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2010-05-19 20:24:54

The Cost of Personality: Will Charming Towns Price Us Out?


America is filled with beautiful places: gorgeous beach towns, quaint historic towns, mountain getaways surrounded by lakes, ski slopes, and charming ski lodges. We can all rattle off a list of charming places we love and visit, strolling up and down their quaint streets, eating at their expensive cafes, and then driving a few hours home, to our mass-produced development home that we own or lease.

After all, it’s fun to visit perfect places, but how many of us can actually afford to live there?

As people discover quaint beach towns, or great little undiscovered ski destinations, or that historic town right on the river, the real estate skyrockets, and soon they become places where people come to shop and eat, but only the wealthy can actually live in those charming Victorian homes.

Examples are plentiful; consider the cost of a one week lease agreement on a Cape May Victorian home in summer ($5,000), or the cost of a weekend in Nantucket. Want to move to Santa Barbara to enjoy the Spanish tile roofs, mountains, beaches, and wineries? You better be able to afford a home that costs seven digits, or an astronomically high lease agreement on one.

Once upon a time, Boulder was a town friendly to students and hippies; now only the wealthiest “trustafarians” can afford to live there.

The list goes on and on, from Annapolis, MD to Napa, CA, Sanibel Island, FL to Evergreen, CO. The places with great natural beauty, or historic charm, or strong personalities all develop reputations for them, and suddenly prices shoot upward.

And here’s an even more disturbing problem: as prices rise, independent businesses are slowly squeezed from the market. First they can no longer afford the startup costs, so no new small businesses can enter the market, as time goes by more and more existing small businesses fold as they can no longer afford the high costs associated with having a business in such an expensive area.

The result is that large chains, with the money and reach necessary to be able to survive recessions, take root and the very personality that once made the town so desirable has now faded. Look no further than the chain-studded shopping districts of Boulder and Santa Barbara, once renowned for their unique and quirky shops and restaurants.

There are still undiscovered gems in America, but they grow fewer each year, as populations grow but the historic, the beautiful, the charming places in this country dwindle. If you want an affordable little cottage in a California beach town, you’re out of luck: they don’t exist. In ten years from now, it may no longer be affordable to buy a ski lodge near Colorado’s better ski slopes.

Twenty years from now, there may not be any affordable beachfront condos in Florida. When we can no longer buy real estate in these desirable areas, we will resort to a week-long lease agreement here and there, to at least be able to visit, but the world is a limited place, and humanity’s zest for reproduction and desire for the best are limitless.

Brian Davis is a real estate investor, landlord, and spectator of real estate trends. He currently manages EZ Landlord Forms, an online resource that helps landlords create state-specific lease agreement forms and understand their state's landlord-tenant laws.

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