Monday, January 10, 2005

Reply to Shannon

Here's the reply I just made to Shannon's (from Atlanta) questions about moving to Key West.

on 1/9/05 2:04 PM, Shannon Thompson at wrote:

> robert,
> my wife and i are thinking about moving to the keys. i'd like to know
> if you have any suggestions. we live in atlanta, right now.
> is it better to move in winter or summer or does it matter?
> how much is the avg apartment or house to rent?
> i'm a teacher (but looking to do something different) and my wife
> works in accounting. what is the job market like?
> thanks so much!
> shannon

Hi Shannon, I saw your postings in other places too, It's Only Key West, the Yahoo Group for Key West, etc.

The responses you got there all offered straight advice, which I hope you will heed.

There is a unique, almost magical attraction to the Florida Keys, and especially to Key West. Many approach living here with stars in their eyes. The city has a way of masking its realities behind clouds of night-blooming jasmine, bright sunlight, and music at all hours.

But to actually move here and survive the experience requires a level head, a clear eye, and a realistic plan. You don't indicate anywhere that you've ever been here. A place like Key West always looks better from far away, and for a short time, than it does from up close on a continuous basis.

So first, as Captain BK and Hal suggested at It's Only Key West, plan to come for a while, and look past the seductions to the reality. Before you come, read as much as you can find about the place. Read the newspapers on line. Visit the news groups, forums, and boards (as you have been doing) and asked pointed questions about the things you want and need to know. Don't be general, be specific, and someone will usually be able to point you in the right direction to find an answer. Search the net for info through the search engines. I maintain an extensive set of links about Key West and would be happy to share them with you if you're interested.

As others have said, the best time to come is in "off-season". Not that it's ever going to be cheap to live here, but it can be a little cheap-er after high season. If I were you, I'd make the decision to move tentative for at least six months. It can be hard to find a month-to-month rental at any time of year. Most of the better places look for a lease of at least one year. You'll need a large "nut" to get started. First month, last month, and security, or three months rent is typical. You can find places in or near KW for as little as $800-900 a month, but $1200-1500 would be more typical for any kind of decent. In addition to the $3600-4500 starting amount (or $2400-2700 if you decide to rough it), you'll need living expenses: food, utilities, gas, entertainment, and just about everything else, are more expensive here than on the mainland.

If after six months you are still convinced that it's the right move to make, i.e., you got the jobs, you found the place to live, you resisted getting Keys Disease, you can consider more permanent digs, arrange for furniture and belongings to be moved, those kind of commitment-level decisions that will signify your being one (or two) of the brave few who will actually make it here, for however long you decide to stay.

You've heard from others about the job market. Being (mostly) retired, I can afford to be selective in any work I take on. I try to divide the normal forty-hour work week into two halves: twenty hours when I'm available for paid work; and 20 hours of volunteer effort. Janet works for another year before she becomes eligible for Social Security. Then we'll decide whether we need additional income and who's going to generate it and how.

Teaching jobs are usually available. Visit the Monroe County School District site for more information about that. Accounting jobs can be had relatively easily too, though entry level pay in those jobs is perhaps not up to the levels that can be commanded on the mainland. Reading the classifieds in the Key West Citizen for a couple of weeks would give an idea of the job market in microcosm.

Consider carefully the things you hear about in the online forums. Make your plan, then work it. It took us about nine months from our decision to go until we actually left. We set intermediate goals, month by month, znd pretty much kept to them. We sold a lot of what we had, stored most of the rest of it, and arrived here with only what we could pack in the Corolla. Things clicked for us, and we have no regrets.

In the end, Key West is truly a fabulous place to live. If you follow through on your dream, you should do fine here.

In closing, I quote from a poem written for Clay Grager, owner of Last Flight Out:


What are the fears that you run from?
What are the obstacles you want to overcome?

What is the path that you'd like to take?
What are the changes you'd like to make?

Where would you go?

What would you do?

If every window was open for you?

Do you have the courage
Without any doubt .....

To reach for your dreams
And take the Last Flight Out?

© Elise Franzetta

It was after reading that in the window of his shop one January night in 1998 that I decided I wanted to live here. It took most of another year before Janet came around to the same idea, but come around she did.

If you have the time, go back through some of our blog entries, especially between September 2003 and May of 2004 to see how it all played out.

Best to you.


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