We are asked that question a lot when we tell friends and family where we are building a house. My initial snarky response is ‘Why not?’ ;-). As I have previously mentioned, I/we like the Southwest (climate, landscape, wide open spaces) so we started looking at cities in the Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico tri-state area. The cities we looked at (Las Vegas, Tucson & Albuquerque) had to meet certain criteria:
- Proximity to an airport – I travel extensively so living out in the country was not an option.
- Food – No, not restaurants (we rarely go out to eat) but rather grocery stores. Since we are vegetarians a good source of fresh (preferably organic) produce, vegetables and fruit is very important to us.
- Livability – That’s a very personal and subjective term but for us that meant not too crowded, some micro breweries, easy access to roads and trails for motorcycle riding. We’re easy ;-).
- Housing – A builder that wasn’t stuck in a 1970’s time warp with regard to energy efficiency and design.
Tucson – We visited multiple times, starting in 2005 when we were moving from Park City, UT. It was the first city we evaluated but eventually passed on. At this point I don’t remember all the reasons anymore but the main one was the high priced housing market. We saw houses that had appreciated by $50k over a six month period – same house, same builder, same features but now it was listed at a much higher price. Given my frugal/penny pincher nature this didn’t sit well with me and sent up too many red flags. I’m glad we listened to our instincts because in retrospect we were right at the height of the housing bubble. In comparison, Austin in 2005 was much more reasonable and the main reason we ended up moving there.
We had a stop over in August of 2009 when we went back a second time. Things that stood out in my mind were the immense driving distances and massive East-West boulevards that seemingly go on forever. Some of them felt like never ending strip malls. Not very enjoyable or memorable. Likewise, the main organic grocery market (Whole Foods) felt small and cramped, not to mention old and a little dirty. In short, we just didn’t get a good ‘vibe’ – not sure how else to explain it.
Las Vegas – We combined an exploratory trip of the city with SAP TechEd in 2010; spending four days driving around, checking out various parts of the city. The airport is hard to beat since all the major airlines have many flights from and to Las Vegas. Even the grocery stores were OK but what turned us off in the end was the housing market. Some background. Las Vegas is surrounded by federal land under the control by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) so space for new construction is very limited. This premium for land is reflected in the lot sizes which are tiny – even small houses (<1800 sqft) will often be built as two-story homes. We wanted a single story home which made our selection pretty small. Plus, given the small lots, the houses weren’t set very far back from the street which gave streets a ‘tight’ and claustrophobic feeling. There were unincorporated pockets of land in the city but that was truly the ‘wild west’ in terms of houses. Too much on the other extreme of the spectrum. We took LV off the list.
Albuquerque – The first time we visited ABQ was also in 2005 on our tour of cities under consideration to move to. The city felt ‘sleepy’ with a nice central area around the university and northeast side which was all built out. The western part (west of IH-25) felt cut off and underdeveloped from a business infrastructure perspective. Plus, we didn’t see any houses or builders that we liked. Again, hard to describe and recollect after so many years but nothing stood out that told us to move there.
So, by now we (actually mostly me :-)) had ruled out all the potential cities (Metropolitan Phoenix was never really an option — too much like L.A., i.e. crowded) and thus we were back at square one. In early 2011 we decided to restart our search for another city to live in. Albuquerque came back up in our discussions after identifying a couple of builders whose focus on energy efficiency was appealing so we made plans to revisit, which we did in June. But that’s another post …