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Geographic Arbitrage

So there I was, sitting in what seemed like my hundredth hotel room in six months, eating Olive Garden leftovers and staring glumly at my laptop. I had been sleeping in my own bed only about one week a month – non-consecutive nights, mind you – consulting my brains out to help pay the mortgage on our cute little house near the beach in Southern California.

So there I was, sitting in what seemed like my hundredth hotel room in six months, eating Olive Garden leftovers and staring glumly at my laptop. I had been sleeping in my own bed only about one week a month – non-consecutive nights, mind you – consulting my brains out to help pay the mortgage on our cute little house near the beach in Southern California.

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My husband, who has a successful home-based business, was keeping himself busy in my absence by remodeling the kitchen – by himself. And about the time it hit me that we did not need to live near the beach because we never actually WENT to the beach (we burn), it hit him that we could sell our newly-kitchenated home for, well, way more than what we bought it for four years ago. We could become equity refugees.

At first, we weren’t sure if we were ready to jump on the trend, which I learned from Rich Karlgaard, author of Life 2.0, , was called geographic arbitrage (GeoArb, for those in the know). But we soon realized that all we needed for our work was high-speed internet access, cell phone service, and a reasonable commute to the airport. We’d make the same income, and cost of living would be much lower. We could, in fact, buy a home outright somewhere far from the over-priced coasts.

So where to go?

We reviewed the lists of the Top Megalopolitans and the Hottest Cities for Entrepreneurs and Cheap Places to Live Rich, and all 5,000 different versions of the Most Wired Cities, and used these questions to narrow it down:

1.Where’s wired? It was essential to us that we join a community that not only had great technology, but also understood and welcomed – even celebrated – tech types.
2.Where’s the art? Our reasoning was that the fine and performing arts require a diverse population to flourish, so a town or city with a robust arts community was likely to be curious, tolerant, exuberant and creative.
3.Where are the smarts? I do a lot of work with higher ed organizations, so wanted to be near major universities and colleges. My husband wanted to be near major tech employers.
4.Where’s it going? It was important to us to find a growing urban area, rather than one worried about resident retention and employment. We read truckloads of economic development reports and talked to a lot of Chambers of Commerce– as well as wait staff, store clerks, hotel staff, and taxi drivers – about where they saw their communities headed
5.Where’s the airport? We did not have to live in the city, but wanted to be no more than 30-35 minutes from the airport. In SoCal, that means about 5 miles. In other places, we discovered, you can live 30 miles out and still make your flight.
6.What’s on sale? Go to the grocery store. Not only will you be able to see the price of milk in your new hometown first-hand, but you will see the citizens in their natural state and be able to assess the relative importance of different professional sports teams to your new neighbors.
7.Do I need a sweater? My husband can’t stand cold and snow, so that knocked the northern third of the country out of the running. I countered by saying I could not handle the desert, which took out the Southwest.

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The big winner?

For us, Bastrop: the Most Historic Small Town in Texas, just outside Austin. Got to love a place named after a con man.

Where will you go?