Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Move to Washington DC or Seattle

Living an edited life is simple in theory. Downsize your home, live with less stuff, walk and bike more, ditch or limit driving–all of this will result in lower financial overhead, allowing you to work less have more free time. It will also lower your environmental impact, allowing you to live in good conscience. But this theory is often at odds with reality. A great deal of the American housing stock is single family homes in sprawling, car-dependent suburbs, thwarting many ambitions to downsize or live a more walkable, localized existence. Then the places that have compact housing and are walkable are so god awfully expensive, that the notion of working less and having more free time can seem like a pipedream. Throw in the desires to live in an area with both a solid job market and decent public schools and you might as well be unicorn hunting. While it is rare to find areas that are affordable (i.e. wages are in line with cost of living), walkable and have solid schools, it is not impossible. A recent study by the real estate site Redfin surveyed 170 neighborhoods in the 20 cities they analyze across the United States. They found that only 24 of those neighborhoods had affordable housing, were walkable and had good schools. And as you might have deduced from the title of this post, a disproportionate number of these neighborhoods were in Washington DC or Seattle.

Redfin first looked at affordability, which they defined thusly:

A home was considered affordable if 28 percent of the local median family income could cover the monthly mortgage and principal payment, assuming the buyer put 20 percent down and took out a 30-year loan with a four percent interest rate. Homes with sale prices 20 percent above that threshold were considered expensive.

They then factored in the neighborhood’s and Great Schools scores to get the full picture of a place. It was tough to hit high scores in all three categories. Some places with affordable housing had abysmal schools or are not walkable. Some places with good schools aren’t walkable. And so on. 

Redfin’s findings do have some overlap with micro-housing. Funny enough, DC and Seattle are the two US cities with the largest number of micro-apartment developments. Other cities with healthy micro-housing scenes like Austin and Chicago also faired well on the list. In fact, Redfin sees loosening real estate development restrictions as a key to making the already good neighborhoods denser and available to more people.

Redfin also gave a great maxim for deciding where to live:  

If you also want highly rated schools and a high Walk Score, look for the least-expensive home in one of the mixed-priced neighborhoods on this list. This is a lot like grandpa’s strategy to make a safe real estate investment, “buy the cheapest home on the best block.”

This statement has obvious implications for compact housing, as the cheapest home on the best block is also often the smallest.

For the full study, head over to Redfin’s site.

Georgetown and Key Bridge image via Shutterstock

  • Those places are quickly becoming expensive.

  • gblock

    Columbus may not the the apitomy of micro-living, but it seems to be a solid town with great public transportation and plenty to do, especially if you can get an apartment within a few blocks of the main drag (High Street)

  • Seattle1984

    Good luck trying to find affordable housing in the listed Seattle neighborhoods. As I write this there some neighborhoods that literally have a tiny handful of homes on the market. Those that have stayed on the market for more than a week are because of location next to a major highway, or some other “health” concern that holds buyers back. Everything is bidding up between 50,000 and 150,000 over listing price. The number of buyers and number of houses on the market are at incredible odds. I haven’t seen competition this fierce ever. Renting is definitely still an option, but it can be hard to consider paying rent in Seattle that could pay two mortgages in other cities.
    Being born and raised in Seattle I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love this city so much but the influx of people moving here is outpacing the real estate market. It is a hard thing Seattleites to watch. Amazon, Starbucks, The Gates Foundation, Microsoft are all incredible businesses that have done a lot for the area but there are down sides too, and this is one of them.

    • David Friedlander

      thanks for weighing in from the trenches. i live in brooklyn, and it’s funny (not in a humorous way) how these things can change by the week. a few years ago when i purchased my home, i was involved in several bidding wars–one, where i was 1/21 bids (coming in #2 to make it particularly awful) and two others where i was 1/30 or so (neither of which i was able to touch). and as bad as i thought it was in 2013, it’s gotten so much worse. the data from this study is 2-4 years old, and i bet that accounts for some of the discord between its findings and your experience.

    • Seattle is great. Unfortunately that attracts a lot of people. We need a “pacific northwest is grey and depressing 10 months of the year” campaign to keep people away.

  • AERzondzinska

    The area media income (AMI) in Washington, D.C., includes earners living in close-by counties in Maryland and Virginia, which happen to house many of the metro-area’s highest-income residents. Thus the AMI for D.C., at $109,000, is skewed upward. Computing “affordable housing” from this number leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

  • sogwa

    Affordable downtown neighborhoods AND good schools in DC⁉️
    What decade are they speaking of⁉️
    1983 when it was the murder capital of the world because it Damn sure ain’t affordable in any way shape or form……ESPECIALLY the Foggy Bottom / G’town / upper NW area.

    … nasty ass Baltimore is dirt cheap with gutter rat schools

    • sogwa

      As of 1995 (& not 1 minute after) DC’s gingerfication was almost complete. And a burnt out shell by Howard Univ. on Ga. Ave. cost $500k‼️‼️

      So if affordable means paying $950 for a “bachelor pad” (a studio apartment withOUT a kitchen) then, hey, you are right and got it going on.

  • Sharon

    I moved from DC to Seattle late last year. For me, there’s no choice! Seattle is friendlier, more beautiful, and features more forward thinking people, and yes, the weather is better than DC.