My husband and I thought we’d made a great decision when we first moved from Texas to Iowa three years ago. Before too long though, we realized we’d made a very expensive and inconvenient mistake. In this post, I’m sharing 1o things I hate about where I live as a way to both vent some frustration and shed some light on how you can be sure you move to a place that you love.
Whether or not we like a place is purely subjective. It’s a lot like our tastes in food. Let’s say you like asparagus. Most likely you’re not going to take offense if I tell you I don’t like asparagus. Yet, people often take it personally when they learn you don’t share the same love as they do for a place. (Especially if you think the place sucks!)
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So, what 10 things do I hate about where I live? Read on to find out!
Conformity reigns supreme
We live in a farming town of about 7,300 people. It’s not what you think of when you think of a suburb, but it has this odd suburban Stepford Wives air about it. Everyone is super Type-A about their lawns. The minute the grass reaches 1 inch, people are out mowing. When it snows, people start shoveling their sidewalk before the snow even stops. Not only that, people narc out neighbors who don’t keep their front porch tidy or mow their grass enough. The city actually fines these people for their “offenses.” Every place has its quirks, but they aren’t always compatible with how we want to live. By allowing ample time for your scouting visit, you can better gauge whether a prospective location has any annoying peccadillos.
Dumb and unnecessarily punitive laws
I had no idea Iowa had so many ass-backwards laws until we got here. The state and its cities treat private property as if it was public property–except when it doesn’t work to their financial advantage. I’m talking specifically about sidewalks. I’ve never lived anywhere that considered the sidewalk in front of my house private property. But, Iowa has decided city sidewalks are 100% private in the wintertime and 50% private the rest of the time. In the wintertime, residents must clear the sidewalks within 24 hours of the snow stopping or pay a fine. And if the sidewalk in front of your house needs to be repaired, guess who gets to pay half the cost? You guessed it – we do! Did you know you can research homeowner’s laws to make sure you don’t encounter any unwelcome surprises once you move someplace? Well, you can!
Distance to the nearest city-ish place
Iowa is a rural state, so most people here don’t think twice about driving 100 miles one-way. That’s why we get a lot of rolled eyes when we complain about having to drive 30 miles one way to Iowa City every week. But when you’ve spent most of your life in a place where you can drive or walk 5 minutes to get anything, spending the better part of a day running errands gets to be a real pain in the ass. Yes, I know I sound wimpy, but who cares. I don’t ever want to live outside a city again.
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Community planning? What’s that?
The town we live in is not “booming” by any stretch of the imagination. The population has remained mostly flat over the past 30 years and it seems that, for every two people that move into town another two move out. Housing is relatively affordable, which is probably why it draws people (including us, at least temporarily) who are priced out by high housing costs in Iowa City.
Why, then, did a couple of developers decide–and why did city officials agree–that this was a prime location to build four “trendy” $200,000 Pennsylvania House Town Home townhouses? That’s not all, though. The real head-scratcher is where they chose to build them. The site, which used to have affordable housing on it, backs up against a car wash, sits one block off the railroad tracks, and directly across the street from the Fareway grocery store. The location is much more suited to commercial than residential.
It remains to be seen if anyone bellies up to the bar and buys one of those things, but I know I sure wouldn’t pay $200,000 to live there! There are a lot of important questions we don’t think to ask when we’re researching prospective locations, like how a community manages (or mismanages) growth. That’s why it’s a good idea to get expert help with the search for your dream location.
Stingy city officials and their messed-up priorities
Housing prices are relatively affordable in this town (for now, at least). However, the cost of living is waaaaay too high considering what we get in return. I was shocked to learn after running the numbers that we’re paying 22% more in property taxes and 33% more in utility costs living in a town of 7,300 than we were paying to live in a city of 250,000. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the town actually invested more than the barebones minimum into making the town a nicer place to live.
For example, the lighting for the very creepy pedestrian tunnel that runs underneath the railroad tracks was broken for years. Did the town fix the lighting so it was safer for residents? Nope. They waited to repair the lighting until the annual bike ride around Iowa was slated to come through town for the first time in 15 years. It’s heart-warming to know that 20,000 bicyclists who spend all of one day in town are worthier of spending money on than the people who put money in their coffers every day of the year. By researching the policies and laws of a prospective location, you can get a feel for how it treats its residents.
There are 7 times as many pigs as people in Iowa, so it’s no surprise that there are a ton of pig farms all over the state. Maybe this doesn’t sound so disturbing in the abstract, but when you see and smell pig farms everywhere, it’s pretty icky and depressing. By researching a location’s main industries and seriously considering how your quality of life could be affected, you can guard against making a similar mistake.
I lived for 23 years in Austin where everyone around me was absolutely miserable with allergies. But I never had a problem with them. I didn’t even get allergies when I moved from Austin to West Texas. But for some reason, I’m allergic to Iowa. Maybe it’s all the cornfields or the pig farms. I don’t know; I just know it’s no fun! By researching the pollen counts of a prospective location ahead of time, you can avoid moving someplace you’re allergic to.
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Cars, pick-ups, motorcycles and 18-wheelers roar up and down the streets at all times of day and night. Most of the time, the car stereos are cranked up so high the windows of our house rattle. Iowa doesn’t require car inspections so there are tons of cars and trucks that don’t have a muffler. This means they are reeeeally loud. With so many kooky laws, you’d think they’d have a noise ordinance, but I guess not. Or if they have one, they don’t bother enforcing it. You can get an idea of how noisy a prospective location is by making this part of your on-the-ground investigation.
I spent two decades slogging through Austin’s interminably long, hot, muggy summers, so I’m no stranger to humidity. But I had absolutely no clue how humid the summers are in Iowa. I’ll never forget walking downtown on our first day here and nearly passing out from the humidity. What’s that? Why didn’t I know about this before we schlepped 1,000 miles with our four-legged family and all our possessions? Because I simply didn’t bother looking into it. That’s how shoddy my research was! You can easily access detailed weather data, including humidity levels, about a prospective location online.
This town is the unlikely location of the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the world. The State is a beautiful historic theater that is just screaming to be properly celebrated. But a company out of Des Moines that insists on showing only superhero and Pixar animated movies owns the theater. I understand they have to make money to stay open, but it’s such a waste of an iconic theater.
We don’t understand why they can’t (or won’t) reserve a couple of weeks out of the year for film festivals–something that would draw people and their money from out of town. But every time we mention this to anyone, including the mayor, we get the patented eye-roll. Residents could use the theater to breathe some much-needed life into this town; too bad no one gives a shit. Community apathy is one of those intangibles that, like the “vibe” of a place, is best evaluated in person as part of your on-the-ground investigation.
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Tamara Jones says
We lost everything when we moved from California to Amana, Iowa. It may be 25% cheaper to live there, but we took a 50% pay cut so that’s a mathematical FAIL! I also never had allergies until I moved there, the mold & humidity was outrageous, the people weren’t friendly, terrible weather, life was generally harder in so many ways. Ruined our lives. We’re back in CA now trying to rebuild. Your article was cathartic, thank you!!!
Tamara, fellow moving disaster survivor, my heart goes out to you! It sounds like your move to Iowa was as nightmarish as ours has been. I’m so sorry you had to go through that and that you are still recovering from the experience. It’s sobering just how much damage a wrong move can cause. I only hope I can help others from having to go through what we have! Thanks for sharing your story and all the best to you as you rebuild your lives back in CA.
We moved from Washington to California. I had taught pre-k for years, and was told getting a job in that field would be easy. They have a whole different system there that I didn’t fully understand until we actually got there – so, ASK QUESTIONS if you don’t understand something that pertains to your field of work. It turned out, I would have had to go back to college to learn how to do the job I had been doing for the past 5-6 years. I didn’t have that kind of money, so I had to get jobs in a different field. (Yes, jobS because California didn’t want full-time workers, another thing to look into.)
The noise thing is completely accurate – no matter where we chose to live, it would be “in the way of the airport”. This meant that from 6:30am-11:30pm we would hear airplanes taking off and landing. (We would have to stop conversations/pause movies until the planes past us due to the sound.)
Such great advice, Emily, thank you for sharing! I’m so sorry that, like me, you had to learn the hard way about the place you decided to move to. I couldn’t agree more that you have to do as much upfront research as you can BEFORE you move anywhere, so you can avoid ugly surprises. Again, I really appreciate you sharing your story and advice!
Jeff Lusk says
There is one group of people that know not to EVER live in Iowa. That’s those of us that grew up there. I won’t even go there for a high school reunion. In some ways it’s a blessing that I had to endure my first 19 years or so there because I was old enough to leave and never look back. I’m now 74 and happily retired in western Michigan along the Lake Michigan coast. There is hundreds of miles of Great Lakes coastline in Michigan with a number of affordable towns 10 to 20 miles inland from the lakes. We have coastlines along Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. When you get to retirement age, my advice is to look for a beautiful place less susceptible to climate change that has plenty of water and cool air. A few months of snow is a small price to pay and the towns are affordable. I bought a 120 year old house and did some renovations and couldn’t be happier here. We do admittedly have a few knuckleheads in city government but I expect that’s a common theme in any small town.
Dear Jeff, I appreciate you weighing in! I’m so glad you escaped Iowa and have never looked back. It sounds like you’ve built a wonderful life in western Michigan. Thank you for sharing!
Don’t move somewhere because it’s cheaper, 25% cheaper is nothing. There’s a reason places are cheaper less services, people less formally educated, less physicians, less specialized medical services, much less convenience, much less people unless you like conversations to a corn field, in those types of places nobody is ever going to have any degree of happiness. Places that small like Mayberry RFD, You’re not going to have any real friends or be happy, you’re not very welcome and you will end up moving back to where you are from.
Well said, Rodney!