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by Christina Lyon

I'm Christina Lyon, a coffee sipping, piano playing, beach loving, word-obsessed freelance writer and musician. I'm on fire for helping freelance writers get paid and small biz owners succeed online. When I'm not reading or writing, I play music and explore the beaches and wild trails along the California coast.

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Moving to Huntington Beach, CA – A “Surf City” Home Buying Guide!

Christina Lyon

We moved to Huntington Beach!

Two beach-bums migrate 30-miles south and cross county lines from LA to OC. Read our story of moving to Huntington Beach, why we made the move, and our experience thus far!

If you know my MO, you know I’m a beach girl through and through. California beach life has provided me with an active, peaceful, exciting lifestyle that I love. We knew we wanted to buy property, but we weren’t sure where. So, how did we end up moving to Huntington Beach?

Let’s be real: our one-bedroom apartment in Redondo Beach was getting a little cramped for our style. But buying beach property in California is $pendy! Oh, so true. After extensive research across So Cal (and dozens of home tours), we ended up moving to Huntington Beach!

Why live in Huntington Beach? We really wanted to buy property at the beach in CA. Our most significant motivations were budget, staying close to family, and getting close to the sand without living in a closet.

Did we pull it off? We sure did! But moving to Huntington Beach and finding the right property took due diligence, to say the least. Here’s a look at our story and how we’re enjoying our new city so far.

I’m also sharing tips for prospective home buyers and factors to consider if you’re looking to buy in Huntington Beach, CA.

>>> If you’re looking for an overview of living at the beach in California, start here. <<<

Let’s dive in!

Golden hour at Sunset Beach!

Why Move To Huntington Beach?

I adore the South Bay and enjoyed living there for five years. Our dream goal was to buy property in Redondo Beach or the surrounding cities (Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance).

However, this area didn’t align with our home goals, which were:

  • Three bedrooms
  • Less than a mile from the beach
  • Consistency with our beach lifestyle
  • Low (or no) HOA
  • Great location near active outdoor activities
  • Close to family
  • Within our budget (obvi)

To be completely honest, both Steve (my hubs) and I had never fancied ourselves OC types. So, living in Huntington Beach didn’t land on our radar until we’d thoroughly researched other areas.

Hunting For Our New Hometown

First, we looked at buying in Torrance, an inland city from Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. When we discovered we could get what looked to be a drug house for 700K (already over-budget, mind you) plans changed.

I love Torrance for its proximity to the beach, freeway access, and excellent schools. Yet, finding a decent property within our budget seemed nigh impossible lest we ventured farther inland, which wasn’t an option.

The Torrance neighborhoods we liked best were out of our budget, and property rarely came up, anyway, so we had to rethink our strategy.

Our quest led us back to the drawing board. We broadened the map to find a property close to the beach but less than an hour’s drive from my folks (whose primary residence is in Corona, CA). We considered several options but ultimately zeroed in on Long Beach and Huntington Beach. 

We’ve enjoyed weekend getaways to Huntington Beach, where my parents own a condo. Could this be our new home city?

But what about the notorious Huntington Beach reputation and steep OC prices? We needed to do some investigating before officially committing to moving to Huntington Beach.

Is Huntington Beach a good place to live?

Having never actually experienced living in Huntington Beach, we weren’t sure if it aligned with our lifestyle and values. Would we fit in there? Would we be able to afford the alleged expensive cost of living in Orange County? Were our preconceived notions about the area wrong?

Needless to say, we had questions. If you’re considering moving to Huntington Beach, CA, you likely have questions, too. Here are some factors we considered before getting serious about our search.

A picture of Christina Lyon writer posing beneath the bridge while moving to Huntington Beach, CA.

Is Huntington Beach a safe area?

If you’ve read headlines, you may have a certain feeling about crime and compromised safety. However, discerning fact from fiction is crucial when you’re investing anywhere from half a million to a million to buy property at the beach in California.

We wondered: is Huntington Beach a safe area? Looking at sensationalist headlines might deter prospective buyers from HB, but the crime statistics say otherwise.

Fact is, Huntington Beach is among the safest cities in the United States. HB is well under the state average for violent and property crimes.

Like all California beach cities, there are good areas and bad, which is why it’s essential to do your research. Unfortunately, the data consistently shows that inland beach cities have higher crime rates than coastal cities.

But again, these aren’t hard and fast rules and shift depending on which city you’re considering. Alas, these are generalizations that may or may not influence your decision. 

For my folks, crime and safety have never been an issue, and we’ve always known Huntington Beach to be a safe area.

Ok, so we learned that Huntington Beach is safe, but what about pricing? How is it possible to buy beach properties in Southern California — during a global pandemic?

Is Huntington Beach expensive to live in? 

Let’s talk about the cost of living in Huntington Beach. If you’re buying property in California, price is going to weigh heavily into your decision. Or at least, it did for us. 

To our absolute shock, we discovered plenty of affordable beach properties in Huntington Beach. Compared to LA and most Orange County beaches, HB had more coastal real estate to explore.

But what about the cost of living?

Area Vibes rates Huntington Beach a big fat red “F” for the cost of living. Why is Huntington Beach so expensive? Mainly, it relates to rentals and the broader California housing crisis. This problem isn’t relegated to Huntington Beach, though.

Huntington Beach is 203% above the national average for cost of living. Yikes! But what about Santa Monica or San Diego? F, F, F. Santa Monica is 363% above the national average, and San Diego is 130% above.

The point being: California is freaking expensive, and Huntington Beach falls in line with the rest of the CA beach cities.

Should that crush your dreams of moving to Huntington Beach? On the contrary. However, you will need a trusty guide for living in California on a budget (written by a local like yours truly!).

Above all, it’s vital to buy property within your means to prevent the intoxicating California dreaming lifestyle from turning into a nightmare. 

Hence why we chose a condo. In our three months of living here, I haven’t noticed an uptick in the cost of living between here and Redondo Beach. Of course, this comes down to lifestyle. We don’t eat out much, and since the pandemic, we’ve mostly focused on outdoor activities, which, fortunately, are free!

Sure, we’d love to have a single-family home someday, but for now, a condo was more conducive to our budget. Ultimately, this depends on your preference. We could’ve purchased a single-family home in California, but we would’ve had to move inland, which we weren’t quite ready to do yet.

For us to keep our roots threaded in the California beach lifestyle, we settled on finding a condo. Fortunately, we discovered Huntington Beach had tons of condos for us to browse.

And so the hunt began.

Finding The Right Property in Huntington Beach

We partnered with my cousin and uncle, Dawn Nicolaisen and Jim Dillman, a dynamic father-daughter Orange County realtor team, to make our search official.

Honestly, we wouldn’t have found our dream home without Dawn and Jim’s guidance. If you’re looking for a team to hold your hand and guide you through the first-time home buying experience in CA, I can’t recommend them enough!

A realtor can make or break your home buying experience, and we felt fortunate to have Dawn and Jim on our side!

We fully anticipated settling on a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Huntington Beach. Why? Because in our budget, 3-bedrooms were elusive and farther inland. We found some nice-looking single-family homes, but again, they were 4-5 miles inland. 

Too far from the waves for us!

Our top priority is the ability to walk down to the beach at sunset or hop on our bikes and cruise the strand. Could we actually make it happen?

We toured homes in Long Beach, condos in Huntington, apartments, townhomes, and single-family homes inland. As grueling as this process can be, it’s crucial to help you narrow down exactly what you want for your family and lifestyle.

Dawn and Jim worked closely with us to ensure we stayed within our budget, explored all of our options, and didn’t settle. 

Still, the search became increasingly more difficult due to the growing pandemic. 

My mom, Nance, and I, touring properties during COVID-19 -- we armed ourselves in hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks for every home tour.
My mom, Nance, and I, touring a condo (that would soon be ours!) during COVID — we armed ourselves in hand sani, gloves, and masks for every home tour.

Buying A Home In California During A Pandemic

I’ll be frank: buying a home in the era of COVID is no walk in the park. We, along with all others who decided to buy this year, were sort of guinea pigs. 

We began our search right when COVID-19 cases were rising, and new regulations were being written up: March 2020. 

Because the pandemic was so raw and we were inexperienced, much of our search was uncharted, not only for us, but for our lenders, realtors, and even the sellers. At times, we wondered if we should pause and wait until things calmed down. 

But once you get the itch to buy, it’s hard not to scratch it!

Some sellers pulled their listings, and with the uncertainty of the economy, we thought we might be crazy for buying this year (all while planning a wedding in October).

Yet as difficult as the process felt at times, we couldn’t ignore one significant factor working in our favor: plummeting interest rates. 

Buying a home at the beach in California is expensive, yes. But what if the interest rates dropped so low that we could scoop up a property slightly above our price range? Could that feasibly happen?

Yes. And it did! But more on that later. For now, let’s get back to the Huntington Beach lifestyle.

What about that Huntington Beach reputation and lifestyle?

Ok, so we know that Huntington Beach cost of living isn’t ideal (along with the rest of California), but what about the lifestyle? Remember, this is “Surf City, USA”, so if you love water sports and all things ocean, moving to Huntington Beach is a no brainer.

However, some headlines depict Huntington Beach as an anti-California city. HB has accrued a bad rap with riots, protesting, and general behavior toward the pandemic and election. 

That said, it’s always been subject to controversy. But let’s consider why: Huntington Beach draws massive crowds every year for the annual surf contest. An event that made headlines in the 80s for insane riots that erupted — flames, fights, and overall debauchery ensued. 

Since then, Surf City’s reputation has suffered. That said, the city has taken steep measures to outfit public areas with police and keep the crime rates low.

So what’s the reality here?

Everyone in Huntington Beach is super laid back and chill. I know this not as a recent transplant, but as a California native who spent summers in Huntington Beach and ditched school to head to the beach with my high school friends.

If you let a city’s reputation guide you, you might end up missing out on one of the most important reasons to live at the beach in California: the lifestyle.

Huntington Beach Lifestyle – Why We Love It!

When we got serious about moving to Huntington Beach, we started driving PCH and exploring the neighborhoods. We knew we wanted to live at the beach, so we drew a map from the southern border at Brookhurst St to the northern border at Sunset Beach. 

The farthest inland we were willing to buy was two miles. Still, we looked at properties bordering Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa to compare.

Our dream location was Sunset Beach, a small stretch of coast nestled by the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and Huntington Harbour. We loved this location because of its plentiful outdoor activities.

But moving to Huntington Beach in general offers incredible activities and attractions

Some of our favorite beach activities include:

  • Kayaking the Huntington Harbour 
  • Sunbathing at the beaches
  • Hiking the Bolsa Chica Wetlands (a natural preserve with over 200 avian species a.k.a. a bird watcher’s mecca).
  • The dog parks — great for taking our friends and family who bring their furry friends
  • Beach bonfires at sunset
  • Riding the waves — whether you surf, swim, or boogie board, Surf City has impressive waves.
  • Biking the strand
  • Strolling the piers — from Balboa peninsula to Seal Beach, there are several downtown areas to explore, grab a bite, and watch the sunset over the Pacific.

While we wanted to buy in Sunset Beach, it’s a tiny area topped with multi-million dollar homes sparsely listed, even if your budget permits.

Bookmarking the area in our minds, we toured properties from Beach Blvd. to Goldenwest to Warner. So, where did we end up?

Moving To Huntington Beach: Where We Landed 

I hinted that we capitalized on the low interest rates, which significantly impacted where we ended up in HB. The top of our budget was a figure we didn’t want to exceed. But toward the end of our search, we felt a little depleted and on the verge of giving up. 

We’d toured two different 2-bed condos, but our parents urged us not to settle and wait for a three-bedroom. As I told my folks, that’d be awesome, but three bedrooms in our budget close to the beach are rare — extremely rare.

It started to feel like a gamble: hold out for something that might not exist and miss the low interest rates, or settle on something we’d quickly outgrow for the sake of buying.

Needless to say, there were many sleepless nights during this period!

Maybe we needed a little break to regroup. Around this time marked Steve’s 40th birthday, so we decided to pack up and getaway on a camping trip up north. Nothing like the fresh mountain air and pine trees to clear a taxed mind.

Before we left town, my mom sent me a listing that had popped up while Steve and I spent the day touring two-bedrooms with my uncle.

Could it be? A 3 bedroom condo less than a mile from the beach, inland from Sunset Beach (our desired location!!). The pictures looked beautiful, but surely, there had to be something wrong with this property, right?

Wrong.

The home had all the amenities we desired — a pool, excellent location, adjacent to the Bolsa Chica Nature Preserve, three bedrooms, two baths, and even an attached 1-car garage (a rarity in these parts).

The moment we stepped inside, that knowing feeling hit us both: this is home. We put in an offer immediately.

A Battle For Our Dream Beach Condo

Due to the competitive seller’s market and common bidding wars, our realtors advised us not to get too attached. Frankly, we didn’t think we’d get this home because we thought a 3-bedroom in our budget was near impossible and we’d get outbid.

We entrusted our fate into Dawn and Jim’s hands, which was the best thing we could have done. Their collective experience and expertise helped us put our best foot forward. The offer was strategic and careful so that we wouldn’t outbid ourselves. 

A bidding war ensued, and we subscribed to the belief that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.”

Thankfully, Dawn’s negotiation skills are FBI-level badass, and no doubt proved to drive the seller’s decision toward us.

We got the call on Steve’s 40th birthday. Our dream home was to be ours! The feeling was surreal; we had just come back from a four-hour hike and were in utter disbelief.

But here’s the best part: After the bidding war, the price stretched above our budget. Concurrently, interest rates reached a record low. This meant that with a 2.875% interest rate, our mortgage would stay within our budget despite the final $30K over-budget price. 

🤯 🤯 🤯 

The stars had indeed aligned.

We officially moved in on my birthday, Sept. 28th. It felt like a serendipitous full circle experience — from searching during quarantine to putting in an offer right before giving up, to the sellers choosing our offer on Steve’s 40th to moving on my birthday.

And did I mention that we did all this while planning our wedding? I’ll save that story for another post! It’s been a stressful but exciting year, and I wouldn’t change our journey one bit because it took us home.

Steve and Christina Lyon pose in their new condo after moving to Huntington Beach, CA.

Home Is Where The Beach Is

Was it an easy hunt? No. But finding treasure requires digging, persistence, and perseverance. It’s been two and a half months since moving to Huntington Beach, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. 

We’re settling into our new home as newlyweds. We’re nesting and enjoying mornings sipping coffee by the fireplace and afternoon walks through the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Sure, there are pros and cons, but overall we stuck to our guns and held out for what we truly wanted: a slice of property we could call home by the California coast. 

Life isn’t perfect, no, but it sure is good.

Are you considering moving to Huntington Beach, CA? Are you a fellow local with tips to share? Please feel free to drop a comment below and share your experience; I’d love to hear from you!

A picture of the Pacific Ocean at sunset in Surf City USA, moving to Huntington Beach offers endless activities!

December 9, 2020

California Beach Life, Lifestyle

*This post may contain affiliate links, and I may receive a commission on purchases made through provided links (at no extra cost to you).

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by Christina Lyon

Hey there! I'm a coffee sipping, piano playing, word-obsessed freelance writer and musician on fire for helping creative entrepreneurs and small biz owners tell their stories with engaging marketing copy. Need written content? 

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