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Old 12-09-2019, 06:58 PM
Location: Vermont
1,002 posts, read 836,895 times
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My wife and I currently live in Vermont. We're planning to move to Michigan in ~2-3 years, after we've paid off our student debt and have made some major headway on the mortgage, to be closer to family in order to start our own. I don't have any family here anymore and hers are all living around Dearborn, where she grew up. I could use some opinions on some good places to live based on some of our preferences and criteria.

First and foremost, we're moving so that when we have children, they will be closer to cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Most of my wife's immediate family live around Trenton and Grosse Ile, though her parents are eyeing the Pontiac/Troy area for retirement (he's an engineer at Ford). Being within 45 minutes of both of these areas would be ideal, but the right place could convince us to be as far as maybe 2-3 hours.

We're interested in an area with very good schools, and one with a healthy family culture. To use Grosse Ile as an example, it has very highly rated schools, but she finished her highschool years there and feels some concern about the party culture and copious underage drinking.

Some other considerations are having a little bit of land (half an acre would be minimum), quiet (not next to a highway or sports stadium), relatively safe, within 45 minutes of good jobs which are less affected by the boom and bust of the auto industry, and we consider ethnic and cultural diversity to be a major plus - we're a mixed racial couple.

Price is always a concern of course, but most of Michigan looks like a bargain compared with housing in Vermont - at least as long as we have access to good employment. We're still a young couple however and not wealthy, so we're not likely to be able to afford to most expensive areas.

We're generally liberal leaning, with an appreciation for honest work and family. We don't need to live around others who hold similar views but would like ours to at least be tolerated politely. For example, we compost, to make soil and fertilizer for a little gardening, and it would be nice to have neighbors who aren't put off by that. Or, that won't be offended if we politely decline ribs or a burger at a BBQ since we're vegetarians (though we'll bring a killer quiche or pasta salad!).

Some areas on my radar are:

Trenton / Grosse Ile area - biggest draw is proximity to family, low housing cost when not on the island, decent schools

Ann Arbor metro (outskirts) - seems stable, maybe more people who share some of our political views, good schools

Novi to Troy band - Great schools, seems to have the best variety of employment, safe (?)

I don't know much about Grand Rapids but might consider it for the right job, property and school system.

Broadly speaking, it looks like Michigan is a lot more diverse, and aside from bringing us closer to family, will:

-Give access to a wider variety of jobs, but likely with a small pay cut.
-Reduce monthly housing costs, though it may be harder to sell or recoup since it looks like a more volatile market.
-Be more hit and miss with schools - some look better than anything here, others far worse
-Have a lot more racial and ethnic diversity almost anywhere we go.
-Probably not be as universally safe - I'll need to stop leaving my keys in the ignition and our house unlocked.
-No more mountains and waterfalls, but some really awesome lakes and dunes instead.

Any thoughts on areas that might be a good fit?

Last edited by EckyX; 12-09-2019 at 07:12 PM..
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Old 12-09-2019, 07:45 PM
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Calling... CJ resident expert on Grosse Ile and general downriver area.....

Overall, there are lots of areas that will fit your requirements.

The wildcard being what type of employment and the location of your jobs.
From there you can narrow down significantly on areas that fit what you are seeking.

The challenge with Southeast Michigan is that its so vast, and major employment centers are highly concentrated in about 6-7 locations. Working in those areas makes some areas highly feasible or infeasible to live simply based on the commute.

Lots of areas fit your requirements.
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Old 12-09-2019, 08:07 PM
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I don't have specific recommendations, but 2 general pieces of advice (from experience):

1. Being where you can remain employed (i.e., easy to find another job should you get laid off) would be my highest priority. Layoffs happen, you're young, you have decades of exposure ahead of you. If you don't want the hassle and expense of being forced to move on short notice, and potentially having to sell your house at the bottom of a recession, prioritize being able to find work close by if you get laid off.

2. Once you're more than 10-15 minutes from family, the amount of time you spend together goes down dramatically. 45 minutes might not sound like much, but a 1.5 hour round trip will be limiting.

Good luck, I hope you find the perfect spot
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Old 12-09-2019, 08:51 PM
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Yeah think through how often you are realistically going to visit family vs. being close to work.

If you only want to visit family once a month or so, on the weekends....don't make that as big a factor as being close to work.
Getting around SE Michigan on a weekend and driving an hour is a lot easier than the daily grind of commutes.

I lived 5 miles away from family and at best I'd see them maybe once a week or so. It was easy to pop over for a weeknight dinner. Other family is an hour away and that takes more planning and blocking out a half day on the weekend.
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Old 12-10-2019, 06:16 AM
Location: Vermont
1,002 posts, read 836,895 times
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Right now we're driving or flying to Michigan once every 2-3 months, sometimes for as little as a 3 day weekend. I expect we'd be seeing family at least once a week if we were within 45 minutes, and later on her mother will almost certainly volunteer free child care for us, though we're uncertain where exactly they'll land in the area. We're going to prioritize us first, but any reduction in the ~13 hour one way trip would be nice.

As for employment, I have a degree in geology I haven't used since graduation, but it likely gives me options. I notice a lot of entry level environmental remediation positions near Pontiac, Novi, and Troy that I'd be qualified for. Right now in Vermont I'm working for an access control and surveillance integrator in a networking/IT/troubleshooting position, though I'm often out with the team pulling wires and running a hammer drill when nothing is broken. The pay is around $70,000 early career here. She's a freelance artist who does social work in the community and school system part time. I expect either of us can find work (and we're not above doing whatever we need to do) just about anywhere there's a significant population.
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Old 12-10-2019, 09:03 AM
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Where you live will highly depend on where you both find work, but you probably guessed that. Before you are able to find jobs, it isn't too useful to worry about where you will live. Commutes can be unnecessarily difficult, otherwise.
Wishing you both best of luck!
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Old 12-10-2019, 10:15 AM
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
30,591 posts, read 77,800,861 times
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If you can afford Grosse Ile, you cannot beat it as a place for families. The school is outstanding but small and very white. the only real downside is kids often end up a bit naive when they first start college. It is very sheltered. The "party culture" which is at all schools really depends on who your kids hang out with. We have 5 kids all went through GI schools. One of them got involved somewhat in the party culture, but since he was an athlete he had to be vary careful about nutrition and sleep, so that limited his involvement to some extent. The others did not get involved in Party culture at all. Most were involved in Band/Music/Drama, one was involved in anime and hung out with the fringe types. it seems like nearly everyone gets at least some scholarships and Grosse ile produces an amazing number of exemplary students for its size (State champions in various sports or academic competitions, scholarships, awards, charitable/community service participation, West Pointe/Naval Academy appointees, etc.). An unusually large percentage of the graduates get into U-M.

When they got to college, all of our kids said they suddenly realized how fortunate they were to go to Grosse Ile. It is very good for college prep. For trades, they generally go to other schools. (One son went to Huron High School three hours a day for Auto mechanics - he ended up getting a scholarship for engineering at a college, but then quit after three years and became a crew coach). Grosse Ile is also not the greatest for special needs kids or kids who do not participate in anything.

It takes a while for them to learn things like like your doors when you leave your house or your car and don't just walk into someone's house for a cookie or a glass of water, or not to walk around alone at night etc. Growing up in the safest place in Michigan can make for a magical childhood but requires some special training for the real world.

If you want diversity - it is not in Grosse ile. Most of the really good schools have very little diversity. Novi and Ann Arbor are probably your best bets there. Also bear in mind the free bridge is in need of major repair and/or rebuilding. Some time in the future, we are going to be limited to access only by the toll bridge for several months at a time. The toll bridge is $4 per round trip at the best p[ricing option. It gets expensive.

We also moved back to be near family. My family is/was in South Lyon (Lyon township/Northville), West Bloomfield, Plymouth, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti township and my wife has an aunt and cousins in Brighton. The distance (about an hour) worked out very well at first, but as everyone got older it has become more and more problematic. It is getting to be too far for my 89 year old dad to drive, especially at night, so we have to go see him, or go pick him up. Closer might have been better. Also it would have been good for the kids if they could have walked or biked to Grandma and Grandpa's house when they got upset or just needed a break from family and friends. In grosse ile they usually went down to the water and sat on the rocks or went out in a kayak, canoe, or rowing shell. There are times when I wished we had bought that house 1/4 mile from Mom and Dad's house, but most of the time I am very happy we chose Grosse Ile. It has so much to offer.

I have written a lot about the amazing ameneites and benefits of Grosse Ile on City Data, so you can search and find it easier than I can re-write it. You apparently already have some familiarity. Many places are more popular, but after studying everywhere in or near the Detroit metro for two years we chose Grosse Ile for several reasons. There are a lot of really great places that are nearly as good, just not downriver. Some downriver town are quite nice, but not on the level of GI. Honestly I am convinced there is no place anywhere that equals Grosse Ile if it meets your wants.

Your next best bet downriver is Trenton. Good schools, nice location, Much less expensive. Easier access. Trenton benefits from a nice county park and from its proximity to Wyandotte.

Wyandotte is a great small city with a nice downtown area. They also have their own utilities including a power plant which is nice, but what they do not have is great schools or an incredibly low crime rate.

Other decent areas downriver include Woodhaven, Flat Rock, Riverview, parts of Brownstown, maybe Southgate. . . I am missing a few. . Less nice and not so good schools are closer to Detroit (Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Melvindale). Taylor is also not so great. Parts of Dearborn are quite nice. Some of the schools there are tolerably good. Ecorse and River Rouge are basically awful although they can be interesting to visit.

There really is not much of a good spot located equidistant between Downriver and Troy. You can swing to the West of Detroit, but you have to go pretty far in or pretty far north or south to get to the good locations. Nothing is going to be very conveniently located for access to both places.

We have posted countless lists of the nice communities with good schools in SE Michigan. if you cannot find them, come back and ask and someone better at searching forums than I am. Someone will likely find them for you.

Troy and the surrounding area is a very different vibe. It is new, very suburban, conforming, mainstream. I find such areas unacceptably soulless but many many people love them. That is why there is so much traffic up there. Certainly much better shopping and chain dining opportunities.

In the Troy area, Troy is very nice in a bland sort of way. Rochester has a really neat little city and is surrounded by the subdivisions and strip malls of Rochester Hills (high end, nice newer subs, some on hilly terrain). On the other hand, we have some really good friends in Rochester hills, but we see them only every few years. We used to see them a couple of times a year, but everyone gets busy and that is a pretty substantial divide. The same is true of my brother and family in West Bloomfield. We would meet at Mom and Dad's. We rarely went to each other's houses. Once you get beyond an hour drive, it is pretty daunting. Even an hour makes it impractical to stop by for a half hour visit, since it is a two hour round trip. We really only visit when we are prepared to spend the whole day or most of the day there. However we do meet for dinner at some in between locations at times. Between Troy and downriver a great location to meet is Detroit. Which, by chance, is where almost all the really cool stuff is.

Franklin and Berkley are pretty nice. Bloomfield Hills is very nice and fancy - super expensive. West Bloomfield and Farmington Hills are nice, but you are getting pretty far west. Royal Oak is decent. Not so family oriented anymore, but not bad. Ferndale is fun, but not the best family location. As you get down near Detroit, you need to go further West to find nice. Livonia is not bad. Very bland. Many of the cooler places are way west (Northville, South Lyon, Plymouth, Brighton, Milford, Ann Arbor, Saline, Chelsea, etc.)

I almost forgot about Grosse Point. that may be a good option for you. It is pretty affordable now. The school is good (Grosse Pointe South) it is family oriented and not too far from Troy or Downriver. Certainly worth a look.

Last edited by Coldjensens; 12-10-2019 at 10:26 AM..
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Old 12-10-2019, 04:44 PM
Location: Vermont
1,002 posts, read 836,895 times
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Thanks a ton Coldjensens for the wonderful post! Her parents still live on the island and that's our defacto gathering place, so we're there frequently. I'm not nearly as familiar with what it has to offer as she is, but from what I know it's still a very attractive option and one I'll continue to become more familiar with over the next few years, leading up to our move.

I'm not dissuaded by the distance of, say, Farmington Hills and, if everything lines up, and we may well end up with property on Grosse Ile. I'll definitely poke around more in this sub-forum and read what others have said about different areas, and as has been said, jobs will play a large influence on where we decide to go, so I'm mostly looking to have a list of nice towns or neighborhoods near wherever we find work, and to know where to avoid taking a job for lack of a good place to live nearby.

Reading your description of Troy (suburban, conforming, soulless) reminded me that I might want comment more on where we live now, and what we like about it, to perhaps help in your suggestions:

We live around 30 minutes north of Burlington, the largest city in the state at a whopping 40,000 people and, frankly, it's bigger and busier than is our preference, hence our being farther north. Cost of living here is reasonable, but certainly more than Michigan. We have ~2 acres with a ton of sugar maples, dogs, some chickens, a large garage, a workshop, a deck with a great view of the stars, and a fire pit. I know most of SE Michigan is much more developed than this and I know I'll do fine in a more populous area, but that doesn't stop me from appreciating what's here. We don't need two acres of land, but neither do we want to be in a housing development.

At present, I enjoy being somewhere I can have a <30 minute commute to (what is to me) a well paying job, where there's virtually zero crime, no traffic at any point in the day, and where I can see the sun rising over white-capped mountains on my drive to work in the morning. Restaurants and businesses have a bin next to trash cans for compost and recycling, which nearly everyone uses - and I appreciate these things as they follow our values. Energy is 100% renewable. Our immediate neighbors have solar panels and small wind turbines, grow a lot of their food, compost, and generally support social programs that keep most people from falling through the cracks. There are more jobs than people and starting wages are high ($13-15 an hour with no education), though wages do not scale up well for those late career or with a lot of education and it's sometimes a long wait to get a professional out to our house, resulting in many people becoming somewhat self-sufficient. There is a yearly "clean up the state" day where a large part of the population spends a few hours collecting trash, yielding a really clean environment - few cans or plastic along the sides of the road. Most people seem to like living here, are polite to each other, and take pride in keeping things clean and beautiful. Both the housing market and job market are highly stable. I've only ever changed jobs voluntarily and have never had to consider a layoff.

Going off what you said about Troy, I don't think it would be a place I'd fit in well, if it's strip malls and housing developments. We're not terribly mainstream or interested in keeping up with the Joneses - we drive 20 year old cars even if we can afford new ones. We don't have a tv; our living room is a couple of arm chairs and a bookshelf in front of a wood stove, with a rug we sit on to do projects (soldering, crafts, carpentry). We painted our house a wild purple, and it's really not all that atypical for the area.

With all of that said, that's not really what this move is about, and I know I can find something to like and appreciate about almost anywhere we go - I tend to be a pretty positive person who adapts well. We don't need to be surrounded by similar people, just not entirely isolated - and being near family will help with that.

Last edited by EckyX; 12-10-2019 at 04:57 PM..
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Old 12-10-2019, 04:52 PM
Location: Niceville, FL
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I would have a look at the Grand Rapids area still- a robust job market but small enough that you can get to at least big lot suburbia if not rural with a pretty reasonable commute. And it's a pretty straight shot along I-96 to Metro Detroit for weekend trips if your relatives have a guest room or pull out couch.
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Old 12-10-2019, 08:03 PM
1,316 posts, read 1,841,527 times
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If you are young, not immediately concerned about schools, trying to establish yourself with jobs, and moving to an unfamiliar area I would strongly consider renting for a year.

That way you can learn about, research, and visit specific areas at your leisure and understand the good, bad, and ugly.

You then aren't locked into a long term commitment and buying a place in an area you regret.
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