Moving to Phoenix? Things I Get Asked ALL The Time

Phoenix is a great place to live. Just ask the more than 4.6 million people that live in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. Which is why I get regular phone calls, particularly from folks living in States that experience a frozen-tundra type of winter, asking about moving to Phoenix. ASAP.

I have noticed a common thread among some of the questions I get asked. Clearly, there is a mystique about Phoenix, due in part by our “wild west” approach to our culture and a misunderstanding about what makes Phoenix tick. It ain’t cattle drives, OK? Take for example, daylight savings time. We don’t participate. That’s right…we don’t fall forward or spring back. We just leave our clocks that same all year round and let everyone else figure out what time it is here – sometimes Pacific Standard Time, and sometimes Mountain. Here’s a few other details that might help if you are thinking about moving to the Grand Canyon State.

BUGS: In particular scorpions. Sure I get asked about snakes and tarantulas and sometimes even Gila Monsters, but the number on bug that scares folks is the scorpion. Yes, we have scorpions. I have seen numerous terrifying articles about scorpions with a tight close-up on the bug that makes it look roughly the size of a small dog (they are really 2-3 inches long), with warnings about the dangerous bark scorpion, small scorpions, or other more lethal varieties, when in fact, scorpions are about the same on terms of lethal impact as bees. Probably less. The key to surviving in scorpion-land is to hire a trusty bug guy who will inspect your home for ways to keep the scorps outside where they belong. Your exterminating hero can check the house and yard with a black light to find and “eliminate” the intruders and to treat your home for crickets (chicken McNuggets for scorpions). The biggest risk for scorpion stings is if you are allergic, so if you do get stung don’t panic. It’s not like in the movies.

WEATHER: Yes, it gets hot here in the summer. But you would be surprised how often you hear the phrase, “oh, it’s only going to be 100F today”. The desert air is really dry – that whole dry heat thing is not a myth! My personal breakdown of the weather pattern is as follows:

Jan & February: Break out the sweaters! Wear them as often as possible! Light a fire in the fireplace! Drink hot chocolate! It’s a “little” cold so you better take advantage. It won’t last long. If you’re lucky, it might even rain (we get around 6-8 inches a year!)
March: It’s windy, and I tend to sneeze a lot.
April: Great weather although we sometimes get that first 100F day in April – watch out for betting pool opportunities
May: The last few years, May feels like it should be hotter than it is. Usually my pool reaches an acceptable swim temp in May.
June: Sure it’s 119F but it still cools down and night so the mornings are divine. Here’s where that dry heat thing really helps.
July/August: Monsoon season. Seriously. I didn’t believe it either when I moved here. But it’s humid, it rains (we love our rain, it’s practically a State holiday when it rains) and frankly you’re best bet is to plan a little vacay to San Diego or the high country. This is our version of winter. It’s a good trade in my opinion.
September: It always seems like it should be cooler in September, but it’s clearly Fall and the nights are starting to call your name.
October & November: Chamber of Commerce weather – seriously, it doesn’t get better than this! It is a little weird, though, when you wear shorts on Halloween.
December: This is when your friends and family will hate you…they are shoveling snow. You are shoveling sunshine!

See, it’s hot, but it’s not too bad! Here’s a cool almanac if you are curious about the details.

TAXES: Specifically, property taxes. They are pretty low here compared to the rest of the country. Property taxes are computed as the assessed value divided by 100, times the tax rate (set in August of each year).  For example, that taxes on a $300,000 home about $1800 per year. I know, I know…some of you are paying that much every month!  The average effective tax rate in Maricopa County works to about 0.7% and 1.1% of the value of your home depending on which city you live.  Rates vary by city and school district.  Property tax are paid in arrears twice a year – in March and October.

Here’s a great little calculator that will estimate your property taxes in Maricopa County. Taxes in Pinal County aren’t too far behind. The actual tax rate will vary depending on what city you live in, but this will give you a rough idea.

TRAFFIC: I’ve heard that our Phoenix traffic has a reputation for being pretty bad. Right….I grew up in Southern California! I know what BAD traffic looks like and this ain’t it! Sure we have a rush hour so if you are driving across town between 6:30-8am or 3:30-6pm, it’s going to take a little longer. And sure, if there’s an accident or on the highway, or a semi spills 4 tons of slime eels,  it’s going to be really bad, but we are talking maybe you drive 30mph rather than the 9 miles (mythical max speed at which you won’t get a ticket) over the speed limit pace that AZ drivers prefer. But here in AZ, we don’t typically sit on the freeway for 2 hours, literally INCHING forward like I have experienced in say, Riverside CA.

We have a great loop freeway system and VERY NICE ROADS (thank you rubberized asphalt) so chances are if you are coming from another urban area, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you used to traveling 20 miles without seeing a soul, you might feel like you are Riverside, CA.

PS: Watch out for the farm equipment in Gilbert!

HOA’s: Many people HATE HomeOwner Associations (HOA’s). I get that. Who wants a weed nazi out in your front yard with a ruler measuring those dandelions. But there are a couple of hard truths to HOAs in Phoenix. 1) They aren’t all bad. 2)Most houses built after 1990 are going to be in an HOA 3) ALL townhomes and condos will have HOA’s.

HOAs do some good – they keep up the common areas. They can have a positive impact on property values. You know, minimizing the purple houses and lighthouse towers that tend to bring in the lower appraisals. Most HOAs aren’t militant; they are just enforcing the rules that everyone agreed to abide by. Fees range quite a bit. For single family homes in a basic community, you might be paying $30-$60. Add more for community amenities like parks, pools, clubhouses and gated communities. Townhomes and condos incorporate services such as water, sewer, trash, as well as exterior maintenance and insurance on the structure, so the fees are higher – usually starting around $150. For downtown condos or “county club” style communities, you can see fees in the $500-$1000+ range.

When you purchase a home, there will be fees associated with the HOA. Disclosure fees are paid by the seller. Transfer fees, capital reserve fees, and others are negotiable.

SCHOOLS: Arizona participates in school choice. Public schools are very popular here and that’s how most gets get their education. There are also a great many charter schools and to a lesser degree private schools. Most public schools will entertain boundary exemptions especially for high school. Lots of choices! So how do you choose.

Most schools these days are ranked according to test scores but there is a LOT more to consider than how a bunch of sleepy 8 year olds filled in a bunch of bubbles on a Scantron. The best way to is to use the School Report card info to review programs, staff, etc for Arizona schools to narrow the list down, them visit the schools before making a final decision. A lot depends on what your child needs in terms of his or her education and which school is best equipped to provide that experience.

CRIME: “I want to live in a safe neighborhood.” No kidding! No one ever asks me where they can move to have a culture of armed robbery, drug dealing and murder. And even if they did, I couldn’t begin to tell you. “Safe neighborhood” means different things for different people. My idea of safe could be vastly different than yours. The best I can do is send you to this video and then direct you to this crime stat page  or this crime stat page to take a look at the volume and variety of crimes in every area. Crime happens everywhere…even in Gilbert, America’s 2nd safest city.

EMPLOYMENT: Looking for a job? Here are Phoenix’s top employers. Unemployment stands at about 4% in Phoenix right now. For more details on unemployment check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart.

THINGS TO DO: Ok, this is just a start. There is a lot to do here! But if you are looking for a quick guide on concerts, and other events, your best bet is the Phoenix New Times events calendar.

Of course, there are a LOT of questions left! Reach out to me and let me know what else you’d like to know!