Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Sprufera family - clockwise from top, father John, mother Lynn, Anthony, 11, Jessica, 9, and John, 17 - chat during dinner in their North Raleigh home. The Spruferas moved to the Triangle from Long Island.

John and Lynn Sprufera and their three children moved to North Raleigh from New York's Long Island last summer, embarking on a journey that just about all their friends have considered making at some point. On Long Island, Lynn Sprufera says, the word is out about North Carolina.
"Everyone talks about it," she said. "It's like a buzzword."

The Spruferas came to Raleigh after spending their entire lives in Suffolk County, which between 2001 and 2005 lost 1,875 of its residents to five Triangle counties, according to a nationwide study of Internal Revenue Service tax filings conducted by The Charlotte Observer.

Along with Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington (2,397), Los Angeles County (2,089) and Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago (2,034), Suffolk sent more people to the Triangle during that period than any other counties outside North Carolina.

If there is a thread linking the Spruferas and other transplants from these areas, it is a feeling that many of America's most populous counties are no longer places where getting ahead seems possible. In the Triangle, many people see the chance to enjoy a quality of life that has been slipping out of reach.

"It's like Suffolk County 30 years ago," John Sprufera said.

Between 2000 and 2005, the Raleigh-Cary region, which includes much of the Triangle, grew by 19 percent to almost 950,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The area was ranked the 18th fastest-growing region in the country.

Although the Triangle is experiencing its share of growing pains -- most notably, on roads and in schools -- economists say the area remains attractive because it has high job growth, a relatively low cost of living and a moderate climate.

"If you look at this area from 5,000 feet up, we still have a lot of room to grow," said Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University. "We'll probably have those factors making us more attractive for the foreseeable future."

A place of one's own

Of all the Triangle's attributes, few are more alluring than affordable housing. Over the past several years, real estate markets in the metropolitan areas around Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and New York have priced out many of the people who have moved to the Triangle.

In 2005, the median monthly housing costs for homeowners in Fairfax County, including utilities, was $2,133, compared with an average of $1,383 for Durham, Orange and Wake counties, according to the census.

Eric and Cristina Middleton house-hunted in the Washington area for a year before finally giving up and moving to Cary in June. The family of four was living in a 1,700-square-foot townhouse in Springfield, Va., which was keeping them from having a third child.

Cristina Middleton said she and her husband realized they would have to spend $600,000 just to purchase a fixer-upper in suburban Virginia.

"We wouldn't have any money to fix it up," she said.

In Cary, which ranked fifth on last year's Money Magazine list of the best places to live, the Middletons bought a 3,800-square-foot home for $460,000. Eric Middleton, who works for Cisco Systems, transferred to the company's offices in Research Triangle Park.

The move means Cristina Middleton no longer lives in the same neighborhood as her mother and brother, but she had a simple answer when family members asked how she could leave: "I want a house and a yard."

For many transplants, leaving a white-hot real estate market has given them seed money to start a new life in North Carolina.



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