In today’s market, it may seem harder than ever to buy a home. With soaring prices, stringent loan requirements, and a nationwide housing shortage some people give up before they begin. But not all housing markets are created equal.

I spoke with Ally Colina, a Virginia resident who bought her first home in North Wheeling this year. And as fate would have it, she discovered the Friendly City while scrolling through social media.

“I would never have thought in my life that West Virginia or Wheeling would be the place I would live, but in my time off during the pandemic, I used Youtube as my distraction,” Ally said in her modestly sized DC metro apartment.

Ally stumbled upon a Youtube video depicting Wheeling’s own Besty Sweeny giving a tour of her new East Wheeling fixer-upper, The Mcclain House.

Read More: She Bought The House Because It Felt Like Home

“I told my husband ‘watch this video, I want to go to that city!’ I put it in my GPS and was astonished by how close it was to DC. Just a couple of hours. It was perfect.”

Ally isn’t alone in her desire to live someplace like Wheeling. According to research from the Cleveland Federal Reserve, which reviewed the outward migration from big cities, found that:

“The number of people leaving urban neighborhoods each month between March and September of 2020 rose by 10,000 from its three-year average to 276,000 from 266,000.”

While this may be a modest rise, it’s still a trend with an interesting narrative describing the changing desire of some city dwellers to live in less concentrated areas.

Why Wheeling

Ally spent her Labor Day weekend continuing demolition work on the inside of her new Market Street home.

But moving to Wheeling wasn’t the first big life transition Ally has made.

“I was born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. My city is very beautiful and believe it or not Wheeling kind of looks like Tegucigalpa,” she laughs.

Ally moved to the states in 2014. Today, she works as an insurance broker and is married to her husband of 6 years Richard, a water engineer.

The two biggest reasons for the couple’s move include a lower cost of living and a better retirement community. Having lived in DC and Northern Virginia for many years, Ally explains how different she and her husband’s lifestyle would be in a place like Wheeling.

“We’re excited to retire in Wheeling. I’m an insurance broker – we do mostly retirement work and the great thing is that I can work anywhere remotely. I realized the cost of retirement in DC, Virginia, and Northern Maryland was extremely expensive and we want to live a long and affordable life.”

Cost of living is important, but when moving to a new city you need to ensure that your quality of life will be similar or improved without going broke for it.

“I think that people are obsessed with things they can’t afford.” Ally says “I live in a very expensive area in Northern Virginia and people often live in houses that they can’t afford. $1,200 might get you a room in this place, whereas $1,200 will get you a mortgage in a place like Wheeling.”

Ally isn’t wrong. More and more people realize the lifestyles that bigger metropolitan areas provide may be attractive but are becoming increasingly more difficult to afford.

Why Wheeling

After gutting and renovating the interior of her home, Ally plans on giving the exterior a major facelift to make it more welcoming from the street.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the median sales price of a single-family home in the Washington, DC metro area is $417,400 compared to the average home price of West Virginia being near $116,000.

While Ally is excited to start her journey as a homeowner in West Virginia, not all of her friends were confident she was making the right decision.

“I have a very good friend from Pittsburgh and she said ‘What are you doing moving to West Virginia?’ all of those white people?’” Ally laughs, “and I said ‘do you think they’re not going to like me because I speak funny?’”

It’s a good thing Ally refused to buy into those stereotypes before deciding for herself. It turns out her first impression of West Virginia was nothing but positive.

“I was concerned when she said that and yes when I went to Wheeling there was a certain lack of diversity, which is something that will hopefully change, but people are really nice, and warm, and kind – and they even gave me moonshine,” she laughs.

Why Wheeling

Ally proudly stands on some of the debris from her North Wheeling fixer-upper. She and her husband are working to bring their new home back to life.

As modernity would have it, Ally and Rich did not find Wheeling by touring it first, they found the Friendly City online and bought their beautiful Market Street home sight unseen.

“We actually bought our house online, over the phone – the most millennial thing you could do but we loved it right away.”

While Ally and Rich plan to commute from DC for a few months as they work on their home, they hope to be fully moved in by fall. Ally already has plans to tell all her friends about her new adopted city.

“I want to bring my friends in from DC and Pittsburgh to show them what we have. That’s what my plan is – to bring people here to show them what’s possible.”

Wheeling presents plenty of opportunities for people to explore our beautiful natural landscape, enjoy our one-of-a-kind restaurants, and most importantly get to know our friendly community. So whether you discover the city of Wheeling by scrolling on the internet or just by passing through town, you may be surprised by what you find and you might just decide to stay.

Here’s hoping.

Rosemary Ketchum is a member of the Wheeling City Council representing Ward 3. Rosemary is associate director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Wheeling Drop-in Center and on the boards of several organizations including the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. She has served as a guest on MSNBC and has been profiled by several publications including Time Magazine, CBS and CNN for her work in community organizing and politics.

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