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Moves to make


Always dreamed of being in the right place at the right time? You may be right now.

Housing's still affordable in the right spots
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"I wouldn't recommend that people just go ahead and read something off the Web or take a quiz, and pack up and move," says Bert Sperling, president of Sperling's Best Places. "But hopefully it helps you think outside the box."

Narrow it down
Now that you have your relocation wish list, it's time to get realistic. There are lots of affordable real estate markets, but not every one will be appropriate for you.

Many retirees, for example, find the mild climate and relaxed pace of Arkansas' Ozark Mountain region appealing, Sperling says. But a recent college graduate might prefer a "quirky, fun place" like Austin, Texas, which also boasts a comparatively low cost of living.

New York City artists looking for a more affordable place to live and work, meanwhile, might consider Philadelphia. It's an easy day trip from New York and has a thriving art scene. But unlike Manhattan, you don't have to be a millionaire to buy an attractive home in Philadelphia.

"It's like the sixth borough. That's what people are calling Philadelphia," Sperling says.

Inexpensive is relative
A buyer's reaction to property prices in a new place has a lot to do with where he or she came from.

In Portland, Ore., for example, realtor Mona Kelly worked recently with prospective buyers from both Northern California and North Carolina. To the Californians, accustomed to seeing homes priced above $1 million, Portland seemed like a bargain. The buyers from more moderately priced North Carolina, by contrast, considered prices high in the Portland area, where the median home price topped $250,000 in December.

Jay Reifert of the Excel-Exclusive Buyer Agency in Madison, Wis., gets similar reactions. People relocating to Madison from the East Coast are at ease with the idea of paying $180,000 to $250,000 for a comfortable starter home in the thriving state capital city. Buyers from other parts of Wisconsin, where home prices tend to be cheaper, often see Madison as expensive.

That said, there are some markets few could call overpriced. In Knoxville, Tenn., Realtor Jim Lee estimates that $150,000 could buy you a well-maintained house with three or four bedrooms on a third of an acre. Lee said about half his business last year came from Floridians looking to leave behind hurricanes and high housing prices.

Your salary might not be portable
If you're pursuing a career, keep in mind: Moving somewhere with cheaper housing may entail taking a pay cut. On the plus side, you may be able to afford a much higher standard of living, even with an equivalent or slightly lower salary.

-- Posted: March 1, 2006
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