Thriving after relocation

How one San Francisco native moved to a smaller city and reaped the benefits.


Viewing relocation in a new light-Lauren MachiLauren Machi thought she would live in San Francisco forever, but when her boyfriend suggested moving back to his native Sacramento four years ago, she crossed her fingers and hoped for the best with the relocation.

Reasons for our relocation

I am a San Francisco native, born and raised. I met my boyfriend at San Francisco State, and when we graduated, we decided to move in together. But that was nearly impossible with the city’s sky-high rent.

My boyfriend is originally from Sacramento, 90 miles to the east, and he said, “Why don’t we just move there? It’s cheaper.” The little I knew about Sacramento was from visiting his parents’ home in one of the suburbs, but I decided to go all in. Three months later, I quit my job and we moved to Sacramento in June 2011.

The luxury of saved money

We moved into a super-tiny apartment in Midtown, Sacramento’s most hip neighborhood. Luckily, I had money saved up, so I had the luxury of time to acclimate and get to know my new home better. Also, our apartment was cheap, compared with San Francisco standards.

I am not that outgoing, but networking was the perfect way to meet people and find good contacts. A year later, I started working as Communications Coordinator for the Midtown Business Association, a nonprofit that promotes Midtown as a great place to work, live, and set up shop.

I’d tell someone considering a second-tier city that there are benefits of starting your career there. You have time to develop your skills in a kind of “safe” environment that’s not hypercompetitive. That can make it easier for you to find your career strengths and passions.

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Really putting down roots

We lived in the Midtown apartment for six months, and then decided to find a house to rent. Then we realized we could actually afford to buy a house here. We did it through NeighborhoodWorks Sacramento, a nonprofit that helps new homeowners buy in under-the-radar neighborhoods. We went to them two years ago when they partnered with Wells Fargo for a NeighborhoodLift program — because we were under a certain income threshold, we qualified for a grant that gave us a $15,000 forgivable loan that we could use for closing costs. However, the closing sale date had to be in 60 days or less.

Because of the 60-day timeline, we needed to learn about new neighborhoods fast. We found a house in Oak Park, close to where I work (and now considered almost as hip as Midtown), and we bought that house a week after it went on the market. I don’t see how we could have done that in San Francisco.

On the brink of relocating, I’d say, think about what you want to be doing in five years, 10 years. Will this new place let you achieve those goals?

Smaller city trade-offs

The lifestyle here is at a really good pace. People are down-to-earth and easy to connect with. There’s a lot of outdoor space, and except for some broiling-hot summer days, it’s mostly good weather.

It took me some time to get used to Sacramento’s not-so-great public transportation. We only have one car, so I ride my bike and take Uber. The cultural amenities are sometimes lacking. There’s not a great museum system, and I’d like to see more activity and events in the city’s parks to bring a better sense of community. When you live in a big city, those kinds of things are everywhere around you.

However, it’s nearly impossible to own a home on your own in San Francisco. To buy a house and have space for my dog to play is really important at this stage of my life. Sacramento doesn’t pay as much as San Francisco, but because most things are more affordable, it doesn’t matter.

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The pros-and-cons list paid off

I’m the type of person who says, “I am going to do these things in five years, these in 10 years,” and I list the pros, cons, and trade-offs I’ll have to make to reach those goals. So on the brink of relocating, I’d say, think about what you want to be doing in five years, 10 years. Will this new place let you achieve those goals? Do a pros-and-cons list of a place for things like its cost of living, career opportunities, home affordability, etc. For example, a new place may take you longer to move up your career ladder, but it could be more affordable than a place with high-profile jobs.

What’s worth more to you? It’s valuable to have that plan for yourself before you leave your current place behind so you’re not just in the woods when you move someplace new.

Thinking about buying your first home? The My FirstHome® interactive learning experience can help you decide if you’re ready for homeownership.