Escape the McMansion invasion in New Jersey by moving to Bloomington, Indiana

This is a story you likely don’t hear everyday: in order to escape the sprawl and McMansions of New Jersey, one couple decided to leave their weekend home at the Jersey shore and buy a second house in Bloomington, Indiana.

But that was before McMansions began rising from the sand, and growing numbers of visitors descended as the narrow Atlantic spit solidified its reputation as a destination for families. The Kiefers found their neighborhood inundated by tourists, their property encroached upon by development, and their easy weekend commute become a traffic-snarled crawl.

So after a number of years of coping with sharp change, the Kiefers decided to search for a less suffocating second-home spot.

The hunt led them to Bloomington, a lively college town tucked in the rolling, forested hills of south-central Indiana. Taking full advantage of the huge run-up in property values on the Jersey Shore, they sold their beach house for “a nice profit” and bought a six-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot early-20th-century charmer in Bloomington’s historic Elm Heights neighborhood in 2010 for $321,000. “It feels like a real old-time community instead of a tourist town,” said Fred Kiefer.

Bloomington may not be touristy, but it is very much a destination. Indiana University draws intellectuals from around the country and abroad (mostly China, India and Saudi Arabia), giving the city of 74,000 healthy doses of youthful and international energy. And as a well-run city that consistently makes the lists of America’s best places to live, its status as a quality-of-life capital has lured retirees in growing numbers.

Some interesting points about this story:

1. The “McMansion invasion” theme comes up a lot in the Northeast, particularly in coastal towns. Are there also McMansions in Bloomington (I assume there are)?

2. This couple does have family in Louisville and Cincinnati so they didn’t exactly pick Bloomington out of the blue.

3. The biggest swipe at the area or Indiana comes in this benign phrase: “Drawbacks – Bloomington may not have enough urbane distractions for some.” This could be quite a change from New Jersey and either the New York City or Philadelphia areas.

4. Bloomington is a “creative class” city anchored by Indiana University.This would be appealing to a lot of people.

5. One of the bonuses of this move is the cheaper cost of living in Indiana. Does this outweigh the lack of “urbane distinctions”?

6. This makes me wonder how many people from either the East or West Coasts retire to the Midwest or purchase second homes there.

7. I’m tempted to ask: what happens when this couple wanders outside the relatively cosmopolitan Bloomington into non-creative class Indiana?

2 thoughts on “Escape the McMansion invasion in New Jersey by moving to Bloomington, Indiana

  1. Interesting piece. I read more and more stories of financially independent and/or early retiree people choosing college towns to live in, because you get an urban-ish quality of life (bookstores, cool cheap restaurants, good beer) at small-town prices.
    I’d like to take a shot at addressing your question #7. I moved to a smallish (pop. 100K) college town for work, got a cheap house within walking distance of my workplace. What happens when I wander beyond the city? I don’t. I’ve lived here for six years and I’ve been into the hinterland maybe twice. Why bother?


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