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Old 10-26-2009, 08:03 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
25,850 posts, read 44,078,454 times
Reputation: 10697
Cool Potentially a Pittsburgher in Paradise?

Hello forum.

Yes, the dreaded windbag that this forum knows as ScranBarre is now aggressively researching your fair city as a potential place to settle down after being disillusioned by five months of life in Fairfax County, Virginia. To provide you all with some background information I was born and raised in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area, where I also obtained by Bachelor's Degree in Accounting this past May, a week prior to my relocation to Northern Virginia. I am currently employed as an auditor earning a salary of $41,210. I'm finding that my job isn't very enriching or rewarding, and many of my colleagues just seem to come in for their paychecks. I'm at the point now of nearing insanity because I can't go to work to escape my home life because work in and of itself isn't fulfilling, and then I can't retreat to a nice home setting because I absolutely hate where I live. This has led me to become very depressed, and I've decided that by the middle of next year I'd like to investigate relocation, most likely to Pittsburgh.

The way I see things is that right now I'm spending 60% of my net income to rent a 1-BR apartment for $1,135/month in a far-flung suburban area. While a salary of $41,210 might seem like an "average" salary in many other locales, here in Fairfax County I'm barely keeping my head above water financially. I firmly believe my quality-of-life would improve by moving to Pittsburgh, where I'd be taking a pay cut down to $35,000 but would also be cutting my monthly rent for a 1-BR apartment in half while living in a city neighborhood instead of a soul-numbing suburban hell. People tell me I'd be making a mistake because the "salaries in Pittsburgh are so low," but what advantage does a higher salary have in DC if it isn't high enough to compensate for the ridiculous cost-of-living? The housing market here is very much oriented towards dual-income householders. With many people here earning $70,000 on their own, it's not uncommon to bump into many couples earning $150,000-$200,000. I myself am likely to peak here around $90,000-$100,000, but even then while I'd no longer be worrying about having enough to pay my meager bills I still wouldn't be earning enough to purchase my own place. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh I'm sure that a professional earning less than $100,000 could still afford their own urban rowhome in the Mexican War Streets, which is my ultimate dream.

I suppose what I'm looking for is a hybrid between my native Scranton, PA and my current Fairfax County, VA. Scranton had amazing historic architecture, a beautiful mountain backdrop, distinct urban neighborhoods, affordable housing prices, and a down-to-earth population. However, it also had to contend with a very uneducated population, homophobia, and generally a lot of negativity and socially regressive attitudes. Fairfax County excels by having plentiful diversity, a literate/well-read population, and good shopping/dining options. However, the negatives (nation's second-worst traffic congestion, ineffective and inconvenient mass transit system, massive urban sprawl, large egos, conspicuous consumption, etc.) really counterbalance any "pros" here, at least in my eyes. To me Pittsburgh is a great balance. It is in many ways a larger version of Scranton, but the people don't seem to be...how should I say this..."backwards." It also captures the essence of Fairfax County without being "pretentious."

Can anyone confirm my preconceived notions that Pittsburgh is indeed a good compromise that borrows the strengths of both Scranton and Fairfax County while mitigating their drawbacks? If so, then I'm surprised your city's population is still plummeting, as it seems like paradise. What's the catch?
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:17 PM
 
261 posts, read 800,638 times
Reputation: 130
So you're what? 23?

My 23 year old couldn't wait to escape (and is now in Alexandria) but that doesn't mean much. I think if you live in the city proper, Pittsburgh has much to offer (despite my 20 and 24 year olds telling me "you see the same people everywhere)". You definitely could have a better standard of living here. The virtue of being your age is that you can try it and see. If you don't like it, what have you lost? A couple of years and you've gained a lot of self-knowledge.

I suppose I'm a bit prejudiced. While OK in the suburban setting in which I find myself, I do think when you are young it's a good idea to try urban areas (I lived in London when I was younger, but probably couldn't do it now).
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:25 PM
 
20,274 posts, read 17,245,616 times
Reputation: 2801
So as you have probably gathered, Pittsburgh has lots of different sorts of neighborhoods, and I have no doubt you can find something along the lines of what you have described here (you could also find something much closer to pure Scranton or pure Fairfax, but that is a different conversation). In fact I would suggest that what you want happens to be the best value proposition here (and that in a town of good values in general).

As for the population--I'm actually not sure it is still going down, and in any event that is mostly still the echoes of the steel bust. That said, at least until recently Pittsburgh had a pretty negative brand image, and meanwhile I think it is taking some time for younger people to come to terms with the implications of housing prices in places like DC (after all, you had to experience it yourself to really grasp the problem). So I'm not surprised people aren't flooding to Pittsburgh quite yet--but I do think if housing prices don't come down a lot more in these expensive places, the pressure is going to continue to mount on young people to find alternatives, and eventually they will start discovering places like Pittsburgh.
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:32 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
25,850 posts, read 44,078,454 times
Reputation: 10697
Quote:
Originally Posted by jenniferprestia View Post
So you're what? 23?

My 23 year old couldn't wait to escape (and is now in Alexandria) but that doesn't mean much. I think if you live in the city proper, Pittsburgh has much to offer (despite my 20 and 24 year olds telling me "you see the same people everywhere)". You definitely could have a better standard of living here. The virtue of being your age is that you can try it and see. If you don't like it, what have you lost? A couple of years and you've gained a lot of self-knowledge.

I suppose I'm a bit prejudiced. While OK in the suburban setting in which I find myself, I do think when you are young it's a good idea to try urban areas (I lived in London when I was younger, but probably couldn't do it now).

I've bumped into literally a few dozen PA transplants in NoVA since I've lived here, with many coming from Pittsburgh. Apparently folks in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania view NoVA as being the "Promised Land," but I suppose I'm one that is bucking that trend. The good thing is that even many of Pittsburgh's suburbs (Beaver, Coraopolis, Vandergrift, Apollo, etc., etc.) appear to have character. I can't say the same about the suburbs here, where the very few suburbs that ARE desirable (i.e. Alexandria) are also generally home to sky-high rents where professionals have to room with others and live the "dorm" lifestyle for many years.

What you native Pittsburghers don't seem to realize is that a $35,000 salary in Pittsburgh affords you a comfortable lifestyle while a $50,000 salary in DC actually puts you at a disadvantage because that entire $15,000 salary bump is consumed by the higher housing costs, higher taxes (they even tax you hundreds of dollars annually if you own a car), higher restaurant pricing, etc. I hate to admit this and am too "proud" to want to have to say it, but yes, I am a college graduate earning $41,210 and feel like I'm barely above the poverty level here. If I were earning the same salary in Pittsburgh I wouldn't be shivering right now from not wanting to turn the heat on and wouldn't have decided to cut my grocery bill in half today by deciding I would be eating less this week. It's not a very good way to live, and when your come into work to a boss who had her position foisted upon her, gets very stressed, and takes out her frustrations on her subordinates you just start to wonder why you're even still living.

I am ONLY considering "in-town" parts of Pittsburgh so I could eschew my car in favor of mass transit (thus also saving the $400/month or so I currently spend on my car payment, insurance, gas, and maintenance).
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:42 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
25,850 posts, read 44,078,454 times
Reputation: 10697
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianTH View Post
So as you have probably gathered, Pittsburgh has lots of different sorts of neighborhoods, and I have no doubt you can find something along the lines of what you have described here (you could also find something much closer to pure Scranton or pure Fairfax, but that is a different conversation). In fact I would suggest that what you want happens to be the best value proposition here (and that in a town of good values in general).

As for the population--I'm actually not sure it is still going down, and in any event that is mostly still the echoes of the steel bust. That said, at least until recently Pittsburgh had a pretty negative brand image, and meanwhile I think it is taking some time for younger people to come to terms with the implications of housing prices in places like DC (after all, you had to experience it yourself to really grasp the problem). So I'm not surprised people aren't flooding to Pittsburgh quite yet--but I do think if housing prices don't come down a lot more in these expensive places, the pressure is going to continue to mount on young people to find alternatives, and eventually they will start discovering places like Pittsburgh.
The people on the Northern Virginia forum are mostly well-established in their careers so they are in many ways too far removed from my stage in life to understand the financial demands that Greater DC puts upon you and just how taxing it can be if your employer decides that $41,210 is a fair salary when in all actuality it barely covers the basic bills. Their suggestions, when not snarky, have always only been "get roomies", but not all of us feel comfortable compromising privacy at a time when we're also trying to explore our dating options (being a gay male who grew up in a conservative household and never got to experience romance this is especially important to me).

DC was just rated the top city for young hip singles, so apparently I'm just an anomaly that doesn't see this major "allure." I see many of my 22-year-old peers in the region tooling around in BMWs and Audis, bragging about touring Europe, buying expensive drinks, shopping at designer clothing stores, etc. and just wonder what they do for a living that affords them a lifestyle that is more luxurious than that of my parents, both of whom are college-educated and work full-time. How is it that we are both living in the same city and yet I'm barely keeping food on the table and they're out gallavanting aroud Prague and sipping wine? That's something I'll never understand about this place. Sure, DC might be great if you're wealthy, but if you aren't a CFO, CEO, attorney, or physician you spend so much time working trying to pay the bills that you don't really have time to "enjoy" anything.
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:52 PM
 
Location: Oakland CA
7,011 posts, read 9,286,624 times
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Well, my little windbag... all I can tell you is my niece and nephew BOTH left PA to go to college and my niece worked for several years in Virginia.

BOTH came home to Pittsburgh, for masters degrees at Pitt. Nephew just got married a few weeks ago and in August, Niece landed a TEACHING JOB.

Niece is seriously considering staying put, too. Here she can buy her own home easily.

The thing about paycheck numbers is the amazing relativity of them. I've had people come out here to California thinking that that extra 15-20K they were getting was gonna make this amazing!!!! And when they got here they felt screwed. Moving out of primo neighborhoods where ever they were, to come out here and find they were now living in not the best of areas.

Sort of sounds like you.

I say -- if all your ducks in a row -- go for it.
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:54 PM
 
20,274 posts, read 17,245,616 times
Reputation: 2801
I think that is an important part of the dynamic: these dramatic COL differences (mostly driven by housing) are relatively recent. 10 or more years ago, a place like DC was still more expensive, but not so much so as to be completely out of whack given the higher salaries. So people who bought back then may be doing fine--indeed, they may be withdrawing from the "home ATM" to help finance a higher-flying lifestyle. But none of that helps a young person just starting out who missed the big runup and now faces high housing prices with just an inadequate level of income and no home equity to draw on.

Of course it is conceivable that young people with good jobs could just readjust their expectations: taking on roomates, accepting long commutes, and so on. But I guess I don't see young people with marketable skills giving up that easily on their version of the middle-class dream.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:01 PM
 
20,274 posts, read 17,245,616 times
Reputation: 2801
By the way, I don't expect anyone to shed any tears over this, but young doctors, lawyers, MBAs, and so forth are often working very long hours in places like DC, and making what seems like good money, except they are finding it barely adequate to cover a basic middle-class lifestyle given the huge bit housing is taking. Now on the plus side, at least they can afford such a lifestyle at all. But on the minus side, they are still failing to meet their expectations, in the sense that all that education and hard work was supposed to translate into something better.

So really it is up and down the socioeconomic ladder: young people of all sorts aren't getting what they they expected in these places right now. Again, I don't see that as a sustainable situation in the long run.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:05 PM
 
261 posts, read 800,638 times
Reputation: 130
My point, really, is that you are young enough to try it and see. If it works for you, that's great, and if it doesn't, you've still got time to change track. The only thing I would say is, that you can buy property here much cheaper than you can in most other places, so you potentially get locked in if you choose to buy. Obviously you can sell but..

I think my children have a somewhat limited view. After all, several thousand students every year choose PIT or CMU or one of the other universities.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:06 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
25,850 posts, read 44,078,454 times
Reputation: 10697
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallysmom View Post
Well, my little windbag... all I can tell you is my niece and nephew BOTH left PA to go to college and my niece worked for several years in Virginia.

BOTH came home to Pittsburgh, for masters degrees at Pitt. Nephew just got married a few weeks ago and in August, Niece landed a TEACHING JOB.

Niece is seriously considering staying put, too. Here she can buy her own home easily.

The thing about paycheck numbers is the amazing relativity of them. I've had people come out here to California thinking that that extra 15-20K they were getting was gonna make this amazing!!!! And when they got here they felt screwed. Moving out of primo neighborhoods where ever they were, to come out here and find they were now living in not the best of areas.

Sort of sounds like you.

I say -- if all your ducks in a row -- go for it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianTH View Post
I think that is an important part of the dynamic: these dramatic COL differences (mostly driven by housing) are relatively recent. 10 or more years ago, a place like DC was still more expensive, but not so much so as to be completely out of whack given the higher salaries. So people who bought back then may be doing fine--indeed, they may be withdrawing from the "home ATM" to help finance a higher-flying lifestyle. But none of that helps a young person just starting out who missed the big runup and now faces high housing prices with just an inadequate level of income and no home equity to draw on.

Of course it is conceivable that young people with good jobs could just readjust their expectations: taking on roomates, accepting long commutes, and so on. But I guess I don't see young people with marketable skills giving up that easily on their version of the middle-class dream.
I wish I had people like you to help reinforce the "salary vs. cost-of-living" debate. Even on the Northern Virginia forum people continuously bring up the "good jobs/high salaries" as a reason why NoVA is so "desirable," but as I said you shouldn't encourage someone to trade a $35,000 job in Pittsburgh for a $50,000 job in DC because the entirety of that $15,000 difference (and then some) is devoured by the exorbitant cost-of-living if you try to replicate your lifestyle here. People make it sound as if you're going to triple or quadruple your salary with a move to DC, but in most cases that's not nearly the case at all. I'm noticing that with many professions the salary in DC might be 50% higher than the salary of a comparable position in Pittsburgh (i.e. $50,000 in Pittsburgh vs. $75,000 in DC). When the cost-of-living disparity devours nearly that entire difference, then what real "advantage" is there to that higher salary level?

Brian is correct that DC being just a slight hair below NYC, L.A., or Frisco in terms of cost-of-living is indeed a very recent phenomenon. In the 1990s someone earning $40,000 would have been able to afford a comfortable lifestyle renting a 1-BR apartment here, and now just a decade later the cost-of-living has seemingly risen by 50% while salaries have perhaps risen by 20%, meaning that fresh college graduates moving here today are worse off than those who moved here in years past. It would take $300,000 to buy a nice 1-BR condo in NoVA, and about $400,000 to buy a nice 1-BR condo in DC. In Pittsburgh you can get a nice rowhome in the Mexican War Streets or a Victorian in Squirrel Hill for much less than those price points. Pittsburgh is an unbelievable value.
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