As an adult, I have moved away from New York twice.
The first time was in 2007 when I decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina. During my one visit there, everything seemed great especially the houses. An all brick house 4000sqft house with tray ceilings, wood floors, granite countertops, spa bathrooms, fireplaces, and much more was only around $400K with taxes of $3000 a year! A similar house in New York would be at least 2 million with taxes of $25,000 a year.
It was only until I moved to Charlotte that I discovered I did not fit in. I didn’t belong to a church nor did I have an interest in joining one. I wasn’t married nor did I have kids nor did I have interest in either. I don’t care for shopping so the huge amount of malls and strip malls held no appeal. I didn’t want to join gyms because I avoid places filled with sweaty people, the smell and the germs make me physically ill. Honestly, I should have really thought about the realities of living there before being seduced by the dazzling houses. Charlotte is right for many people. Just not for me.
But I did learn that I am not a fan of McMansions especially when the said McMansions is part of a subdivision. It gets rather boring when everyone has a McMansion built in the same cookie cutter style because they were all built by the same developer in one of the five styles available and then lumped into a subdivision with strict bylaws and what not. All the front lawns, fences, were eerily similar due to the strict bylaws. I have heard horror stories where you had to get approval to paint your door a certain color! Besides having toured enough subdivisions, I can tell you that it was easy to get lost as all the houses were so similar. And that is probably my deepest impression of Charlotte. It seemed to be subdivisions, shopping malls, strip malls, mega churches, churches, national chains, all connected by unlit roads. As I have terrible night vision to begin with the unlit roads made me very scared to drive at night. Also the highways are unlit as well.
Another shocker was the food scene. I had been assured by the real estate agents into believing that Charlotte has a “vibrant” dining scene. Maybe to some, but as a native New Yorker the choices were extremely limiting. Case in point, I had to drive at least 30 minutes to get decent Thai, Mexican, Indian, and Vietnamese food. Chinese food, I didn’t care about as I can just make it myself. However the Asian supermarket was located in a very sketchy neighborhood where you are cautioned to never go there once it gets dark as drive by shootings are known to occur. It was also a 30 minute drive away.
Speaking of unsafe neighborhoods. While are lots of good neighborhoods in Charlotte, they are also not so far way from the bad ones. For example, the rental apartment I lived in was rated the top of the top for both schools and safety. I don’t know about schools but in terms of safety, two of the apartments in my building complex were burglarized in the 3 months I lived there. Additionally several McMansions the next block over was also burglarized. When I asked the property manager about it, she assured me that this happened only during the holiday time. When those living in the sketchy neighborhoods travel to the affluent area to do their Christmas “shopping.” That was the last straw for me and I promptly moved back to New York.
I came back to New York dejected and defeated. I had spent a lot of money, energy, and effort only to regret the entire process. Sure I may never live in a newly built McMansion in New York, but I would rather live in an apartment in New York forever than a palace in Charlotte. I want to state here that I know families that have relocated to Charlotte and loved it, but I also know of families that hated it and couldn’t wait to leave. It goes to prove that different strokes for different folks.
In 2011, the itch to leave New York hit me once again. This was because all my friends were having kids and I felt extremely out of place. I wanted a change of scenery and excitement so I talked G into quitting his job so that we can live abroad. Instead when G went to quit his job, they offered to transfer him to Hong Kong and that was how we ended up there.
I loved Hong Kong and love it still. The best thing about it is that as a female I felt extremely safe walking around at all hours in my neighborhood. I could wear pretty dresses without being hollered at. And I can wear jewelry without fear of being robbed. I never needed to drive, I can walk everywhere or take a cab. I made some good friends and there was a never ending list of activities to do. And the food! G and I ate out every single day. I probably used my kitchen a grand total of maybe 50 times in the 14 months we lived there.
However there are three huge negatives about Hong Kong that inevitably forced us to move back. The lack of living space. I just couldn’t see myself living in a 545sq apartment long term. To upgrade to an 800sq apartment in the same neighborhood, I was going to have to spend at least $6500USD (we were already spending $4000). Another negative was the huge amount of people. I felt like I was swimming in a sea of people half the time. In addition to the natives there are also tons of tourists and their luggage. How I hated their luggage! In the narrow streets they bumped into me numerous times. Not to mention my foot was run over at least several times by people’s suitcases. No apologies, nothing.
Last and certainly not the least was the fact that G was working 80 hour minimum weeks. The competition in Hong Kong is much greater than New York. After all Hong Kong has many more people willing to do more for less. But I will say this, if I was extremely rich I wouldn’t mind living in Hong Kong at all. =P
And so we moved back. But this time I didn’t come back to New York dejected and defeated. Instead I consider the time we spent in Hong Kong as one of the best experiences of my life. I learned, I grew, and I evolved into the person I am today. I learned what makes me happy, what truly mattered to me, and what goals I want to achieve in the future.
I also learned that I never wanted G to work more than a 40 hour work week no matter how much it paid. Free time is more important than a high salary. What was a point of having a grand house when you had to work yourself to death to pay for it? And that even though I didn’t need a McMansion to make me happy, I needed more than 545sqft.
If I had the money, the ideal living space to me would be a 2000sqft apartment in Oahu, Hong Kong, or the Upper East Side in New York preferably between 50th and 70th streets with a doorman and a pool. =) But it is not to G, even if he had the money. Though he loves all three places, he only wants to vacation there and not live there.
You see G has always wanted to own a house, preferably with lots of land. And truth to be told, I am a bit curious about what it is like to own and live in a house as I have never done so before. Initially we considered purchasing a house in Fresh Meadows mainly because it is a nice area and because our close friends P&T lives there. However we are priced out of that neighborhood. Recently a 1600sqft rundown house across the street from them sold for $750K! P&T also told us that the house sold extremely quickly even though it needed at least $100K in renovations.
In order to purchase an $850K house, G will have to go back to working long hours. It makes no sense that the person who wants a house the most will have no time to enjoy it. Additionally, I am against spending $850K for a house as I am not 100% sure that I will even enjoy living in a house in the first place. Therefore after much discussion, G and I have agreed to look outside of New York on our house hunt.
Ideally I would like to buy a house in the $300K-$400K range because I view houses as depreciating assets. Sure in ten years the value of the house may rise, then again it may not. In Charlotte many of the McMansions are still being sold in the $350K-$450K range, the same price it was back in 2007. Even if the price of the house increases, the amount of mortgage interest one would have paid probably wiped out by the gains, not to mention all the upkeep and time that comes with owning a house. And factor in inflation, did the value of the house truly increase?
For me that translates to purchasing a house that will suit all of my needs and not the most house I can afford. Besides, I am not committing to owning a house forever but 5 years. As I have never lived in a house I cannot guarantee that I will enjoy living in a house. I can only promise G that I will give myself 5 years to see if I can adjust to living in a house and all the responsibilities that come with it.
They say that the third time is the charm. I certainly hope so!