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Old 09-14-2016, 11:33 PM
 
Location: Houston TX
2,441 posts, read 2,519,884 times
Reputation: 1799

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Hello!

I am interested in Lancaster. Been there few times, mostly shopped at outlets. Been to downtown Lancaster only once. I like the vibe of this town, old architechture, style and history. But what really surprised me is the town demographics. Why it is so Hispanic? It's northern town far from Mexican border. I live in Houston, it's pretty much like in Mexico here. But no surprise since it's close to the border. Lancaster is much much farther away. What's the history behind those demographics?

I see lots lots of cheap houses in Lancaster. Some nicely looking properties under 50K.
But what's the catch? Since Lancaster is fairly small town, I was assuming it should be all safe. But how reality looks like? What is the normal price range for a house or townhome in a safe area there? Thanks.

Last edited by toobusytoday; 09-17-2016 at 01:31 PM.. Reason: removed real estate link
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Old 09-15-2016, 08:12 AM
Status: "See My Blog Entries for my Top 500 Most Important USA Cities" (set 3 days ago)
 
Location: Harrisburg, PA
1,051 posts, read 974,976 times
Reputation: 1406
Lots of manufacturing and agriculture jobs. And by lots, I mean lots. Especially agriculture since Lancaster County is basically one enormous farm (not much forest or mountain). Some rolling hills, but it is flat which is perfect for farming. Most of PA is mountainous with valleys. The mountains begin to die down beginning just north of Harrisburg and working South East until you get to where Philadelphia is located and it is perfectly level almost. Lancaster and York have large Hispanic populations so having Spanish as a second language is a plus (esp in Lancaster). Harrisburg has a very large African-American population.

I've been to Lancaster a few times growing up and also recently, so I'll do my best here. Basically Lancaster city is an older, historical city (Lancaster was the capital of the United States for one day, on September 27, 1777, after the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British). Lancaster was capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1812, after which the capital was moved to Harrisburg. It's history is mainly rooted in agriculture, but also the railroad.

It can be very difficult to drive/navigate the city area due to the lack of many major highways/interstates except for US Rte. 30 (York PA is the same way). Lancaster urban area (or metro area, whichever you prefer) is the fifth largest in PA and really is not far behind Harrisburg (4th). The Lancaster urban area is over 450k and Lancaster County (which is the metro area) has over 500k. It is one of the fastest growing counties in PA due to natural increase (it has one of the highest birth rates in the state) and also migration. There are a lot of Amish. The area is very conservative. You will find that S Central PA is much more conservative than the rest of the state of PA (although the city propers of Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg lean far left or liberal).

Just because it is a small town (city proper) does not mean the area around it is small. Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg were allocated very small city limits (very few square miles). Like Harrisburg and York, Lancaster's population in the suburbs and nearby townships far exceeds the city proper due to urban sprawl. Lancaster metro may actually combine with Harrisburg and/or York more likely in the future (20 years) due to continued growth and urban sprawl.

Major companies based out of Lancaster are Armstrong World Industries, Auntie Anne's Pretzels, Herley Industries, Turkey Hill, and Fulton Bank (which has HQ in Harrisburg and Lancaster). Major institutions are Millersville University, Franklin & Marshall College, and Elizabethtown College.

Major attractions are the Stroudsburg Rail Museum, Dutch Wonderland (for kids), and Lancaster Barnstormers which are an independent baseball team. The 2015 US Women's Open (golf) was held at Lancaster country club. There is alot of shopping/retail in the Lancaster area, and they are currently adding more just off Rte. 30 (look up Shoppes at Belmont). They are bringing in a Whole Foods, which is a big deal. Lancaster has a lot of outlets. Don't forget you are with 2 hours from Philly, Baltimore and DC. Also Allentown-Bethlehem, Harrisburg, York and Reading are within 45 minutes. NYC and Pittsburgh are 3 hours or more. I'll be honest, since you are coming from Houston the only other city that really has that much going on in PA is Philadelphia. So it will be a slightly slower pace of life than Houston is, which you may prefer. That's not to say there isn't anything to do, because there definitely is.

The city does not really have a huge "skyline" or many tall buildings as it is sprawled out, but it does have beautiful architecture and historical buildings. For an urban area of it's size it should have a more robust skyline, and I am also unsure if there is a local law prohibiting structures from achieving certain heights. For that reason it is similar to York, which also does not have many tall buildings. Lancaster does have a handful (half dozen or so) buildings that might be considered high-rises (over 100 ft) like the Marriot Hotel and Griest building. I don't know of any plans for any new highrises in the future.

Lancaster is definitely one of the most important and interesting cities in PA. Harrisburg, Allentown, Lancaster and Scranton PA urban areas battle for holding the title of being PA's "third city" since Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are the most nationally-known of PA.

Lancaster city has about 4-6 homicides per year. Since it is a city there are obviously other violent crimes. Due to its proximity to much larger metro areas drugs are a major problem. The nationwide heroin epidemic has definitely affected Lancaster county and other central PA cities.

I'm not gonna lie to you, I really don't know the ins and outs of Lancaster city proper. I know Manor Street and Queen St and right downtown tend to have a lot more crime and can be dangerous. From a high level, I know Harrisburg city much better than Lancaster city so I can't tell you with 100% certainty about that particular neighborhood/area. Maybe another poster can help you on the in's and out's of the city.

Like Harrisburg and York, Lancaster has its share of cheaper, historical houses and rowhouses, which I love. Normal prices in the city are low, but taxes can be high. The price in Harrisburg can be as low as 5-20k for a rowhome or half a duplex (VERY dangerous areas), but usually tend to be 30-90k in a low-to-medium crime area. A townhouse in the suburbs will be 120-160k, and it will be newer, nicer, and safer (not knocking the city rowhouses at all). Some of the brand new townhouses with all the amenities and space go for over 250k in Mechanicsburg. I'm sure Lancaster area probably has the same type of set-up and is comparable. The overall cost of living in Lancaster is really about the same in Harrisburg and York. It looks like a nice house, might need some upgrades since it is older so definitely you'll want to budget for that.

Hope this helps and good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Last edited by g500; 09-15-2016 at 09:08 AM..
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Old 09-15-2016, 09:06 AM
 
Location: Houston TX
2,441 posts, read 2,519,884 times
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g500,
Thanks a lot for the info. It is really helpful.

Right now I live in a cookie-cutter, boring and somewhat dangerous suburb of Houston. So if I move to Lancaster I won't complain about slower pace. At this point of my life, what I am looking for is smaller historic town that has some vibe and will be better cultural fit.

Compared to my suburb, a lot more things are going on in Lancaster. More conservative is better for me. Houston is not conservative at all even though it is in Texas.

My career field is declining so I am considering self-employment way in a future (even though I have advanced degree and upper-middle class job right now). So basically I am thinking about downshifting for a while and Lancaster seems to be a good place offering debt-free options.

I am still concerned about those surprisingly cheap properties, but if that area is not that bad, why not? I will have plenty of time to do some home improvement (walls, flooring) and I am really interested in trying out historic townhome. This is what I can buy for cash. But if I come as self-employed freelancer I won't be able to buy more expensive property with mortgage since I won't have enough regular income to be approved (only some savings).
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Old 09-15-2016, 09:59 AM
Status: "See My Blog Entries for my Top 500 Most Important USA Cities" (set 3 days ago)
 
Location: Harrisburg, PA
1,051 posts, read 974,976 times
Reputation: 1406
Your welcome. Like you, I prefer to live simply and do not have debt. I enjoy the security and stability it offers.

Taxes in PA are 3.07% flat (which is very low compared to neighboring states), and PA also has local earned income taxes ranging from 0.5% to almost 4% in Philadelphia city. They are usually about 1.5%. You could always get a manufacturing job in Lancaster, there are so many of them.

Take a look at your options and definitely get to know the neighborhood before you jump into it. It is a major decision for your life after all. Also your moving costs from TX to PA could be hefty (4-5k, easily). I recommend actually going to the Uhaul directly (don't do it online) as they may cut you a better deal in person. Since you would be moving northbound though they may not be able to give you a discount though. If you hire a moving company to actually move (drive) your stuff, it will be even more.

Harrisburg and Lancaster are very similar cities, they are "peer cities" really. I wish I knew Lanco better I would help you on a more specific level. With summer just staring to die down, crime activity tends to die down a bit, so that may throw you off if you go to visit again soon.

Yes, PA is sometimes considered a "swing state" although we have voted D every election year since 1988. Mainly because Philadelphia and its suburbs are very liberal. Scranton is also very liberal. Allentown, Reading, and Pittsburgh are slightly liberal. Harrisburg and York tend to be conservative, Lancaster is very conservative. TX may be considered a swing state in the next 10-15 years as the cities continue to expand.

Houston is a huge city and is easily in the top 10 most important cities in the US. It has grown substantially over the past century. In 1950 it was the 19th largest urban area, and now in 2015 it is the 6th largest (just a hair behind Dallas and Miami). Houston will be the 4th largest urban area in the US in 2020 (with Dallas not far behind), and it is expected to hold that position. I don't think it will edge any higher since taking Chicago out of 3rd place would require it to grow insanely. Unless Chicago becomes the next Detroit, but then Chicago is a lot more diversified.

We didn't really get to discuss the weather differences between S Central PA and Texas, but I'm sure you would be willing to accept colder winters and some snow. Last year we didn't have much except one massive 30 inch snow storm. Tornados are rare in PA, but the highest risk is the flat areas of Lancaster County and more south eastern PA. Even then, they are quite uncommon and not the strongest. Hurricanes are also rare, and usually end up being just flooding (Harrisburg ends up getting flooded in some areas pretty badly). There was a small earthquake in Virginia in 2011 that could be felt, but it was only minor. We get all four seasons, they are all beautiful. I wish you good luck.

Last edited by g500; 09-15-2016 at 10:40 AM..
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Old 09-15-2016, 11:08 AM
 
Location: Houston TX
2,441 posts, read 2,519,884 times
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Thanks. I used to live in Delaware, about 45 miles from Lancaster, so I am pretty familiar with winters in this area.

I like Houston in general, but it's getting too congested. And culturally it's not really my fit. It's more Mexican rather than American city. In terms of culture and scenery I love East Coast a lot more. I am willing to sacrifice Houston's great winters for those things.

To be honest, I am not looking to work for any company at this point. Especially in manufacturing (I have advanced degree and just don't want to work in that kind of environment). I do have a small business that can be transferred to PA without a problem. My own business will keep me afloat easily if I won't have to pay rent or mortgage. So I want to enjoy freedom, and low cost of housing is quite important in my case.

What I am concerned about are outrageously high property taxes in PA. Crazy property taxes in TX is something I want to escape (currently I pay 3.5% property tax on my house and it's insanely high I believe).

I am tired of those property taxes, but PA seems to be even worse. The property I showed in my first post has 4.5% property tax rate. How it could be? Yes, since the house is very cheap, the the monthly property tax is OK. But 4.5% rate is something super crazy in general. I understand that local government wants to extract as much $$$ as possible so they superficially lift property taxes on cheaper properties. However it is not a good way to go I believe. 4.5% is not just right. That's probably the highest property tax rate in the US in general.

Last edited by Ghost Town; 09-15-2016 at 12:07 PM..
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Old 09-15-2016, 11:23 AM
 
4,277 posts, read 11,778,884 times
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If you are looking for a smaller town but with locally high residential density, most of the southeast quadrant of PA has communities that fit that form. Row homes are common as far west as Carlisle (west of Harrisburg), and very closely spaced detached homes with porches and no front yards can be found as far west as Bedford and north to Bellefonte.
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Old 09-15-2016, 12:08 PM
 
Location: Houston TX
2,441 posts, read 2,519,884 times
Reputation: 1799
Quote:
Originally Posted by ki0eh View Post
If you are looking for a smaller town but with locally high residential density, most of the southeast quadrant of PA has communities that fit that form. Row homes are common as far west as Carlisle (west of Harrisburg), and very closely spaced detached homes with porches and no front yards can be found as far west as Bedford and north to Bellefonte.
Thanks. But are there any safe and vibrant towns closer to Philadelphia (Lancaster is OK) where I can find decent townhouse for 50K? Also is this 50K budget realistic?

This townhouse looks pretty cute. How dangerous is the area around?


This one also looks nice. But schools for both houses have very low score. Is this ghetto area or something? Originally I thought Lancaster is small enough so it doesn't have this kind of problem.

Last edited by toobusytoday; 09-17-2016 at 07:22 AM.. Reason: single real estate listings are not allowed
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Old 09-15-2016, 02:33 PM
 
Location: West York
121 posts, read 259,783 times
Reputation: 148
Just fyi, but any home in the city limits is under the same school district.
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Old 09-15-2016, 03:15 PM
 
4,277 posts, read 11,778,884 times
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$50k is a very light budget for southeastern PA. If you want to be closer to Philadelphia than Lancaster is, you may wish to re-post in the Philadelphia forum. Ask about Coatesville, Norristown, maybe Birdsboro or Boyertown.
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Old 09-15-2016, 06:36 PM
 
Location: Houston TX
2,441 posts, read 2,519,884 times
Reputation: 1799
Quote:
Originally Posted by ki0eh View Post
$50k is a very light budget for southeastern PA. If you want to be closer to Philadelphia than Lancaster is, you may wish to re-post in the Philadelphia forum. Ask about Coatesville, Norristown, maybe Birdsboro or Boyertown.
Yes, 50K is very light budget anywhere. But I saw many properties in Lancaster within this budget and decided to ask here. Geographically Lancaster is good for me. And probably no other town can in that list can compete with Lancaster in terms of social life, places to go, atmosphere.
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