What You Give Up When You Move Away


Starting at 18 years of age, I’ve made six major moves:

  • San Diego to Los Angeles
  • Los Angeles to New York
  • New York to Los Angeles
  • Los Angeles to New York
  • New York to Accra
  • Accra to San Diego

Half of the time, I moved to attend college; the other half, I travelled for a new job.  Each opportunity offered hope, adventure, and excitement.  In hindsight, I didn’t appreciate the “inside knowledge” that I was relinquishing.  Basically, every time you go to a new place, you pay a “tax” for being an outsider.  It usually takes 2-3 years for you to stop paying that cost of being new.

“Inside knowledge” refers to the knowledge that you acquire slowly and seamlessly when you live in a place.  For instance, after two years in Accra, I learned how to shorten a weekday ride from East Legon to Osu from 90 minutes to 45 minutes by taking roundabout, local streets vs. the main roads and by leaving by 12:30pm.  Besides traffic, I realized that for the same price as a meal at Koffee Lounge, a popular Chinese/Ghanaian restaurant in East Legon, I could eat at the placid and fancy restaurant at La Villa Boutique Hotel.  One evening I met a woman who just arrived from Kenya who signed a lease on a 1BR for $2,500 in an area off the main road; she had to pay all 12 months ($30,000) upfront.  Meanwhile, I was paying $1,400 per month on a month-to-month basis in a more centrally located area.

Anyone who lives in a city long enough will develop their own bucket of tricks.  More importantly, the longer you stay, the more important your reputation and the relationships you build benefit you.  This may come down to getting seated before other patrons at your favorite restaurant or getting an extra large portion of one of your favorite entrees.  I think all these little things help make a place feel like “home.”

I don’t think I — nor many people who are similarly educated — appreciate what they lose whenever they move.  For instance, you may leave your jobs for a higher paying job in New York City thinking you are moving up in the world.  At a professional level, you are getting closer to the power and will be surrounded by more like-minded people.  Unfortunately, the salary gains you make will be chopped by rents that are 50-100 percent higher, something called “city tax” or 3.65% for singles making over $50,000, and no convenient Costco to buy necessities in bulk.

“It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep,” my dad often says.  This became crystal clear in Ghana.  For instance, I met an Irishman involved in construction who was making $10,000 per month “net” as they say.  In other words, he kept $10K a month; he didn’t pay EU taxes because he was earning it outside of the EU.  Furthermore, his company paid for his housing, transportation to work, and flights every three months to Ireland.  In the US, his income would exceed $250,000 (gross).  (American diplomats benefit from similar compensation structures.)

But I digress…  My point is that every time you leave a place it takes time to re-establish your inside knowledge.  For some categories, the time it takes to truly become familiar is much longer than 2-3 years.  In real estate, for example, investors and developers are inside knowledge hoarders.  That’s why many private and family-owned firms stay within a small geographic area.  Developers are sensitive to how a physical barrier or a street can define an area.  More importantly, these same players will establish relationships with local leaders and city officials to win approvals for the real estate developers’ plans.

Coming back to California is my way of reclaiming my inside information.  I have no plans of leaving this area and hope to develop relationships that last.

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