The United States of America is comprised of 50 states, 3,098 counties, 19,083 municipalities, 16,083 townships and thousands of towns smaller than 2,500 residents. Climate zones range from arctic to subtropical. Topography flows from seashore to desert to mountains to great plains to rolling hills and forests. We have land bordering two oceans, a huge gulf, great lakes, medium lakes, small lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks and springs. It is reasonable to believe that within all this there is for each of us an ideal place. Let’s find yours.
The path to your ideal area
Now that you have pondered all the components of place and completed your criteria worksheet, it is time to identify your ideal area. If you study pertinent research materials and cover each point, no disaster will befall you if you proceed in a casual, meandering fashion. However, I believe the following guidelines will save you time and prove most pleasurable and successful.
If you have already decided on an area, this is the time to use your iron-willed discipline. Calm down—or chill out, depending on your age group’s
vocabulary—and work your way through these steps. You may end up choosing what you have already identified. That’s fine, but you will feel good
forevermore knowing you have objectively, logically, intelligently arrived at your decision.
1. Using your criteria worksheet, make your criteria list. You may wish to weight each item or to arrange all items in order of importance to you.
2. Use the national maps in this book to identify the regions that meet your criteria for place-related lifestyle, climate, topography and water quantity. The state maps show low-density areas. Write down all of the appropriate states in those regions—this is your beginning list. Don’t be alarmed if this list is fifteen—or only one. After all, there’s only one Everglades, and if you want panthers, alligators and swamp, well, that’s it—you’re headed for Florida.
3. Order materials from the private and public sources listed in this book for those states that appear to most satisfy your needs. Study those materials, plus atlases and encyclopedias to eliminate states that do not meet your demographic criteria. Ask reference librarians for help—they are worth their weight in data bases. If you have high-speed Internet access you may be able to do all of your research online.
4. Apply your financial criteria: prices and economic opportunities. Reduce the list to no more than three states.
5. Apply the remaining criteria for lifestyle, air quality, water quality and health. Narrow your list to a subregion or bioregion. This is your target area.
6. Using chapters 27 and 28 on places to avoid and toxic pollution, contact the appropriate sources and get potential negative information about the area.
7. Choose towns in areas most free from pollution. Subscribe to their newspapers to check the pulse of the area. Newspapers are excellent sources of cost-of-living figures. In addition to real estate firms, local markets and retail stores often advertise in the local paper.
8. Place an ad in the Personals section of the classifieds requesting contact with others who have moved there from the city. This is a way to get information and maybe make friends—possibly a place to stay when you visit. Expect to hear from every real estate agent in the area. Treat them as a resource—use their area expertise to further inform yourself.
9. Find out about local conditions, taxes and services. In addition to those listed after each chapter, sources of information for local weather, prices, taxes, pollution, crime, density, politics and economic conditions are real estate agents, chambers of commerce and bank officers, plus the agriculture extension agent, sheriff, tax assessor and tax collector.
10. Experience the area. Walk towns. Drive the countryside. Listen to local radio stations. Talk shows quickly reveal local attitudes and concerns. Talk to all you meet. Interview the owners or managers of your bed and breakfast, motel or campground. Eat in local restaurants. Visit schools. Get lost several times and ask for help each time.
If an initial visit indicates that the area is ideal, the very best way to learn all about local conditions is to rent or caretake for one year a property similar to what you want. Living through all four seasons will allow you to see the area at its best and its worst. To find a vacant property whose owners want caretakers, place an ad in the local newspaper similar to the one successfully used by our friends shown in chapter 18 or subscribe to Caretaker Gazette.
Consider living at an intentional community for a year. This is a way to experience the seasons and conditions and to learn country living skills. A directory is listed at the end of chapter 26.
A way to experience an area for a shorter term is to utilize a home exchange service. For a fee, participants’ home information is published. “Exchangers” trade homes with others for holidays or extended vacations. Two such services are listed below.
P.O. Box 30085
Santa Barbara, CA 93130
Intervac U.S./International Home Exchange
30 Corte San Fernando
Tiburon, CA 94920-2014
415-435-3497; Fax: 415-435-7440