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Old 06-12-2017, 12:24 PM
 
Location: Midwest
1,283 posts, read 1,907,430 times
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Hello all, two parts

1) First some background

My wife and I are considering a relocation to Iowa and will soon be making a trip for the purpose of exploring/research. We're both 30. We currently live in Philadelphia, PA. I was born in New York City, moved as a child to outside of a small, then-rural, still sort-of-rural town about two hours away from Philadelphia. My wife is from the Twin Cities, and I lived there as well for a few years for college and a year or two after graduation. We don't particularly like living in Philadelphia, and have been looking forward to moving away from here for most of the 7 years we've lived here. At one point we figured we'd move back to Minneapolis. But we think with the kind of lifestyle we live and what we aim to get out of life, that's probably not the best for us either (i.e., we're not really big city people - we take little advantage of what they have to offer. And personally, having lived in both big cities and small towns, I know that I would prefer a smaller town at this point in my life).

My wife has a few family members who have relocated from the Twin Cities to Iowa, which is something that appeals to us. As well as being close enough to the Twin Cities that we can visit from time to time when it strikes us (as well as some other cities in Iowa itself that we are unfamiliar with that we could take day-trips to as well). Those are the main reasons as to us looking in Iowa.

We recently finished paying off our student loans (107K worth when all was said and done!) and are currently saving up for what will hopefully pay for 1-2 years of living expenses while we look for work/the right work as well as pay for either most or all of a house. Our work experience is nothing special, customer service and admin work, and we've learned to be pretty thrifty over the years to live pretty comfortably in Philadelphia, not a cheap city.

2) What we're looking for - Affordability vs. Amenities

The main deciding factor is our ability to purchase an affordable house in a town. It would not need to be a large house - two bedroom would be ideal. It's only my wife and me, there are no kids, and there won't be any kids. We've always lived in one bedroom apartments together - it would be nice to have the second bedroom as an office/guest room.

I don't want to box myself in on a number, because in reality we're going into this planning to put way more cash down toward a house than most people do. But just for the sake of argument, let's say we're looking for places where you can buy something which is adequate to live in for under $55,000. After paying back all those student loans, one of our main goals is to not be in substantial debt again, even for a mortgage.

My in-laws live in *very* small communities of only a few hundred people, and they get a lot for their money (like 40k for what is to me a very nice and big house - or less than 20k for a small house). We could make a go of it somewhere like this, but it would not be ideal for us. These tiny comunities having a grocery store, which I noticed some of them do, would make things better for us. But still not ideal.

As far as desirable amenities, we're not really looking for much. A full-service grocery store, pharmacy/dollar store, and a library all in town are really the main things.

Something like the size of Pocahontas, Iowa would be of a very adequate size for us, for example.

On the other end, we were pretty enamored with Mason City when we visited last time, and we're going to be staying there this time in order to try to get an idea of what it would be like to live there. I think the big-town (or small city - however people there prefer to think of it) would come as less of a culture shock to my wife. Having the opportunity to go for long walks, run errands by walking, and just having a little something going on when we feel like it is all very appealing. Also the potential to possibly get employment in the town and therefore be a one-car household (we're currently a zero-car household in Philadelphia, but we live in a part of the city where most people do have cars, and not the most ideal place to be without one). Also access to 35 for going to the Twin Cities from time to time.

So the purpose of the thread then, really is the following question:

Are there any other towns that people think would possibly be a good fit for us based on this information? Let me know, and we'll make sure to check them out.

Feel free to ask any other questions if you feel like I left our relevant information.
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Old 06-12-2017, 01:21 PM
 
111 posts, read 75,227 times
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Try Redfield, Iowa. 30 minutes from Des Moines and a small town feel. In fact it is in the metro area. Adel or other places are more expensive. Completely suitable but draw a circle around downtown Des Moines you will find so many places that are still small towns and less than a 40 minute drive.


Try Grinnell if you haven't been out that way yet.
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Old 06-12-2017, 01:31 PM
 
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
2,401 posts, read 3,814,463 times
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The OP asked for northern Iowa suggestions.

I used to live up there and have relatives still in the area so get up there often You should be able to find something along I-35 which will keep you at around just 2 hours away from the Twin Cities.

In addition to Mason City, you might want to consider Clear Lake -- just 15 minutes to the west of Mason City. Very nice city, not as big as Mason City. A lot to do because it is a tourist town.

Smaller, nice towns to also consider: Forest City, Lake Mills, Northwood. All are smaller towns - 2400 - 4500 population that have the amenities you listed.
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Old 06-13-2017, 06:55 AM
 
215 posts, read 197,942 times
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Clear Lake is nice. Great TexMex restaurant.
I'll suggest visiting Cedar Falls though the housing market may be higher that you want. UNI brings a lot of college students and activities. Lots of green space.
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Old 06-13-2017, 07:38 AM
 
Location: Des Moines Metro
5,105 posts, read 6,637,967 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FamousBlueRaincoat View Post

** Our work experience is nothing special, customer service and admin work,

** let's say we're looking for places where you can buy something which is adequate to live in for under $55,000

** Also the potential to possibly get employment in the town and therefore be a one-car household (we're currently a zero-car household in Philadelphia, but we live in a part of the city where most people do have cars, and not the most ideal place to be without one).

** Are there any other towns that people think would possibly be a good fit for us based on this information?
Your skills and desires don't mesh well, unfortunately.

1. You are going to have problems finding work in small towns with that skill set. I know young people from Mason City who had to move to Des Moines for full-time employment.

2. You may find a fixer upper for 55K or under but it won't be somewhere with good employment. In fact, you will likely need two cars so that both of you can commute to jobs.

3. A no car to one-car household will likely only work in a larger metro area where you also have buses and access to Uber. I know a couple in Ames who get by just fine without cars, but houses/rentals in Ames are more pricey since it's a college town. Also, both work at the college and live less than a mile away. They feel it's worth it because car ownership was never high on their list of priorities, but their tiny little house cost them something like 275K and it's still a fixer-upper. On the other hand, if and when they sell, they will get a good price for it.

Some things to consider:

If you want to live in Iowa, find your jobs, first. Des Moines has the highest employment in the area for your skill sets, followed by other metro areas. Landing jobs is your first real consideration. You don't have to live right in Des Moines -- Redfield is a consideration! -- but you will need cars, unless you can get jobs in downtown DSM and increase your budget so that you can live down there. With all the new housing going in, you might find something that will fit your needs, but it will be more than 55K.

If that's not working out, also consider your first thought, MPLS, if you can hack the winters. That's an area with a lot higher walkability and also set up a lot better for bike commuting, which might offset the higher housing costs. I know there's a lot of jobs open right now because a number of transferred folks don't want to go through another winter there.
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Old 06-13-2017, 10:22 AM
 
111 posts, read 75,227 times
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You are probably going to end up at least a few miles out of any town with any sort of employment at all if you want a habitable house for $50K. Maybe find a town you like and try to find something on the outskirts. If it is a town with any kind of economy and you are interested in it draw a circle around it with in 10 miles.

You can use a bicycle for that distance. Make sure you factor in the wind if you plan to do this. A strong head wind can be brutal. I am not joking here an exposed route via bike can be difficult.

If the town isn't big enough to have a Jimmy John's which always seem to be hiring you are going to be hard pressed to find work. You have said you don't have any skills that are unusual or in demand so I say that seriously.

Small towns don't have that many jobs and you are going to find a hard time applying to be a waiter or anything else as those jobs will go to the locals. This is why I suggested something that is on the edge of a metro area.

A mobile home might be a solution they pretty much give those away but you won't own the land. They also tend to be a bit out of town as well however.
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Old 06-13-2017, 11:46 AM
 
Location: Sun City West, AZ
560 posts, read 545,451 times
Reputation: 971
Agree with the others about the work situation. That should be a priority. Find work first, then find a residence that fits your budget in reasonable distance to that work. $55k will not get you much in a city the size of Mason City / Clear Lake. You will have to find a smaller town. Although a mobile home or condo could definitely be a good option to get you in your budget.

I would use Mason City as the base and search in a 30-40 mile radius of there. That is really a nice area up there, lots of really nice small towns and friendly people. US-18 going east of MC is 4 lane, so that also makes for an easier commute if you ended up out that way. Not a lot for jobs in that area last I knew, so that is why I suggest making that your priority. Check for jobs on indeed and craigslist. Look for housing on zillow. You can do a lot of this remotely. Good luck!
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Old 06-13-2017, 12:03 PM
 
644 posts, read 915,171 times
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I think that you may like something in the West Union, Oelwein, Decorah area. Close to the MN border (under 2 hours to Rochester), close to bigger towns like Dubuque, Waterloo, and Prairie Du Chein, (WI) and only 3 hrs from Des Moines.


Decorah is more of a larger town feel. Has a mall, chain restaurants, Luther College, nice downtown area. Housing is going to be a little more expensive though.


West Union is a great small town. It is the county seat for Fayette and has a nice downtown area, great community pool/parks, variety of places to eat (including things like Subway, Hardees, DQ)


Oelwein is somewhat larger than WU and has a bigger downtown area.


Another one to consider is Independence....great small town, similar in size to Oelwein and right near I-20.


There are a lot of towns in NE Iowa that would probably work for your situation and the area is so pretty. I would suggest taking some time to tour the areas....mostly along Highway 150.


Must admit bias to the area as my Moms family are all from West Union.
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Old 06-13-2017, 04:21 PM
 
450 posts, read 2,029,104 times
Reputation: 381
You would have no problems finding full-time employment in Mason City. There is very low unemployment in the area and businesses struggle to find enough qualified applicants (this is partially rooted in the fact that pay has been chronically low in the area for decades). I tend to have a rose-y bias towards Mason City because as I grew up only 8 miles away and want to see the town flourish. But the truth of the matter is Mason City has some severe poverty issues that rival much larger cities (drugs, crime, derelict property, pervasive 'negative' attitudes from many of the locals). I guess I'd be very particular about what area of town to live in if I was considering living in Mason City. Some nice towns in the area which will have some employment prospects and basic amenities (grocery store, a few restaurants) are:
Garner
Osage
Forest City
Clear Lake (because of the 'touristy' nature of this town, some area of town have high housing costs).
Algona
Charles City
Iowa Falls
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Old 06-13-2017, 05:21 PM
 
Location: Midwest
1,283 posts, read 1,907,430 times
Reputation: 970
Thanks for all the responses and town recommendations, I'll look into them. We've stayed in Forest City before, and I liked the town.

A couple of things to clear up perhaps:

1) Is employment really that grim, or are you guys just being pessimists? I look at the Iowa Workforce Development job listings as well as Indeed site occasionally over the past year or two we've been pondering this, and it always seems like there are plenty of jobs that we are qualified for or willing to do that are hiring.

Are these sites misleading? You guys have a pretty low unemployment rate, especially compared to Philadelphia (which has a pretty bleak job situation - most private companies are located outside of the city due to the tax situation here, therefore not very accessible via public transit, and therefore not really accessible for us).

I didn't post our whole resumes on here, because I didn't think it was too relevant. But, for instance, who's going to hire a billing clerk who lives 1,000 miles away? Or someone for route sales? Or a security guard? And then try to coordinate a job interview, moving, etc. when they could find someone locally to start tomorrow? I'd sort of have to question the sense of anyone who'd even want to do that, honestly. On the other side of it, how many job interviews is one (me) supposed to go on (which would include air fare, car rental, hotel stay, calling out from my current job for a day or two) for the chance at a job that starts at maybe 11 dollars or so an hour?

We've done the long-distance move before, as well as having done it with my parents when I was younger, and the saving up to cover living expenses and finding work after is much preferable to me, and it would be hard to convince me otherwise on that one ( I've been hearing this one for a long time is all - and things have always worked out for us as we're willing to take the opportunities that come along).

2) One thing that I perhaps should have mentioned but didn't is that we'd not be owning anything until our lives were kind of straightened out. Depending on how long it takes exactly, it would be some combination of temporarily staying in extra uninhabited space relatives have and renting our own place.

One thing we definitely don't want is to get invested in owning a place and then get jobs nowhere near it. Currently in Philadelphia our commutes via transit are 45 minutes and 75 minutes respectively (one way). So we are used to that aspect of life. But like a lot of you have correctly mentioned, where you work is an important part of where you live. Part of the appeal of Mason City was between the big box stores, restaurants, grocery stores, the few hotels, seemed like it wouldn't be that crazy to expect to find a way to bring in some income even if it's not a career (which I have yet to get anyway!).

3) Like I also said, 55k isn't a number to get too caught up on. According to our budget, we would be putting 40k towards a house up front (this doesn't include the additional year to two of living expenses we'd have saved up, which could also go towards a house assuming we found employment in less than one to two years) - the more we can pay off the better. Our relatives have bought really nice houses in very small towns for 40k. I understand they cost more than that in Mason City. If we put 40k towards a 60k, 80k, 100k house it's not really the end of the world for us if it turns out we like Mason City and we can make it work with employment. We're only two people and don't need a big house, or a particularly nice one, just close to habitable.

4) Sort of wish I never said anything about a car, because some people took it the wrong way. We currently have no car in Philadelphia. In fact we would buy one here in Philadelphia now, except that we'd rather be putting our money away for the time being. It seems like we would need two in Iowa - but the idea of living somewhere where the possibility of not having to depend on two cars comes into play - especially later in life, assuming we stick around until retirement age - is to Mason City's advantage.
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