end.....
That's definitely my personality -- I tend to revisit decisions and rethink them to no end. Drives my wife crazy sometimes. I actually thought about doing a boat tour but my wife gets deathly sick on the ocean. No amount of patches/dramamine helps.

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If you like living and dying in traffic and unbelievable density you'll fit right in.
Traffic is not bad in SD. I think it's the 8th largest city in the US but only has the 14th worst traffic (see https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex/list ). Nowhere near as bad as LA or SF. It's more like a typically US large city (which sucks but not LA level of suckage).

I normally avoid rush hour, but sometimes I don't have a choice like when I'm trying to go/return from shooting at the beach at sunset. Traffic is usually still moving (albeit slower) and one direction is often ok. Main bad part for me is trying to get in/out of LaJolla which always gets jammed up due to geography.

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OP, you need more stuff - like skis and golf clubs for starters, heck even a tennis racket?
I've thinking about a bigger monitor. I'm tired of editing pictures on a laptop. Maybe dual 30inchers.

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Photoguy - Thanks for the update. San Diego is a great place! Enjoy your new condo. I think when we move to a retirement village some day it will be SD or Orange County.
Thanks. I had an older SFH in San Jose and I hated the maintenance and the yard.
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Old 08-16-2016, 03:19 PM   #14
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I've thinking about a bigger monitor. I'm tired of editing pictures on a laptop. Maybe dual 30inchers.
i've got dual 24" hdmi at the jerb - love em
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Old 08-16-2016, 04:06 PM   #15
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Photoguy, congratulations on finding a great retirement location! Of course what is, or isn't a great retirement location depends on what the individual retiree thinks, not on a vote of the general population or participants on a forum. I'm sure New Orleans would be at the bottom of more lists than San Diego, for example. We love it here, though, so for us it is the right choice.
Thanks. It's funny you bring up New Orleans because my wife and I visited there and she absolutely hated it. Although I think a big chunk of her dislike is the bad experience we had with a B&B.

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Also, I love the photo of all your possessions while traveling about! I notice that dog things took up a lot of space, so I am especially impressed by how you cut back to the absolute minimum for your own possessions.
Well we left a couple boxes of stuff at my MIL's place. Some photos and other sentimental items and a set of french white corningware set that my wife won in a Bride's magazine giveaway. I also left a really nice rotatrim 24" paper trimmer that I couldn't bring myself to sell.

The big issue is that now that we have a place MIL might want to get us to take some of the family's antique furniture and other heirlooms. It's quality stuff but doesn't really fit our needs/style. Who has a giant cabinet to store silverware and china anymore?
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Old 08-16-2016, 04:25 PM   #16
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I have moved a lot in my life and 19 years ago I came to Northern Nevada for a job and love it here. so I never considered moving anywhere else to retire. I have been to SD and it is a great town. We love to visit SF too.
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Old 08-16-2016, 04:31 PM   #17
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I'll have to admit that San Diego's weather is absolutely the best in the 48 states.

I've traveled there for work a few times. The gentleman I visited bought one of the officers' quarters on an ex-Navy base. I have a room in my house that's larger than his whole house--and it didn't cost $1,250,000. The cost of housing in San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and the nicer parts of metropolitan Los Angeles are maybe 10 times the cost of our real estate per square feet. Housing costs throw me out of living there automatically.

But if money was no issue, San Diego might be desirable as a place to live.

It's a shame you just didn't have time to go to more diverse places in the U.S. than you did. But you cannot visit everywhere on a fact finding expedition.
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Old 08-16-2016, 05:11 PM   #18
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts and process Photoguy!

I am a few steps behind you, doing a reckon mission on every travel I do from a "do I want to live here" perspective. New Zealand and Nepal are high up on the list right now.

One question: why not Boulder in the end? I mean a bit more detail plz, since it was 'backup'

Boulder is great little town and I'm sure we would have been happy there (and in other cities along the front range like Denver/Fort Collins). But I think it boils down to whether you prefer the mountains or the beach. Do you like RMNP or Yosemite better?

Here are couple of the factors that helped us decide to move on:

* Although wife is from Iowa, she doesn't like winter. Even the mild winter in colorado was a bit of a negative.

* We lived in OC/LA before the bay area and still have friends there. Both LA and SF are easier to get to from San Diego.

* Friends and family will visit us in San Diego (for conferences/vacation) but are not likely come to colorado. I've already had a few HS buddies come to town and my brother is planning a visit to escape the brutal canadian winter.

* This might seem like a crazy preference, but Boulder is set at the foothills of the flatirons. This is gorgeous but it means that the sun is gone significantly earlier in the afternoon and you don't get a true sunset.

* Wife likes to walk/hike but doesn't like elevation change.

* San Diego is more diverse than Boulder and has a better restaurant scene. I think Denver is much better on this front, but we didn't get there much due to pitbull restrictions (our dog was a pit/lab mix).

* Housing in Boulder is basically at CA prices so we don't gain anything in terms of COL. Denver and other cities are significantly cheaper but then you lose out on some of Boulder's benefits (like the fantastic trail system)

* In Boulder we'd have to get a townhome as opposed to a lock & leave condo although we could find this in Denver.

* MIL might expect us to drive back to Iowa for every holiday.

* I didn't look that deeply in to this but CA and Socal in particular has a very healthy ACA marketplace. I wouldn't be surprised if it is one of the best in the nation. However I realize the healthcare situation could change quite rapidly and we can't really count on anything.
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Old 08-16-2016, 07:19 PM   #19
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The driving thing is not a problem for us retired folks that get our "city driving" done between 10 AM and 2 PM. Freeways are clean and green -
There isn't a clean and green freeway on the coast that isn't crowded any time of day (except maybe at certain times in the middle of the night). The 99, which they just widened running up the central valley in the middle of the state already slows down during rush hour. On the coast, the 5, 10, 60, 110, 710, the infamous 405, and all the rest any time of day can come to a dead stop (all 5, 6, 7 lanes). I used to travel for work and know this well. As to SD, getting in and out is the problem, as it can be with many coastal cities. Stay in your neighborhood and you'll be fine. Just don't think it's a hop over to Big Bear, Yosemite, Santa Monica, Disneyland, etc., because it just isn't (there's a reason everyone uses the Waze traffic app here).

In the BA, Napa is not at all a bike ride away from SF; it's at least a couple of hours away by car. And there's no way you can rent a car in SF, drive to Yosemite, hike, and get back by the end of the weekend (unless you've got super powers). Housing in the Bay Area? Forget it. See this:

https://shift.newco.co/letter-of-res...4f5#.nhk1htz5i

OTOH, SF and LA are fantastic places for a young person starting out. So much cutting edge stuff going on, stuff you won't find anywhere else in the world. Enormous talent, and you meet people you just won't be able to meet elsewhere. The BA is a hotbed of opportunity (at least in tech). But with that comes enormous competition (for everything), and an enormous COL.

That said, I personally could never think of spending my retirement in the SF Bay Area or anywhere in SoCal. It's just too crowded, congested, and over populated for my tastes, and according to projections, it's only going to get worse. Much worse. YMMV.
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Old 08-16-2016, 07:47 PM   #20
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Thanks. I had an older SFH in San Jose and I hated the maintenance and the yard.
We've looked around up here at downsizing and the pickin's are slim for nice condos and townhomes at even remotely decent prices. If we do downsize eventually I think we will also head south.
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