Having a background in real estate is handy for many reasons. While I’m not actively involved in basic buying and selling these days—I still keep my hand on the pulse of what’s happening by writing about it. And one thing I’ve learned in the process is that location is more critical than is usually considered. Not only should it be near the top when evaluating any move—from a minimalist or simple living perspective I think it deserves closer consideration. That’s why I thought it might be SMART to make a list of the advantages that come from living in the right location—no matter where on earth it is.
Overall, Thom and I have lived in a total of 19 different homes since we met. We owned all but seven of them–everything from our tiny starter home to the ultimate “American Dream” with pool, spa and 3-car-garage. On top of that we invested in a number of properties to “flip” in the early days of our real estate careers and since have gone on to buy a number of long-term investments. Luckily, we’ve learned a lot along the way.
In the beginning we bought properties solely on the “deal.” Either the pricing or the financing worked, and we ended up buying a property just about any time we could swing it. But eventually it became fairly obvious that some properties were better, more valuable, and offered more potential. And one of the deciding factors was always the location. Every real estate broker learns that people might be willing when they first start out buying to overlook a less than desirable location, but once they’ve lived in a property like that, chances are they won’t do it again. People will pay extra, and when given a preference, will always choose a better location over one less attractive. That’s where the saying, “location, location, location” comes from.
Then several years ago when we made the decision to right-size our lives and live more simply, location shot to the top of our list. Instead of looking for a home with a bunch of amenities within it, we started looking for a home with amenities that came with the location. We started out by analyzing our local community for good walkability locations. That’s when we realized that only three areas fit that requirement.
Once we focused on the three locations that seemed like a good match, we then began looking only at homes within a 5-minute bike ride to those areas. One proved far too expensive for our “right-sized” budget, so we focused on the remaining two. Eventually, one area stood out for offering the most value for our requirements. That’s when we bought our current home in the city of La Quinta, California. While La Quinta is a small city of approximately 40,000+, the home we have is less than ½ mile from the old town area making our community feel much more compact. And although our home may be on the modest side compared to a number of La Quinta neighborhoods, as far as we are concerned our location is “priceless.”
So overall, what are the biggest benefits for anyone looking to simplify their life when focusing on location?
1) A good location can save you money. Costs saved can include the need for a car (or cars!) and all the costs associated with owning one. Estimates say that the average cost per year to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. is around $8,000 each. When you live close to where you work (or work in your home) you save money. Plus, the smaller the home and the lot, the less you will pay to purchase it, maintain it, repair it, furnish it, cool/heat it, and insure it. And don’t forget that a home in a great location can also save you money by providing you with entertainment and amenities that you’d have to pay for otherwise. Things like hiking and biking trails, parks and other recreational services can eliminate the need for expensive gym fees. Check out my previous post on walkability to see more advantages that can save you money.
2) Your location can bring you closer to people you want to be around. This is a fairly common amenity provided by a good location. Lots of people realize that they want to be closer to loved ones, or things like a good school or educational area. But I think it is SMART to remember that our neighbors and our neighborhood will influence our outlook on life. If you are happy hanging out with people who look and sound just like you—no problem. But, if you long to associate with a wide variety of diverse people—different ages, ethnicity, different socio-economics, etc., then consider that when choosing your neighborhood. Your environment will affect you so it’s wise to choose carefully.
3) Your location can give you more freedom to pursue your passions. Face it, our homes represent the values in life that we claim to be most important and the location we choose represents it as well. With our current home Thom and I made a huge effort to rightsize and make it as energy efficient and affordable as possible. Fortunately we were in the position to buy it without a mortgage. So with extremely low utility costs, low taxes, low insurance, no HOA—just about all the stress and headaches that normally come with home-ownership have been dramatically reduced. No one gave us the money to do this—it took work and effort but it was important to us. Obviously our goal surpassed the need to impress others or listen to the push in our culture that says we needed something bigger and more impressive merely because others do it or because we could. We instead realized that the ongoing costs associated with a more extravagant lifestyle meant much less to us than the freedom and peace of mind that we find living our rightsized life. Ultimately the trade-offs we make to live in the location we do, is a direct reflection of our values.
4) Your location can give you more time to enjoy and experience life. We live in an era of time-ruptcy. Just about everyone I know runs around saying there isn’t enough time to do this or that—and yet so many of us go to work and spend hours every day doing things they dislike just so they can run around like madmen during the rest of the day trying to squeeze in a little joy and contentment. What if we just stopped? What if we quit the job and instead rightsized our lives to live more simply and carefully each and every day? What if we spent our time focused on our passions and relationships? Why not? The choice really is ours to make.
5) Your location can reduce your need to commute. Happiness research is very clear that if you select a home a distance from your work you will end up commuting—and that will cost you in terms of money, time, stress and wellbeing. In fact, a Swedish study in 2011 determined that a couple was 40% more likely to divorce if only one partner commuted 45 minutes or more each way. Other research shows that people who commute worry more, are lonely, are less healthy (with recurrent neck or back problems), weigh more, and are much less fit. Real estate agents are often blamed for pushing people far out into the suburbs into the biggest house they can buy. But we’ve all known people who buy big expensive homes in the suburbs without a thought about how far they have to drive. Anyone who ignores the high cost of commuting isn’t paying attention. Economists have now determined that an extra hour of commuting time can only be offset with a 40% increase in salary to balance the cost, time and money associated. Buying an expensive house far away from your work might seem like an advantage, but that commuting time is a constant, persistent daily burden that can make a person miserable.
Location, location, location can and should mean a lot more than just buying an expensive and impressive house in a “good” location to dazzle others. It should also remind us to avoid buying the most expensive home we can find no matter where it is located—just because we can qualify for the loan. Instead our home can be a simple apartment right next to a college where you take classes or a loft next to an art studio where you pursue your dreams. It can be right next door to the school where your kids attend, or it can offer space for your own home garden. Thinking of the location of where you live as a critical element puts the focus on the feelings and benefits that come from where you dwell—rather than what it looks like to others or how big it is to fill up with stuff. Perhaps the SMART approach is to consider the location from the perspective of all the above benefits before you start packing. The true value of “location, location, location” will likely occur once any of us lives in a place where we feel both happy and at peacefully home.
Hi Kathy and thanks for a great post 🙂
As a private guitar teacher with no car, I have made it a point to only choose students who are either within walking or biking distance, or during the winter, one bus ride away.
The area that I live in, and which I have done so since 1984, is close to everything I like or love. Friends are a few minutes away by walking…less so if I take my bike. Small local grocery stores and one or two person businesses are just down the street. A multiplex cinema is close by, my old University is literally a block away. There is a popular coffee shop right across the street from my building, a public library is a five minute walk way with a bunch of restaurants close by, and of course my students are close as well.
I have door to door public bus transport and, if I so desired, I could easily never leave the area while not feeling deprived at all!
Like you, that to me is the beauty of living in the perfect location. Suffice it to say, I’m very pleased! And I’m glad that you all are as well 🙂
Thanks again for a great post and take care.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Lyle….thank you so much for stopping by and adding your special perspective. I think it so powerful to hear of others who have purposely chosen a compatible location as a benefit to their creating a happier AND a more simple and minimal lifestyle. And you pointed out something else that Thom and I certainly overlooked when we picked our location–because it is a little off the beaten track we assumed that we would end up driving to some of the other things that happen in our region. But as it turned out there are so many AMAZING things happening right where we are that we actually lowered our milage by about 1/4 the first year alone. That was completely unexpected–it saved us gas money and wear and tear on our vehicle. And as you say, “I could easily never leave the area and while not feeling deprived at all.”
So glad to hear you are thriving in your location! And thanks again for your comments….~Kathy
Incredibly true! I’ve only bought one apartment (I’m 28) and I bought it based on a number of factors: walkability to grocery, GP etc, one block from a major train hub, I knew the suburb, and had friend walking distance away. Admittedly I commute 20-30 mins each way, but it does not concern me. I do lived in a less desirable suburb as there’s a lot of public housing – I actually liked that I didn’t live in a super safe/wealthy/snotty area, and I saw ‘real life’. I never had an issue either of the times I’ve lived in that suburb!
Now I’ve moved nearby, and still have major transport, shops in walking distance. The area is safer, and more desirable, so it is more expensive, but it’s also almost double the size. I think to an extent, I didn’t want to downgrade when I moved in with the BF so we found somewhere lovely. We could surely spend less, but I think he’s not yet at the same level of enlightenment on this right sizing as you (and me) are.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Sarah….thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. It sounds like you are taking time to think through some of your choices and that is all I ever hope to encourage. AND the good news for your sake is that you are still really young and have loads of opportunities to keep honing it in. The challenge is to upgrade the benefits but keep the costs as low as possible…if you can balance that then you’re on the right track. It obviously took Thom and I many years to discover what it was that was really important to us–and as you say, it makes it more challenging when the partner or BF isn’t quite on the same wavelength. Just stay determined and try to avoid compromising any of the really important values you have learned….(and that message goes out to us all –me included!) Thanks again for your comments. ~Kathy
Gary Lange says
Having biked to work this morning, I feel energized since I had the exercise in the beautiful, sunny air. Love your “time-ruptcy” and NOT being so busy. Will I be sitting on the porch by next fall?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Gary…thanks for joining the conversation. Yes, you are an inspiration to me living where you can bike to work! Keep it up. And glad you liked my “time-ruptcy” and my urging to slow down. After I came up with that I’m thinking I might need to write about post using that word. As for setting on your porch next fall…are you planning your retirement so soon? Even if not, it is a lovely way to pass the time and enjoy the weather. ~Kathy
I lived by the adage to buy the worst house in the best neighborhood. Fixing up a home can be done quite inexpensively if you learn how to do most of the work yourself. Even raising my boys the trade off was to have less size in the home and more open space to explore outdoors.
My sons learned the same lesson, they each bought a home that was family-friendly in a good neighborhood with plenty of room for their children (schools were a deciding factor) in communities that had great amenities. The size and layout of the home was secondary.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Lois! Why am I not at all surprised to hear that you did a lot of fixing up of many of your homes? You are obviously still VERY talented with taking something that others might not consider salvageable and turning it in to something great. I so agree with doing that with a home can definitely help keep your costs down and give you better options with location. You have given your sons, and now your grandchildren, the ability to envision what something can become regardless of the state it is found in–and that is a great talent to have. That, along with the ability to not compromise on something as important as a location of your dreams, is “priceless.” ~Kathy
Christine Somers says
Once my children were out and on their own, I finally admitted I was a city “mouse”. For all the reasons you stated, I found living in a city like New York or Washington DC suited my personality more closely. I understand people trading off commute time for space when they have kids at home but I sure like the decreased pressure now that I no longer experience the same drive times as before. When my kids were at home, it was all about the schools. Now that city schools are improving, raising children in the city would be a remarkable opportunity. I agree with you, it is all about location, location, location.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Christine, Yes, I think it is so wise to remember that we will change as we grow and learn new things. I suppose in stead of being at all surprised–we should be surprised if we don’t change, right? As I said in the reply to Bethany below, I grew up thinking acreage was a sign of success and the goal to arrive at. Now when I look at people with their HUGE properties I just have to laugh. I’m so-o-o glad I don’t live there. I think something else that I didn’t mention in the article…it really helps to travel. When you do you get to “try out” all these different lifestyles to see if they are a “fit.” I enjoy visiting cities for the energy and the amenities–but I don’t think I would want to live there. Thank goodness we are all so different or we would all end up living in the same places! Thanks for sharing your perspective! ~Kathy
Wow, Kathy, this really resonates with us! We thought we would love a larger house in a small town in the woods, but we’re so much happier in the city. I love not needing a car, I love having so many friendly people nearby, and I love having so much to do. Location really does make all the difference.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Bethany….glad you liked it. And yes, funny how our ideas change about what it will take to make us happy. I grew up in a rural area on 2.5 acres and I thought that was a measure of success for the longest time. Of course I completely ignored all the maintenance something like that takes because even though we had chores, Dad took care of the rest of it. And even after Thom and I got together we both kept thinking bigger was better. Wow! Things have definitely changed. We so love the home we live in right now and I never would have believed it even about 10 years ago. You and your husband are so much ahead of the game to have picked up on all these ideas so early on in life! I can’t wait to hear where you’ll be by the time you get to my age! Thanks as always for dropping by and leaving your comments! ~Kahty
Dave Bernard says
Thanks for the hints! We are looking at moving to our “retirement” home away from the traffic of the Bay Area. I am a lover of the ocean while my wife thrives in a sunny locale. We want to be part of a community – not off in the boonies with a killer view. And a nice downtown with coffee shops, fun restaurants, and old gnarly trees within walking distance would be ideal. Haven’t found it yet but we may be onto something with Carmel Valley – will keep you posted. Enjoy!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Dave, I’m glad I got you thinking…you KNOW that is one of my big goals. 🙂 You are very wise to be taking your time to think through what is important to you. I can’t tell you how many homes we looked at before we bought this one. Old habits die hard and we kept finding ourselves looking at properties that we knew were great deals that would appreciate tremendously when the market turned around (this was 3+ years ago). But then we’d stop and look at each other and recognize that we would just be going sideways instead of really “right-sizing” our lives. We are very happy that we took the time to think it all through and have absolutely no regrets for waiting until we found the perfect neighborhood we wanted to be in….I would encourage others to rent someplace before buying if they aren’t sure….it’s so-o-o worth it! Good luck on your own search…and I’m sure you’ll be writing about it on your blog so we can follow along. ~Kathy
Great post Kathy. So much of this resonates as I am currently taking stock of my own priorities, and what changes I need to make to live a more fulfilling life. Thanks!
Kathy Gottberg says
Thanks to you Nancy for popping in here and leaving a comment on your birthday week! I think birthdays and other times of the year are excellent reminders to stop and take stock of our lives. It is so-o-o easy to get stuck in a routine and then whoosh…a year goes by and nothing is different. What’s the saying? “Insanity is hoping that your life is different, but doing the same old thing day in and day out and expecting things to change.” Good for you for staying awake and aware! Enjoy the rest of your birthday week! ~Kathy