In my last blog entry I explained some of my reasons for taking a sabbatical year in Slovakia (roughly from June 2006 through November 2007), the primary reason being an opportunity to move into a new career as an instructor for the developer training company DevelopMentor. Having successfully negotiated the transition, I was left facing the question of where to permanently settle my family. We could have easily remained in Slovakia (I even got a Slovak “green card” through my wife!), but that country is probably decades away from recovering from communism, and better economic and educational opportunities exist in America for our son Kerrigan. Besides, I am American after all, and I’m used to the way things work here, from ordering a book at amazon.com to buying a house with a mortgage. And there’s no language barrier, as there is for me in Slovakia. Lastly, the weakening dollar eliminated the economic incentive for living in Slovakia, where the cost of living has probably doubled since when I lived there in the late nineties.
Having decided to return to America, the question emerged as to where we should live. With the price of housing in Southern California having tripled in the last 5 years, buying a decent medium-size house there would run at least $500K and probably require a dual-income household, depriving our son of the benefits of a stay-at-home mom. Adding in the commute, I would probably be away from home 12 hours a day, getting home just in time to tuck Kerrigan into bed. Not wanting to have to adopt that lifestyle, we started to look at other parts of the country offering lower real estate prices but in proximity to a major metropolitan area with plentiful programming jobs (as a fallback and to supplement by income as a developer instructor). After contemplating areas on the East Coast, such as Atlanta and cities in North and South Carolina, our gaze fell upon Texas and the city of Dallas.
The area north of Dallas as a series of suburbs they call the Metroplex, which includes the city of Plano and surrounding communities. It is in close proximity to the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, which serves as a hub for American Airlines with direct flights to just about anywhere in the country. That helps offset the travel time required for my job, enabling me to return home on the same day the class ends, rather than spending an additional night in a hotel and the next day in transit.
So I checked out the home prices for the area on realtor.com and found an abundance of homes for under $200K, most of which are less than 5 years old and have 5 bedrooms and 2 Â½ baths with over 3000 square feet and a large back yard. (Similar properties in Thousand Oaks, California, average around $1 million!) We could buy our dream house in Texas using just the cash left over from the sale of the 3 bedroom townhome we sold back in 2005, so our only other obligations would be insurance and property tax. And while the property tax is much higher as a percentage of the house value (approx 2.5%), it is somewhat offset by the fact that Texas does not have a state income tax.
Seeing that neither of us has ever been to Texas, we thought it would be a good idea to rent an apartment there for at least 6 months to see if we actually like living there. After getting input from some folks we know in the area, we used an apartment locator service to narrow down the search and read online reviews of various places from residents. So starting January 10th, we will reside in the Cliffs of Eldorado Apartments in the town of McKinney, Texas. (Check out our contact page for the precise address.) Temperatures in the Dallas area can climb to the 100’s during the summer months, so we’d like to see how we hold up under the weather. If we can take the heat, and we like the neighborhood and the people, then we’ll consider buying a house there and settling down. The cost of living seems low enough that we could survive on my training work alone if need be (rents are less than half what we paid in Santa Clarita, California). That would enable me to continue to be self-employed, working as a trainer for DevelopMentor and also as an independent consultant, allowing me to work from home up to three weeks each month. That kind of freedom and flexibility is priceless. J