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VIEWPOINT: Why Anderson lured me from Florida

December 31, 2007

Baby boomers have five more years, 10, 15-then it's time to enjoy retirement. Except that we keep buying everm o r e - ex p e n s ive houses. What will happen when the paychecks stop?

Facing this, I reassessed my situation in Florida. In two years, my taxes there tripled; insurance, doubled. An affordable mortgage didn't offset increases from the state and my friendly insurance company. To stay viable, I had to leave. Where to go?

I figured that, with 10 percent down, my credit would allow me a $600,000 house. But I live alone-why would I want one? At the other end of the scale, with zero mortgage, I'd face almost no financial stress, even if I were to get sick or lose major clients. I decided on a zero mortgage.

Much of Florida's trouble comes from its fast expansion. The last five years have brought more than 2 million new residents, many looking for cheap housing. Towns welcomed the new residents, without realizing that those people would bring additional traffic, greater use of sewer and water facilities, law enforcement and schools. The tax situation could only get worse.

I wanted to move to an area that had adequate infrastructure. That meant looking for a place with a stable or even declining population; Texas, Arizona, Montana and Nevada were clearly out. The stable population has other benefits: people who know each other tend to support each other. "Community" means more than "address."

I travel for my aviation work often, two days to two weeks at a time. I needed a neighborhood where my belongings would greet me on my return, and a decent-size commercial airport.

So, here's the list: somewhere within an hour of a major airport and city, within 500 miles of population centers, with low crime, low taxes, adequate infrastructure and properly built housing (not merely "pop-ups" to fuel an instant expansion, or "starter" homes that promote transience.)

The West Coast generally disqualified itself, through pricing or sheer distances between cities. The Rockies are expensive as well. The Great Plains held appeal in property prices and generally low crime, but the best location for an aviation guy (Wichita) is cut off from the rest of the world by Wright Amendment's airline restrictions; and there are long distances between population centers. There's New England (remote and generally too expensive), Pennsylvania (lots of transportation snafus in the winter).

Most of Illinois is outside Chicago's economic benefit, yet remains under Chicago's political influence. Michigan? It's business-friendly, and Detroit's Metro airport gets you anywhere. There is plenty of affordable housing in, say, Flint, but the crime there makes one long for the tranquility of Somalia. Help!

I went online. Auctions and sales sites (eBay, Craig's List) gave indications of where affordable properties were available. Satellites shoot the whole country, and you can find nearly any address. (When shopping by satellite, beware neighborhoods with cars abandoned in back yards, piles of trash near the alleys, big parking lots with no cars in them.)

After a month's search, I picked Indiana. Affordable Muncie is close enough to Indianapolis, but its crime statistics are just out of range for me. The bend of Lake Michigan (Hammond, Gary, Michigan City) also has scary crime stats. I eventually found Anderson. It met the demographic requirements: affordable, safe and within a day's drive of lots of cities.

I used a three-day weekend to drive up. That sealed the deal. The house I eventually bought is in Anderson's historic district. I've opened an office in Anderson's incubator, and the city's support has been more than promised. Referrals work; things get done, fast. Traffic is light. Infrastructure needs are light; tax increases are unpopular. People get involved in politics-and they know the people who are running, so there's a chance for accountability in office.

It's nice here. Anybody want a house in Florida?



Kern is an aviation writer and consultant who teaches economics at Ivy Tech Community College in Anderson.
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