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Moving West – Part 2

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We’ve arrived. We’ve left our empty nest, downsized, and relocated from the southeast to the southwest. For the first time in five months, we, our vehicles, and our possessions, are all in one place. It’s been a dramatic change in venue, and we’re excited to begin the next chapter of our lives in amazing new surroundings!

We moved into our new home about two weeks ago, before most of our things arrived from the east. We had brought the bare minimum of linens, dishes, kitchen utensils, appliances, and some folding furniture in our car, so we could make the place livable and “camp out” for the short-term.

We were glad to have a week or two to assess our new rental. There was some cleaning, and some critical repairs for the property management company to make. And we benefited from a few days and nights in our new abode to get a sense for how we would lay out the rooms and configure our life here, before everything arrived.

The POD

Then, last week, the POD I described in Part 1 arrived. The week before, it had been trucked out from Tennessee to the nearest PODS storage facility — in the big city about an hour away from here.

The company called to confirm our local delivery, and the POD showed up like clockwork the next morning. The friendly driver backed the truck in place, and expertly positioned the container exactly where we needed it. With some trepidation I snipped the zip ties, unlocked the door, and threw it open.

We had not seen our things for almost six weeks. Would they be OK? Was our decision to rely on our renter’s insurance and self-insuring the right one? How did our possessions survive the trip?

I sighed inwardly in relief. The contents looked almost precisely as we had left them in early October. I noted a few of the lighter boxes on top had shifted. And one of our restraining cords had broken, but there were others in place to back it up. On the surface, at least, there was no apparent damage.

Later that day our local movers, selected through the excellent HireAHelper web site again, arrived to help us unload. This crew was much like the one in Chattanooga. They showed up punctually, were prepared, worked hard, were careful with our things, and finished on time. The cost, at about $260 including tips, was well worth the savings to our joints and back muscles!

As we began opening boxes, removing the wrapping paper, and organizing things, we realized this had indeed been a successful move. There was no significant damage of any kind. Our things had arrived safely in their new location.

About the only bump in the entire process was locating the POD in our new, more urban neighborhood. You typically have less freedom to leave a large container in place when land is at a premium. If you are ever in a similar situation, be sure to investigate parking restrictions, fire lane easements, and such. And talk with neighbors beforehand, if possible, to head off any conflicts.

New Home

Our new home is a rare find. After evaluating nearly 40 properties, we can say with some confidence it was the best available place in the city for our needs. Given all the factors involved, we couldn’t be happier.

I’ll talk about the location — possibly the most important factor — in a minute, but first a little about the house itself….

We’re in the larger portion of a duplex (there is a small efficiency apartment rented separately on the other side). It’s two bedrooms and two full baths. In retrospect, those two full baths were a critical comfort factor for us and guests: We turned down some other potential properties that had only a single bath.

There is a kitchen, dining room, living room, and garage. Closets and storage space are adequate. The bedrooms are roomy enough to serve several functions. All told, this feels like the minimum space we need to allow for comfortable living, offices for the two of us, and occasional guests.

The house is nicely appointed with tile floors, Pella windows, and mostly new appliances. We have a small fenced yard with some lovely stonework and landscaping. There is room for a small garden, one of Caroline’s passions. Being in the southwest, the ongoing demands for yard work should be minor.

As mentioned, some cleaning and maintenance were required at the start, but nothing out of the ordinary. We aren’t perfectionists when it comes to housing, but we’ve yet to move into a rental property that was as clean or functional as we would like. Some elbow grease seems always to be required.

About the only compromise we had to make was parking for our beloved camper van. We’ve had to store it a few miles away for another $70/month. But it’s secure and reasonably convenient.

The cost for our new place? $1400/month, utilities included.

New Location

What makes our new home truly special for us is the location. For the first time in our lives, we are urban dwellers, and loving it.

Our house is located in a group of similarly-styled condos and standalone homes, so there is some immediate privacy and sense of community. It is remarkably quiet, both day and night. We visited the property a half-dozen times at all hours before signing the lease, to make sure of that. Our neighbors, most of whom we’ve met at this point, have been friendly and helpful.

Despite the privacy and quiet, we are a short stroll from the commercial district of the city, with access to dozens of excellent restaurants, theaters, performing arts, museums, coffee shops, banks, and shopping including housewares, clothing, outdoor gear, and groceries and fresh foods.

Inspired in part by my visionary and non-conformist blogging colleague Mr. Money Mustache, I’ve been very interested in reducing our dependence on the auto at this stage of our life. We have achieved that. Once we are settled into our routine, it will be quite feasible for us to do without the car for days or weeks at a time, if we choose. In addition to the environmental benefits, this gives us yet another “lever” over our expenses, should future economic scenarios require belt-tightening in our retirement.

And, thanks to the size and layout of our new town, despite our relatively urban location, we have easy access to the natural world that is our chief form of recreation — hiking, biking, climbing, and maybe even a little skiing.

For starters, we have incredible mountain views from our very own balcony. (The sunset above was captured on my cell phone just a few nights after we moved in.) There is also a paved bike and rail trail network that we can access just a few blocks away. A couple of miles in either direction, also within easy biking distance, are world-class trail systems for hiking and mountain biking.

For longer excursions, within a couple of hours by car, are hundreds of trails, summits, parks, monuments, ruins, and historic towns of interest. And within a day’s drive are all the wonders of the entire American southwest.

New Town

You might be wondering at this point, where we settled, after our long journey. What was our ideal retirement location?

Well, our new home town is one of the most unique and storied in the country. In fact, the history here long predates the transient political arrangements of the last 200+ years. It’s a fascinating area, and it will be some time before we fully grasp all the traditions and culture here.

But that history is really just icing on the cake for us. We chose our new town based on more personal factors. (Your criteria could well be different, so consider this a possible checklist, not a sales pitch.) When you get right down to it, the really key ingredients in our relocation decision were:

  • relative proximity to family and friends
  • four-season climate without extremes of heat or cold
  • mountain recreation and sports
  • sheer beauty: astounding scenery in all directions
  • new region of country for us to explore
  • resources for spiritual and personal development
  • diversity of quality dining and good food
  • proximity (1-hour) to major metropolitan area for healthcare and air travel

For all that, and despite this being the state capital, it is still a “small” town. We can ride bikes to all the essential services. If a car is required, it’s a 15-20 minute drive to cross town, max. This place seems to be big enough to have most everything you could want, but no bigger.

So, perhaps you’ve already guessed. We are enjoying our new life in Santa Fe.

Is this really the “perfect” city? Well, there are issues here, like anywhere else.

The area has a reputation for being expensive, a playground for the wealthy. If you need a trophy house in the foothills, better bring a big bank account. But I’ve already shown that you can rent a nice place in the city for a budget that many retirees can handle. You don’t have to be wealthy to live here.

My philosophy has always been that you are largely in control of your own financial destiny, through the lifestyle decisions you make. Nobody will force you to dine at 5-star restaurants, shop the galleries for fine art, or drop by the spa three times a week. However, by living alongside those who have the means for such luxuries, you can take advantage of the public services that kind of wealth can invite: awesome food, events, parks, and trails, for starters.

There is some bureaucracy and red tape here, no doubt. I’m told there are cultural tensions under the surface. And there are some obvious disparities in wealth. But I’m not sure it’s worse than any other urban area in the country.

In the end, Santa Fe, the “city different,” has an element that seems to have all but disappeared from cities this size. There is a raw, untrammeled, unpolished quality to this place that is just right for a guy, and a girl, who have spent much of their lives doing things differently than the mainstream.

There seem to be plenty of over-50 and active people here who feel the same way. Yet, believe it or not, Santa Fe still feels somewhat “undiscovered.” Perhaps it’s the zoning against tall buildings, or the crazy-quilt of narrow city streets — some still dirt, or the largely undeveloped hills rising above town, but this is a place that remains not fully tamed by modern civilization.

The mountains are beautiful, the air is clear, the trails are not crowded. Finally, we are home.

* * *

Retirement calculators: if you’re interested in the state of the art, check out the detailed discussion I had with Todd Tresidder in our second podcast at FinancialMentor: How to Engineer Your Wealth Using Retirement Calculators with Darrow Kirkpatrick. In addition to some broader musings about modeling the future, we discuss the creative possibilities, and the potential potholes, when using these powerful but sometimes deceptive calculation tools.

Comments

  1. Mary Kellogg says:

    Oh how I envy you! I dearly love Santa Fe and would love to live there some day. I will wait for my husband as he is teathered to the Pacific Northwest and won’t budge. As a former Texan, I lothe the PNW.

    Do try to see a few concerts at the Lensic Theater…such a beautiful place and the acoustics are fantastic.

    Good luck and much happiness…

  2. Alex Brenner says:

    Great blog post. I agree that Santa Fe is a great town. I am curious what the cost to purchase your place would be and why you choose to rent?

    Thanks,

    Alex

    • Hi Alex. Looks like the house (2 rental units) changed hands a few times in the last decade for a half million plus/minus. We’re renting for two reasons. First, we wouldn’t be confident enough in our understanding of the area to commit to a purchase until we’d lived here a while. Second, renting here looks like a good value to me. For more on that analysis see my post on Renting vs. Buying.

  3. Chris Verner says:

    I’ve been reading your posts for some time now and cannot tell you have much I appreciate your providing such a detailed examination of how you and your wife approached and completed this process. The methodical way you worked through this obviously can be applied to many other decisions, both financial and otherwise. Am betting this will be a wonderful transition into the next phase of your life. Congratulations and enjoy!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Chris. Life is never perfectly predictable. But I do think that careful research and preparation for these big life decisions will lead to happier results, in general.

  4. Great to hear that everything has continued to go quite smoothly!

    That’s a beautiful sunset. 🙂

  5. Congratulations my friend!

    NM is one of my very favorite places and when the time comes to leave NH (another of my favorite places), it is high on our list if we remain in the US. We have friends in Albuquerque, Taos and Santa Fe, making centrally located SF ideal.

    Did you research NM taxes, and how do you find them?

  6. Congrats Darrow! Hopefully you guys will share some of your new adventures with us.
    Best wishes, Chris

  7. Well congratulations Darrow!
    That’s so cool. When we were in NM late this summer it was when they had that rain deluge so we didnt make it to Santa Fe like we wanted to.

    Was Las Cruces ever in the running for you guys?

    We spent a couple of days there and what I noticed is how it seems to be sprawling out with the city center kinda wilting. From your description it seems like Santa Fe may have a totally different feel. We may have to make a trip there next summer and hopefully there will be less monsoons! 🙂

    Happy trails, Mike

    • Thanks Mike. Las Cruces was on an early investigation list, but we had the same impression as you. Though the area is beautiful, and there are surely some nice neighborhoods, there wasn’t a center that grabbed us. It could still be a remote option if for some reason we had to cut expenses dramatically, but that’s not on the horizon. As you say, Santa Fe is the opposite in some respects. The city center is a real gem. Beautiful and historic, with an amazingly high concentration of good dining and things to do, given the size. But the outskirts of Santa Fe aren’t very special to me. The usual malls and suburbs that could be anywhere. Hope the weather cooperates for your next visit!

  8. Man, I was pulling for Jerome, but I guess you should have the final say on where you actually live. 🙂

    Santa Fe sounds fantastic. We’ve never been but I’ll keep it on the growing list of early retirement/next living situation cities.

  9. DK-

    What a surprise to learn that Santa Fe is the place you chose. I know Chattanooga and east TN fairly well, and even though I was raised in the West and love the magic it holds, I’d choose Chattanooga and east TN over almost anywhere in NM. It seems everyone I know is enchanted by Santa Fe but, it’s a place that’s always ‘underwhelmed’ me. Well, sum cuique. And, best of luck in your new home.

    • Thanks Mark. As you say, to each his own. The difference may simply be one of familiarity. Chattanooga is a fantastic place, and there will be facets of it that I always miss. But after nearly two decades in one place, we were ready for a change. Take care.

  10. Welcome to the west neighbor! I live 4 hours north just across state line.

    Just a note to say Thank you and I appreciated your booklet Can I Retire Yet? Suggestion however. To presume one is married at this point in life is discounting a significant percent of population. Boomers (self included) are increased risk of loss of spouse due to death or divorce. Females are less and less likely to remarry.
    Good ideas
    You know what they say about ass/u/me