Five Cool Towns to Leave Your Overcrowded City For | Bloomberg Business

House-hunting season is upon us, the time of year when the thaw begins, and upwardly mobile urbanites start fantasizing about buying property in a yet-undiscovered neighborhood in New York or Boston or San Francisco. Except they’re too late. “The obvious urban growth wave has played out,” says Dan Miller, co-founder of real estate crowd-funding site Fundrise.

If you’re willing to accept that there are no deals to be had in your first-choice city, Marc Charles, a serial entrepreneur who writes about investing, has a vision to sell you. “The new exurbs will prove to be the next big thing in real estate,” he wrote in a blog post. They’re attractive, he says, to both retired corporate warriors and entrepreneurs.

Sure, towns such as Laconia, N.H., 90 minutes north of Boston, or Sedona, Ariz., two hours from Phoenix, are too far for a comfortable daily commute—but that’s part of what makes the exurbs tantalizing. The connected world makes it easy for anyone to get the job done from a smartphone, no matter where. High-speed Internet connections and shifting work culture could make country living accessible to more and more workers. All the better if they choose someplace quiet, with a rail connection to a bigger city and a growing population of like-minded small business owners willing to replicate their favorite urban niche record store or chill coffee shop.

Finding the towns or regions that will become magnets for urban exiles is more art than science, Miller says. “Where is the cultural edge, and where is it going?” he asks. “Where are the people who defined the Brooklyn narrative?” That’s not entirely clear. But here are five places Miller thinks you should start looking:

St. Michaels, Md.

Near: Washington, 79 miles away

Median price per square foot in St. Michaels: $168

Median price per sq. ft. in Washington: $466

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld bought homes in this 18th century town during the George W. Bush administration, perhaps not the kind of famous neighbors that signal hip to young home buyers. Then again, the movie Wedding Crashers was filmed in St. Michaels, providing a precedent for intergenerational bonding. More important, the town sits on the scenic eastern bank of the Chesapeake Bay, about two hours from Washington and Philadelphia—qualities that Miller says give the town real estate market upside.

A three-bedroom house in St. Michaels, Md., less than than two hours east of Washington, is selling for $519,000.
A three-bedroom house in St. Michaels, Md., less than than two hours east of Washington, is selling for $519,000.
Photographer: Elizabeth Y Foulds

Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Near: New York, 103 miles away

Median price per sq. ft. in Rhinebeck: $202

Median price per sq. ft. in Brooklyn: $586

Located north of New York in the Hudson River Valley, a rural region that has attracted exiles from Brooklyn’s farm-to-table set. The Rhinebeck area was settled by the Dutch in the 17th century, and some early buildings still stand; more important, there’s an Amtrak station less than two hours’ travel from midtown Manhattan in case life on the farm gets lonely.

Two hours north of Brooklyn, in Rhinebeck, N.Y., a 2,700-square-foot house lists for $665,000.
Two hours north of Brooklyn, in Rhinebeck, N.Y., a 2,700-square-foot house lists for $665,000.
Photographer: Gail Saucier

Middleburg, Va.

Near: Washington, 47 miles away

Median price per sq. ft. in Middleburg: $212

Median price per sq. ft. in Washington: $466

This 19th century town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is very much horse country. The area was once renowned for its fox hunts and is still home to a research center for equestrian sports. Houses are half as cheap per square foot as in Washington and they’re about an hour away from the capitol, without traffic. Release the hounds!

What $550,000 gets you in Middleburg, Va., 47 miles west of Washington.
What $550,000 gets you in Middleburg, Va., 47 miles west of Washington.
Photographer: Robin A. Hood

Healdsburg, Calif.

Near San Francisco, 69 miles away

Median price per sq. ft. in Healdsburg: $265

Median price per sq. ft. in San Francisco: $866

A city of 10,000 that’s a commercial center for Sonoma County wine country, Healdsburg is the kind of place in which affluent San Franciscans keep second homes. While weekenders have attracted Michelin-starred restaurants and boutique shopping, Miller sees it as the kind of place where first-time home buyers can stretch the value of a dollar—especially if they have the kind of job that can be done from a home office (with or without an afternoon glass of wine).

A 2,400-sq.-ft. three-bedroom in Healdsburg, Calif., listed for $829,000.
A 2,400-sq.-ft. three-bedroom in Healdsburg, Calif., listed for $829,000.
Photographer: Ryan Anderton/Sonoma Realty Group

 

Palm Springs, Calif.

Near: Los Angeles, 107 miles away

Median price per sq. ft. in Palm Springs: $214

Median price per sq. ft. in L.A.: $499

Best known as a resort city southeast of Los Angeles, Miller says Palm Springs, with a large population of same-sex couples and a calendar full of interesting arts and cultural events, is gaining an alternative vibe that makes it an interesting place for home buyers who seek a hip place outside the big city.

A four-bedroom in Palm Springs, Calif., listed for $575,000.
A four-bedroom in Palm Springs, Calif., listed for $575,000.
Photographer: Dream Home Photography courtesy of PJ Aguilar of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices

 

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