Forget "Leaving Las Vegas." This story is more like "Leaving FOR Las Vegas." And if it were made into a movie, it would be about people who’ve fled Los Angeles for more affordable housing out of state.

A friend of mine, who asked to remain anonymous, recently bought a house in Las Vegas. She’s a career elementary school teacher who’s concerned, and not without good reason, that she might lose her job due to state budget cutbacks. The house in Las Vegas is her backup plan in case she loses her position, or alternatively, retires as planned within the next five or six years and wants to move there.

The house, my friend tells me, is "cute." It has three bedrooms and three bathrooms. The kitchen has granite countertops, a pantry and cupboards that are low enough to accommodate her relatively short stature. The house is in a gated community with a swimming pool and a park. It cost just $118,000, and the mortgage payment, plus property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, amounts to less than $1,000 a month.

Compare that to the apartment my friend currently rents in a bedroom community on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and her decision becomes quite understandable. The apartment has a nice kitchen, sizable living room, a small bathroom downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. But it isn’t subject to rent-control laws, and the rent has risen 55 percent from $1,050 when the family moved in 13 years ago to $1,900 today. A house comparable to the one she bought in Las Vegas would cost at least $250,000, and probably more like $300,000, in the local area.

Economists and analysts may debate the degree to which housing is "affordable." But the bottom line for most people has nothing to do with median house prices or affordability indices and everything to do with household budgets. Housing is "affordable" when it fits snugly into a budget that still leaves enough money for food, health care, transportation, utilities, recreation, and other expenses that are deemed necessary and important.

My friend shares her home with her husband, a financial services professional, and her son, who has worked in the hospitality industry but is currently unemployed. Her husband and son both supported her decision to buy the house in Las Vegas, in part because they could probably find work there at least as easily as they can here. What’s more, they are all three no strangers to Las Vegas since they’ve taken vacations there almost every summer for the last 27 years. …CONTINUED

My friend doesn’t love the Las Vegas climate, which is hotter in the summer and colder at night in the winter than the weather she’s enjoyed in Los Angeles. In fact, she’d rather not make the move at all. But money is an issue — as it always is — and my friend believes her backup house in Las Vegas makes excellent financial sense.

If my friend moves to Las Vegas — and she tells me the decision isn’t set in stone — she’ll be only the latest of my many friends and family members who’ve left Los Angeles in an exodus that began in our college years, continued through young adulthood and now seems likely to persist into middle age and beyond to our retirement (or whatever may be salvaged from the wreckage of our once-to-be golden years.)

The high cost of housing wasn’t always the principal cause of my friends’ departures, but it was usually an important factor that they weighed quite heavily when they decided to pack up and move to Washington state, Texas, New Jersey, the Carolinas or wherever else they ended up.

Sometimes they visit for a day or a weekend. But no one ever really comes back.

Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.


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