The year was 2012. A native of Columbus, Ohio’s Worthington suburb, Bryan Williamson had studied interior design and learned furniture-making in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, while his NJ-born wife, Catherine, miserably slaved away at a public accounting firm.
They were paying $1,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, when a trip to see Bryan’s family back in Ohio led to an epiphany.
Driving around the city’s German Village, Short North and Old Towne East neighborhoods, they noticed the city’s positive energy — and the refreshing degree of homeownership. “We started thinking, ‘There’s a momentum here,’ ” says Catherine, now 33. “And we could make something for ourselves that we wouldn’t be able to do in NYC. That was the turning point, and we moved six months later.”
Today, their company, Mix Design Collective, renovates commercial and residential real estate, all chronicled on their blog Beginning in the Middle. They’ve purchased numerous properties, ranging in price from $59,000 to $220,000. For their own home, the couple paid $204,000 for a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, 2½-bathroom duplex in German Village, which is Park Slope-esque — walkable and filled with independent businesses.
Their monthly housing costs for their primary residence are about $1,400 per month — about $200 less than in New York City.
The Williamsons aren’t the only New Yorkers to find professional opportunities, affordable homes and a high quality of life in Ohio’s capital city (population 861,000).
According to a 2014 census, about 1,000 New Yorkers (or 2,000, if you count those from New Jersey and Connecticut, too) relocated to Columbus between 2011 and 2014, and the figure seems to be growing.
“I can say anecdotally that we frequently hear stories of travelers who, upon visiting, begin looking at the city as place where they’d like to live and put down roots,” says Megumi Robinson, director of public relations for the city’s tourism board, Experience Columbus.
Among the new arrivals are Jeff Excell, 38, and Lauren Culley, 34. In late 2013, the couple left their respective jobs as store and pastry manager for indie coffee label Blue Bottle in New York — and a 400-square foot, $1,500-a-month studio apartment in Clinton Hill — to start their own coffee shop, Fox In the Snow. They chose Columbus, Culley’s hometown.
Today, with two busy Fox locations and a third in the works, they’re paying off a gorgeous $455,000, 1,875-square-foot, three-bedroom, 1½ bathroom house, also in German Village, largely thanks to Culley’s runaway hit egg sandwich: a square of souffléd egg, melty Swiss cheese, candied bacon, arugula and Dijon cream sauce within a perfectly toasted, chewy ciabatta. The menu item ($7) has attracted a following of feverish fans.
“When we did the business plan, I figured we would sell 20 a day and added it on at the last minute,” she says. “We sell 400 a day at each location, and it’s paying for the mortgage on this house.”
Some Columbus transplants, like Culley, returned to their birthplace. Baker Sarah Black is another one.
She spent 30 years in NYC working with Amy’s Bread and other top-notch bakeries. She rented a one bedroom on 45th Street in Long Island City for $1,500 a month between 2010 to 2015, then relocated to the Columbus area (specifically, into her family home) to bake and teach bread-making classes at Flowers and Bread, a bright concept café she helped open that specializes in pastries and flower arrangements.
The Ohio capital has a lot of perks, Black says.
“I think downtown Columbus is strikingly attractive. I love some of the loft buildings I’ve seen, and there is ample light, as compared to NYC,” she adds. Citing a February Food and Wine article about chefs decamping to Columbus, she adds, “So many New Yorkers are leaving for these civilized destinations!”
“Right now, it feels like a test city for entrepreneurs,” Excell says. He points to curated plants and pottery shop Stump, Nashville-style fried chicken outpost Hot Chicken Takeover and Two Dollar Radio, a vegan café/bar/small publisher’s flagship bookstore, as recent local hits.
Columbus, meanwhile, is known nationally for other brands. Beloved ice cream purveyor Jeni’s was born in Columbus’ hopping Short North district, now chockablock with new apartment construction, while Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works, White Castle and Wendy’s have built headquarters in the area.
The city has also performed well on recent quality-of-life rankings. Money magazine, for example, named Columbus one of the six best big cities in the US in 2016. And the property market is scorching hot, ranking No. 8 on real estate listing site Trulia’s top “markets on the move” list last December, and No. 15 on Realtor.com’s 20 hottest real estate markets in January.
Another expat from the Big Apple — Tibet-born Phuntso Lama, 49 — moved to Columbus in 2014 and opened dumpling stall Momo Ghar in the back of sprawling Saraga International Grocery store two years later. (The city’s ethnic food scene is downright exciting, with Somali, Persian, Sichuan, Mexican and other cuisines, partly thanks to populations of new immigrants.)
Momo Ghar was featured in December on Eater’s “Open Road” video series about foodie finds worth a road trip and, one month later, on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” on the Food Network. (Fun fact: Guy is a Columbus native, while other past and present residents include actor J.K. Simmons, Josh Radnor [Ted from “How I Met Your Mother”], retired golfer Jack Nicklaus, “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine, and Piper Kerman, memoirist of “Orange Is The New Black,” who moved here in 2015 with hubby Larry Smith.)
Lama opened a second stall at Columbus’ vibrant North Market food hall last year, and a standalone restaurant will follow later this year.
Lama paid $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, and now resides with her husband, Pranod, a 49-year-old government employee, in a renovated 2,300-square-foot four-bedroom, 3½-bathroom brick house they bought for $300,000 in 2017 (the monthly payments are about $2,000 on a 15-year mortgage).
Decorated with Tibetan textiles, decorative pieces bought in Thailand and Nepal and a new sofa set, “it’s going to be a great investment in the next few years,” Lama says. “And prices are competitive with some great bargains.”
Lama is also a beneficiary of a citywide tax abatement program that allows buyers to pay taxes on the original value of a home – before it was improved or renovated – for 10 years.
Compared to New York, the housing market is significantly more affordable. According to the Columbus Board of Realtors, average rent for an apartment is $865, and the median sales price of a Central Ohio home was $172,500 (up 7.8 percent from January 2017). By contrast, according to the Elliman Report, average rent in Manhattan in March was $4,089. And in the first quarter of 2018, the median sales price of a Manhattan home was $1.07 million; in Brooklyn, it was $795,000.
Bryan Williamson says that Columbus’ real estate inventory is evenly split between finished homes and fixer uppers; former New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer, Edwaard Jiang, and his partner John Kuijper opted for the latter. Hunting via listings site Zillow, they shelled out $400,000 for a 1,942-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house across from German Village’s Schiller Park in December 2017.
The couple, together since 2008 and engaged to marry this June, moved to Columbus in 2013 when Jiang, 43, was hired as artistic director of its BalletMet. Jiang still owns a 550-square-foot alcove studio on the Upper West Side, which he bought for $270,000 during the 1990s and is currently valued at three times that. Just prior to their Columbus move, the pair occupied Kuijper’s one-bedroom, one-bathroom Chicago apartment, paying $1,350 a month. “Our mortgage now is only $150 more than that,” says Kuijper.
They’re putting about $150,000 into renovations, which include a 44-inch crystal chandelier, a new kitchen, an enclosed, tiled porch, an in-law suite above a garage and a fireplace with remote-control gas unit (“so I can be lazy and have a cocktail,” Jiang says).
As for the Williamsons, their newest project, dubbed the Blonde Vic, is a 3,000-square-foot former crack house in the rapidly gentrifying King Lincoln district, which resembles residential swaths of Astoria. (“The neighbors are watchful,” Bryan, 32, says, “and told us a brief history of the house in flowery language.”)
Bought for $142,000 in February 2017, they’re spending more than $200,000 on a sweeping overhaul of the 100-year-old, four-bedroom, 3½-bathroom brick structure, which includes Hudson Valley lighting, custom tile patterns and Metrie trim. It will rent for about $300 a night when complete. Averaging a 60 percent occupancy rate on their Airbnbs, the Williamsons boast annual returns in the double digits. Adds Catherine, “We would be in a good position to sell any of them and make a profit.”
A 48-year-old assistant principal, Kuijper has witnessed Columbus’ growth right in his neighborhood. Houses in “a historic district like German Village are going for 20 to 30 percent more than about three years ago,” he says, “which is an incredible clip for the middle of flyover country.”
Source : https://nypost.com/2018/04/25/ex-new-yorkers-are-flocking-to-this-midwest-sanctuary/