I ditched a big city for a $5,000 fixer-upper with 8 bedrooms in a small town. It's nice to live in a place where people don't treat each other like strangers.
- John Nichols moved to Huntington, West Virginia, in 2021 after growing tired of Chicago.
- Nichols wanted a slower pace of life and to feel more connected with his community.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with John Nichols, 47, about his move to Huntington, West Virginia, after growing tired of living in Chicago. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I was born in Chicago in 1975 and spent forty years living on the North Side. I loved growing up in the city and especially admired its architecture.
However, in the 2000s the city began to change. Older buildings were torn down, the cost of living began to rise, and the city's middle class started to disappear. By 2010, I knew I was ready to leave Chicago.
When my wife, Katie, suggested we move in 2020, I took her up on the offer.
I moved to West Virginia to reclaim my peace
While Katie and her family — who immigrated to America from Germany during the Cold War – had always lived in Chicago, she really wanted to move to West Virginia, a state where my own grandparents had lived.
Katie thought that living in West Virginia would be nice because the weather was much warmer than it was in Chicago. I wanted to live there because of its slower pace of living and sense of community.
In Chicago, you have to work 80 hours a week and everyone is always on the go. You end up sitting in traffic a lot and everybody is always honking their horns. In West Virginia, there's no traffic and everyone is friendly — I haven't heard a horn honk since I moved to the state.
My wife and I purchased a home in an idyllic neighborhood
In July of 2021, my wife and I moved to Huntington, West Virginia, a small college town mostly known for being the backdrop of the 2006 film We Are Marshall.
We lived in my grandmother's home for some time but then eventually purchased a camper that we parked in an airfield. While searching for a more permanent home, my wife and I came across an eight-bedroom, three-bathroom home on Realtor.com in August 2021.
The home was built in 1881 on a civil war battlefield and even had its own parlor. It was located in the oldest section of Huntington, and sat on a block filled with houses that were mostly built in the 1920s.
At first, I did not want to purchase the home because it was listed for $35,000 and needed a lot of work. I knew I would not be able to secure financing needed for the property, so we continued looking at different homes.
A year later, we saw the home again, this time listed on Facebook Marketplace. It had been condemned and its asking price had dropped $30,000 to $5,000. We went on to purchase the home from a private seller in May 2022.
The home still needs considerable repairs to make it liveable. I anticipate that it will take us about three years and $150,000 to complete the restoration — but it will be worth it.
When we lived in Chicago, we were paying $1,650 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat. Now we have a huge house that does not even have a mortgage.
The property taxes are also a lot cheaper in Huntington than they were in Chicago. Instead of paying $10,000 a year for a three bedroom house, the rate is just $400 here.
I think a lot of people are over living in big cities
I know that some people may have a negative view of West Virginia, but it's the most welcoming place I've ever been. In Huntington, everybody's really nice — residents don't treat people like strangers but instead future friends.
There are also a lot of things to do in the city. Huntington's downtown area has many great restaurants. When we want to be active, we can also travel into the mountains or nearby state parks with our dogs.
I think aspects like these are making West Virginia more popular, especially for people who have had enough of big city life. I've seen a lot of residents from California and Chicago moving into Huntington.
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