Grits and Urban Revitalization, Durham, North Carolina

My North Carolina visit is coming to a close and I return to Oaxaca on Saturday, April 30. While I’ve been here, I’ve eaten a lot of grits, tomato gravy and fried green tomatoes.  I love grits.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

A particular pleasure is catch up time with important friends with whom I have a deep, long and connected relationship. It makes me think about living here more during the year and buying instead of renting.

So, I went on the Durham, North Carolina bungalow tour with my friend Hettie, organized by the historic preservation society. The temptation to own one of these beauties is powerful. Hettie and I spent time cruising neighborhoods for home ownership possibilities for me.

Durham is gritty, one of those places that people are calling The Brooklyn of the South. Property values are skyrocketing and renovated bungalows in coming-back neighborhoods are snapped up within a day or two after being listed for sale.

Thanks to the New York Times and the plethora of imaginative restaurants here, Durham is a surge community. Soon-to-be opened condos in the city center are going for over $1 million. A few years ago, no one wanted to live here. It is becoming the epitome of upscale elitism and monied funk. Disparities are showing up here big time, pushing poor people out, raising the tax base.

I’m mesmerized by mixed Durham neighborhoods with ethnic, racial and economic diversity where 1200 square foot 1930s bungalows are selling for$300K+   That’s not my price range!

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

As I begin to explore planting my feet here for part of the year, going back and forth to/from Oaxaca, I imagine what it would be like to be a home owner, support a mortgage, pay insurance, do maintenance and be with women with whom I have shared a connected intimacy over many years.

I’m open to a dialog about this. Now, for today, off to look at small houses in affordable neighborhoods that would be an entirely new living experience for me.

Why am I considering this?

  • Close to long-time, intimate friends
  • Having a base of my own in the USA
  • Access to university medical center health care
  • Living for today with a plan for tomorrow
  • Claiming a stake in real estate investment

What would be the downside?

  • Less discretionary income
  • Limited and less frequent international travel
  • Fewer opportunities to meet up with friends who live elsewhere
  • Fewer visits to west coast family
  • Higher fixed costs
  • Lifestyle changes



15 responses to “Grits and Urban Revitalization, Durham, North Carolina

  1. We lived in both Santa Fe and Philadelphia for a couple of years, and, while we really liked the variety, we ultimately felt as if we weren’t grounded in either place so we made a change to one city. I guess that means that our needs change over time and also that it’s important to do what brings joy and connection now.
    See you at the Folk Art Market!

  2. Norma, as you well know, I moved back “home” to NC in 1996 but kept my house in Southern California for 18 years. I went through much of the soul-searching that you are going through now, loving the bi-coastal life but missing my “roots” and life-long friends in Raleigh. 2 years ago suddenly everything just “clicked” and I was ready to let go of my semi-permanent West Coast life. We don’t have a crystal ball ( did I ever show you the clear marble I always carry with me to remind me that’s as good as it gets in predicting the future?). Listen to your heart and your body and you will follow the right path.

    • Jo-Anne, you have always been a dear, loving and supportive friend. Seeing you for an hour-and-a-half once a year isn’t good enough. You know me. We know each other. Words are often not needed. That’s why I want to be here more in my own place. Thank you! Love, Norma

  3. Housing does not always increase in value, as evidenced in the last housing bust. Nor is housing a liquid asset, unless you have substantial equity in your house to borrow against it. Let’s say that housing in Durham goes up in value. Will you be nimble enough to take advantage, and sell at the right time, or will you potentially ride the wave back down to what you paid for it? I realize that it is tempting, but you are actually giving up a lot of freedom in exchange for home ownership. Older houses that appeal come with their own set of upkeep problems. All this is from someone who just sold their 200 year old historic house to move to Oaxaca and rent. Suerte what you decide.

    • Heidi, I’m no so much looking for a real estate investment but to resettle where I have deep and consistent friendships. Housing in Durham is not affordable now because of the demand but there are still places I can afford. I would not give up Oaxaca but share my time between two places I love. This would be a long term commitment for me, so buying and then selling is not something I’m thinking about. I have considered the anchor that owning a house represents. Most of us who live in Oaxaca have a come and go lifestyle so it is less rooted for me and I think that’s something I want now. Closer connections to friends who have known me for 10-20 years. I appreciate your comments and take them in!

  4. I say go for it it if you can find a cute affordable place. Having made those same yes/ no lists, bottom line is, it doesn’t matter, whatever you do will be fine. Life is short. What does your heart want?❤️❤️❤️

  5. I will chime in on this because I think I know how you feel.
    I say buy the house ! Dear friends are important for your soul. I think you could live the lifestyle very well. I once asked you what you missed the most living in Mexico, you said “my friends”. I knew exactly what you meant.
    I sold everything and moved to Amsterdam when I was in my late 30’s thinking I would not come back to live in the states. I found out after five years that I am not an expatriate and needed a home base in San Diego where I ‘m not always the foreiner and where my friends were. I missed my friends so much but at the same time didn’t want to come home. My ideal was to live both places. I came home and didn’t return to live in Europe.
    Now I want to live in Oaxaca, rent something and go for extended visits and keep my home here. I think about it every day. It’s going to happen.
    You want to go North, I want to go South. haha
    Do it.

    • Deanna, so appreciate your understanding and empathy. You hear me! Thank you. When the right thing shows up, I’ll know. Meanwhile, having a foot in both cultures is what I want to manifest. And, I’d like it to be my own home. Besos, Norma

  6. I would rent Norma. Keep light but take your things out of storage. It will be too much stress for you with all your other ongoing projects.

  7. Sharing a house w/a friend might be an option too.
    Honestly the last 10-20 years of life should be a little more care-free, while we still can ‘move it’. Houses require maintenance ($$$) and ‘being there’ unless you want to do short term leases when you are not, and those require management too.
    Believe me, I’ve explored this – a second house, or even buying in a different location but the idea of a mortgage makes me break out in a cold-sweat. My current house in NM is payed for but frequently needs big repairs and garden maintenance etc etc. I can deal with this. When I’m in Mexico I prefer to be care-free and be able to move around. I’m happy to pay rent to stay someplace nice. Something to think about sweetie….

    • Good thinking, Sherita. I’ve been here in NC for a month visiting and reconnecting with dear friends and I realize how much I miss them. Having a home base (other than Mexico) close to the best healthcare (Duke and UNC) will be important in next 10-30 years. I’d also like to have a real estate investment in an up and coming market. My own place. Take my stuff out of storage. So I’m processing all of this!

  8. how about renting a place first to make sure you actually can handle such a different life… Renting is a good idea to ensure that your neighborhood is the one you want…. Another thought, whatever your age is, remember that you are stuck with a mortgage..idle thoughts….We own a house in Michigan which will go directly to our children, and rent long term in Oaxaca and love that lifestyle it also is affordable…best

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