Well, after two years in France (and four years in married land) we're looking much more seriously at our options for house-buying. We've been thinking about it on and off for a while, with some posts here looking for advice. The trouble is, there is a huge housing bubble near Paris that's basically being completely ignored, it's like nobody sees it. House prices in my village went from ~220k-250k in 2006 for ~1400sq ft livable/8k sq ft lot size to 450k for the same thing here in 2012 - 100% increase in price over 6 years... Looks familiar... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_United_States_housing_bubble
Anyway. Add to that two things: 1. we want a nice garden and we don't want to live in Paris, which means that without breaking the bank on a house, my commute time is a minimum of an hour each way, no matter where we live, and that's just not fun when I barely get to see my kids except on weekends; and 2. I get my French citizenship at the end of this year, which means I get access to all the benefits of nationalized healthcare.
The #1 reason we moved from the US in the first place was because even with my $800/mo self-employment insurance we would end up owing between 40 and 80k for bringing to term & delivery of our first kid, because in order to receive maternity coverage you have to ask one year in advance (
), so we'd be paying largely out of pocket. Compared with the $4k cost of moving, $2k cost of getting a car, and $200 cost of all baby-related medical expenses in France, it was pretty much a no-brainer. However, now that we'll have access to the CFE (Caisse Français Etranger, expat health care) for ~$300/mo for our whole family, that reason has disappeared.
The #2 reason we moved, was so that my wife could be close to her family, and our kids could really get to know all of their cousins and such. So far so good. I am not particularly close to my family and they all live very far away relative to any city we would want to live in, so it's kind of a no-brainer on that side.
We still want to be close to family, what matters more than anything else is that OUR family can spend time together. So that brings me back to the idea of moving back to the US. The trouble with that is, the country is H U G E and picking a place to research for a move is hard work. Thus I turn to you, my beery forum friends, to see if you have any advice.
For our criteria: we would like to be < 7-8 hrs flight from Paris, or able to do a 2-hop of < 5-6 hours each ( == near a major airport)
in a neighborhood of younger upper-middle-class families (I don't have anything against blue-collars (all of my relatives and family are blue-collar), but all the research I've seen said that it's very important to live around people of approximately the same income bracket as yourself), but not in an area where it's all about keeping up with the Jones' (read: gated communities. blargh.),
Nicer older houses (no McMansions), good sidewalks, walking or easy driving distance to Catholic and Protestant churches
and (this is important) within walking distance to either train/tram lines to downtown-type shopping, or in a neighborhood that has, in walking distance, shops, cafes, bars etc. I would strongly prefer for those shops, cafes, bars, etc to not be chains. Also a bonus, if it's nearby a Whole Foods. If we could be < 30-40 min to a large city center, that would be ideal. We would like to be near clean water (for kayaking) and nice big (clean) parks with lots of trees and things. I.e., wild spaces.
Also important, to be near museums and universities, my wife is going back to finish a Masters in cultural something or other,
We need to be able to keep chickens, and I am not a fan of abusive zoning regulations and housing committees, because I have a tendency to say not so nice things to people who tell me that my lawn isn't green enough.
Diversity is also important, I've lived in Chicago, NYC and Paris for all of my adult life and I like interacting with all sorts of people.
Also in terms of temps, I can deal with cold, but I do not like heat. So summer average highs of 78-82 with overnight lows of ~50-60, and I would really prefer a decent amount of sun paired with thunderstorms.
And of course, it needs to have a great beer scene, and be relatively easy to deal with the state & fed brewery license types.
Places we've considered include Newton MA and greater Boston, Redmond WA, Bloomington IL, Chicago, outskirts of DC, Yonkers etc near NYC, Providence RI, Manchester NH, Raleigh & Greensboro, NC.
I think this is the longest I've ever posted. I'd be happy to hear what you guys have to say!