Archive for May, 2009

print's Top Cities for a Fresh Start

Today we announced our list of Best Places for a Fresh Start. I’m pleased with the criteria we came up with to rank the cities, particularly the angle on volunteerism — this was one of four criteria, the others included housing affordability, economic growth prospects and our own data of where people are moving to.

I’m a pretty staunch believer that you can tell a lot about a community by how much it volunteers to help out others. Using that list helped boost a lot of cities that might not have made the list otherwise, like Columbus, Ohio and Minneapolis.

Now, I don’t expect anyone to read this list and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna move to XXXX for a fresh start!’ Instead, I hope it’s a springboard by which people think about the things in their life that matter to them, and how they can apply that to where they spend their lives.

Then you can go about drawing up your own list of things that matter to you, and formulate your own ‘dream’ cities.

Here’s our top 20 cities:

City Popularity Job Growth Home Affordability Volunteerism Rate FINAL RANK
Austin 3 1 23 5 32
Dallas-Ft. Worth 7 4 15 19 45
Charlotte 9 18 16 10 53
Denver 1 21 19 13 54
Columbus, OH 27 25 6 6 64
Indianapolis 31 11 1 21 64
Washington DC, Balt 4 13 30 19 66
Atlanta, GA 8 16 13 31 68
Oklahoma City, OK 36 14 12 11 73
Houston 17 3 25 29 74
Las Vegas 2 5 18 49 74
Seattle 12 7 51 4 74
Minneapolis-St. Paul 40 24 10 1 75
Raleigh-Durham 6 8 28 33 75
San Antonio 19 2 32 32 85
Portland 16 23 45 3 87
Cincinnati 32 35 5 17 89
Pittsburgh 43 26 8 12 89
Memphis, TN 33 34 11 26 104
Cleveland, OH 30 50 3 22 105

The criteria:
‘Popularity’: We mined our own data to see where people wanted to move. We took that as an indication that these communities are seeing, or will see, an steady influx of newcomers. These newcomers bring with them new ideas, skills and outlooks that can help support the economy and that city’s sense of community. This type of ‘churn’ is vital.

We looked at the per-capita number of quotes for moving services requested to particular communities in 2008 and year-to-date 2009.

Economic prospects: We used’s list of the Best Places for Businesses and Careers to help determine the areas with the brightest job growth prospects over the next three years. This list was published in March 2009.

Housing you can afford: We used figures from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. The report looks at the country’s largest metropolitan areas and the percentage of homes sold in the latest quarter that are considered affordable by the median average family.

An ‘Active’ Community: I believe people will be moving for different reasons in the future than they are now, and strength of community will be one of those factors. A strong component of a strong community is volunteerism — how active people are in helping out others in their community.

We used volunteer data from the Corporation of National Community and Service, an independent federal agency whose board of directors and CEO are appointed by the president.

Because of insufficient data on some cities, we were unable to rank them. The only city this might have affected reaching the top 20 was Nashville, for which we didn’t have data for housing.

Would love to hear more from you about the list!

Related Content:
Relo Survey Finds Long-Distance Moves the New Norm
A New Life by Relocating – How to Make It Happen


Recession Remodeling: Tips on Renovating Your Home on a Budget

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post from Paige Thomas, a communications specialist at

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but in case you haven’t heard, we’re in a recession and consumer confidence is at an all-time low.

While all of these signals may indicate to you that you should stop spending (or even start stuffing your hard-earned cash under your mattress), the current economic state actually presents consumers (that’s you!) with more affordable options and deals galore.

I’m not just talking about sales at the mall or more coupons arriving in your mailbox. You’d be surprised at how some smart planning and some good negotiating can save you on your big remodeling dreams.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any remodeling budget:

Don’t Move Up – Stay Put and Renovate Up: Traditionally, your first house isn’t where you live forever.

As your career grows and your family grows, it’s common to “move up” to a house that is bigger and better than your previous one. While many people will argue that the current housing market is an ideal time for you to get a great price on a new home, you might also look at your current financial situation and think staying put is a smarter idea.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your current home grow up a little bit.

Instead of moving, consider refinancing and plowing the savings into an addition on your home, or tackling a bigger remodeling project (windows, new kitchen, new siding) that will make your current home seem brand new to you.

If you are going to start remodeling your home, be sure to check out federal tax credits for energy improvements, and check for local reimbursements and state incentives too. Who doesn’t want to get money back from the government for investing in their home?

Make Cosmetic Changes: If you want to make big changes to your home, but aren’t ready to commit to the big price tag that comes with it, consider some cosmetic changes that pack a big visual punch.

New paint is a great option for changing the look of any room. If you hate painting, but want some new color in your life, consider changing the color of your interior molding and trim or changing the color of your exterior door. By covering up your basic white front door with a bright red, you will really make it pop and add fresh curb appeal.

Other interior cosmetic changes to consider might be new pulls or knobs in your kitchen, a new sink or vanity in your bathroom, or new window dressings and pillows in your living room. If you’d like to tackle the outside of your home, consider hanging planters or window boxes, some new landscaping contained in a raised bed, or painting your porch with a new color or stain.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate: I hate haggling, but it’s becoming almost commonplace these days. While contractors need to be able to make a livable income, you may be able to negotiate the price on your project depending on how much work you are planning to have done, and depending on if you are willing to assist with some of the demolition or prep work yourself.

Be sure to receive multiple estimates so you can get a good comparison on price. Another way to lower the cost of a remodel is to consider buying materials yourself, and shop around to find the best deal on those materials.

Follow this advice and you’ll likely get a surprising recession-era deal.

Buy Seconds: I love a deal – if there is a store I like that is out of my price range, I will often go and check out the clearance section first. Many stores, like Ikea and my local Portland favorite, Rejuvenation, have “seconds” rooms that are filled with items that have been returned and are put out at a heavily discounted price.

If you are considering flooring materials, many stores will offer a discounted rate on materials that are being discontinued, or of which they have only small amounts left. Carpet stores often have remnant rolls for far below the original price. If you have your heart set on a specific kind of material, shopping this way is not for you, but you’ll see your budget dramatically reduced if you’re willing to be flexible and work with what you find.

About the Author:  Read more remodeling and design tips from Paige on the blog she manages for, a nationwide contractor matching service bringing together homeowners with area contractors for free estimates on home improvement projects.  She writes regularly for’s blog and Twitter page posting on a wide range of topics including the newest home improvement trends, the latest in remodeling news, and the growing green-building movement.


Grapes of Wrath Redux? Relo Survey Finds Long-Distance Moves the New Norm

When helping put together a press release for our recent survey, I grappled with comparisons to the Great Depression — making historical comparisons is fraught with peril.

But I did it anyway. Why?


Well, compared to a study we performed in 2008, we found that more people nowadays are moving a long distance (we define a long move as one over 1,000 miles). In our 2008 survey, 36% said they were moving that distance; in our 2009 survey, 70% said they were.

When I heard this, visions of John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ leapt to mind — legions of the down-on-their-luck trekking halfway across the country in search of a better life.

Granted, there’s a significant factor behind our findings: people aren’t “trading up” anymore. This became sport during the housing bubble — take the big gain in your current house and leverage that into a bigger and more expensive house across town, or even in your own neighborhood.

That worked until housing prices crashed. People are much less able to tap the gain in their home (if they have one) and apply that to a bigger house.

But there’s something else afoot here — fewer people are moving, of course, but those who are, are moving longer distances.

Load Up the Jalopy

First, if you don’t have a job, you’re going to move to where your employment prospects are brighter. If that’s 1,000 miles away, you’re going to do that.

Second, our survey also found that more people are citing “family” as a reason they move — in 2008, 18% said they were moving for family reasons; in 2009, 28% said they were doing so.

Unfortunately, we didn’t dig into this stat very deeply (kick to self…), but we can make a few obvious assumptions.

First, maybe they were just moving to be closer to their family for personal reasons to be closer to them.

Or maybe reflecting harder economic times, people are moving in with relatives to save on housing costs. And if they aren’t moving IN with family, maybe they want to be closer to them for a support system to help with child care, etc.

After digesting all this, I start thinking about it historically.

Looking for a Better Life

And historically, periods of economic distress cause shifts in population. In the 30s, the economy exacerbated an already horrific econological disaster — the Dust Bowl. Millions fled.

The ‘Great Migration’ of African Americans from the South to Northern cities in the early 20th century was the result of several factors, including festering racism, but a primary factor was also the economy — again, migration over great distances for greater opportunities.

Finally, the recession in the late 70s/early ’80s helped spark an exodus of sorts from northern states to the South and Southwest.

So I think it’s inevitable that this recession will produce people who are moving longer distances for economic opportunities. We’re already seeing some of that — the migration from Detroit. Our own own data shows a pretty stunning outflow of people moving from Detroit and some other hard-pressed cities, and states like California are showing outflows of population, again backed up both by our own data and Census data.

As this recession unfolds, it will be interesting to see which other areas of the country see more migration out than in (Texas is pretty clearly attracting new residents). But it’s much less clear about other states and cities.

The question for those in the relocation biz — real estate agents, moving companies — is figuring out what this means for their business.

Does this change the way you market for your clients?

It should. And if not, it will.

— Tim Johnson,


The Best Real Estate Blogs in Los Angeles

So here’s a special kind of torture: Research Los Angeles real estate blogs from a dreary office in chilly, rainy New York.

All these blogs feature the things that make Los Angeles so special: sunny skies; beautiful, happy people; palm trees swaying in soft, ocean breezes. In New York we have cloudy skies; surly people; still-yet-to-bloom saplings nearly bent to the ground by hurricane-force winds off the Hudson.

So I enjoyed losing myself for awhile in these blogs.

As readers of this feature know, I’m doing a virtual transverse of our nation’s largest cities to find real estate blogs that are helpful for people looking to move to a particular community. I’ve looked at Minneapolis and Chicago thus far.

For people who are moving, these blogs are a great way to learn about neighborhoods, learn about real estate in those neighborhoods, and maybe even find a real estate agent who knows their assessments from their elbow (and is a likeable person, to boot).

I try to avoid blogs that are just a series of listings, and posts shouting ‘Now’s a great time to buy a home!’ (I assume that if people are on the blog, they’re ready to buy — and if they’re not, the plaintive cries of a real estate agent won’t convince them to do so).

So that said, here’s the best of the best that I found in the LA area.

San Fernando Valley Real Estate Blog

Judy Graff’s San Fernando Valley Real Estate Blog is really good. A nice mix of humorous pieces about real estate life, tidbits about the communities she serves, and analysis of the current housing market.

She even gets a bit snarky. This post rips overpriced homes near freeway off-ramps, and this one recounts a nightmare home showing (hint: naked guy!).

Judy’s blog gives me a very good idea of what kind of agent she is: open, honest, knowledgeable and funny. Not a bad combination for someone who’s trying to find me a home — and look out for my interests when buying it. 

Pasadena Views
Pasadena Views from Irina Netchaev provides a good snapshot of the Pasadena area, with a nice mix of information about the area and its amenities — it even has restaurant reviews. This post on walking areas in Pasadena is a good example of a real estate agent who’s plugged into the community.

There are also market reports on Pasadena housing, and information about mortgages, including this humorous post comparing some mortgage brokers with the stingy “Soup Nazi” of Seinfeld fame. Anybody who likes Seinfeld is an agent I could work with…

Beach City Real Estate Info

OK, deep breath before pronouncing the next blog: Beach City Real Estate Info. Rolls off the tongue, eh?

Good blog, though. It focuses on Manhattan Beach and Redondo Breach, and the pictures on the homepage make me pine for sun and palm trees, preferrably together and even more preferrably with a fruity drink adorned with a little umbrella.

But back to the real estate. This blog has a thorough listing of homes for sale in the area and other market data for the would-be buyer. There are also posts that are helpful to first-time buyers. This analysis is helpful for people looking to buy in the area.

Malibu Real Estate Blog

Malibu Real Estate Blog from Michael Gardner has a homepage that makes me even more depressed to look out my window at a dark, soul-less monolith (aka, the Goldman Sachs building).

To drive myself further into depression, I tralloped over to a post about what to look for in a Malibu beach home. It’s a nice source of information about beach property in Malibu, and I’m figuring if anyone wants to live in Malibu they should aim for the beach and not with the Malibu low-lifes who reside inland.

 This is an interesting article about how beach depth can affect the value of the property. In my case, it’s the difference between “There’s no way you can afford this,” and “There’s no way in hell you can afford this.”

Still, this is a nice site if you’re interested in moving to Malibu, or just interested in dreaming about moving there.

Um, the latter for me.

Red Square Homes Blog

The RedSquare Homes Blog focuses on Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches (random new theory: life can’t suck if your town has the word “beach” in it).

Red Square has an array of listings and occasional posts on homebuying tips, including this one on what to look for when checking out agents’ Websites.

Phyllis’ LA Real Estate Blog

Phyllis’ LA Real Estate Blog is an eclectic mix of just about everything and everywhere in Los Angeles: market reports, tidbits about the community she serves, humorous observations about life in general, and tips for both home buyers and sellers.

Long Beach Real Estate

Laurie Manny’s Long Beach Real Estate offers market reports on the Long Beach real estate mark, along with things to do in Long Beach, tips for home sellers and homebuyers, and other notes about Long Beach communities.

I thought this post offered a pretty exhaustive overview of things to do and see in Long Beach — it’s geared for Valentine’s Day, but I think it’s useful year-round, for both residents and nonresidents alike.

Up2Date Real Estate

Deena and Doug Willis’ Up2DateRealestate is focused on Pasdena and is heavy on market report,s which it covers exhaustively, and features an active community of people who comment on posts. This is a particularly good (and smart) post on homes for under $400,000 and the kinds of repairs and costs you might face.

Palos Verdes Lifestyle

Norma Toering’s Palos Verdes Lifestyle is a good source of information about Palos Verdes, and also a source of tips for homebuyers and market stats about the area.

Terra Firma

Terra Firma from Christopher Hain is a great place to find the market data about communitites you’re considering. (BTW, I just learned this: Terra Firma translated is “Firm Terra.”) It’s written well and has an insidery feel that helps you trust that the author knows of what he speaks.

The analysis of trends is also top-rate — check out this post on foreclosures.

Other stuff to amaze and excite you in the Blog:

The Best Real Estate Blogs in Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Best Real Estate Blogs in Chicago


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