The Big Move


I spent the afternoon yesterday helping my neighbors pack, clean, and complete a series of fix-it projects around their apartment. They’re moving from San Francisco to a semi-rural town of 28,000 in western Massachusetts.

My neighbor bought her one bedroom apartment a decade ago for what seemed like the outrageously high price of $400,000. Today the place is worth $900,000. Now that her and her husband have a child they need more space and were confronted with the reality of what it would cost to upgrade to a slightly bigger place with a patch of garden. The numbers didn’t add up. Moving to a suburb anywhere in a two hour drive of San Francisco didn’t help since the price of anything approximating what they want is insane, and the vaguely “affordable” options were horrifying for a long list of reasons. Hence the 3,000 mile move to Massachusetts. The median home value in their new place is $280,000 – and they’re getting a big fully renovated Victorian era home on a third of an acre.

The question now is whether to rent the old apartment or sell it outright. Holding it will provide a steady rental income that will cover all their expenses in Massachusetts. Selling it will provide a lump sum of cash that will allow them to live mortgage free in their new home and have plenty of money left in savings. They still haven’t decided.

At the moment they’re leaning toward the rental option. One bedroom apartments in this location routinely fetch north of $4,700 a month. The space is relatively low maintenance. With proper screening of tenants for credit worthiness and references it should theoretically be a pretty straightforward arrangement. But being a landlord in San Francisco’s regulatory environment is not for the faint of heart. Any number of things can (and often do) go terribly wrong in a place where landlord/tenant relations are notoriously fraught with legal action. We’ll see how that goes.

For the moment my neighbors are absorbed with the quotidian concerns of moving house and settling in to their new place. I’ll note that while they definitely wanted more space and a garden, they also wanted to be in a town with a Main Street and other “urban” amenities close at hand. I see this repeatedly with my millennial friends as they have children and migrate away from the city. They want an older neighborhood close to a smaller version of what a city offers. It doesn’t need to be San Francisco. But it isn’t all Burger Kings and Jiffy Lubes either.

This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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semi-rural town of 28,000 in western Massachusetts.

Why not just write: Northampton ?

Dave Barnes