Living In Tallahassee: Pros & Cons

Thinking about moving to Florida and considering living in Tallahassee? You may have a lot of questions, like:  What is living in Tallahassee like?  Is it safe to live in Tallahassee?  What is the cost of living in Tallahassee? What are the neighborhoods like? We love Tallahassee, but we know it is not for everyone.  So, here’s the answer to your questions and the honest scoop about the pros and cons of living in Tallahassee.

Let us be honest here. Life in the Florida capital is not like life in the rest of the state. It is pretty amazing! There are many things to do in Tallahassee, FL. There are tons of free things to do in Tallahassee. We have numerous Boutiques, Antique Shops and locally owned shops to explore in Tallahassee. Tallahassee also has many surrounding small towns. We have a higher-than-average projected growth, lower unemployment and comfortable weather nine months of the year. Our cost of living and taxes aren’t too bad either. There is a lot to love about Tallahassee.  Like most places, many of our unique characteristics are both positive and negative.

Awesome Trails and Adventures!
Our Universities!
Beauty is everywhere!
The main characteristics that help define Tallahassee are:

1.  Tallahassee is a college town.

First of all, Tallahassee is not a “big” city. With around 200,000 in the city proper, that number significantly increases when the students, legislators and lobbyists come to town.  The 70,000 students are mostly spread out across Florida State University, Florida Agricultural Mechanical University, and the Tallahassee Community College. The students are concentrated in the southwest corner of Tallahassee. They only live in Tallahassee about nine months of the year. The legislators and accompanying lobbyists are usually here between February and April. They are generally concentrated near the capitol downtown during the day.

That doesn’t mean that things are necessarily easier when the schools are out of session in the summer.  This is the time of year that the locals call “TURN”. Getting any repairs done during July and August can be a challenge.  It is a great time to explore the shops and restaurants near the universities and downtown.

With the inundation of thousands of college students each fall, we have a vibrant and young community. Especially in the area between downtown Tallahassee and the universities.  There are plenty of free and low-cost things to do. From a great nightlife scene to local breweries and restaurants. We have art galleries, amateur theaters, live bands and lots of outdoor activities. People like hiking, frisbee golf, evening festivals and sporting events. There’s something for everyone!  Many local groups use meet-up aps to post their public activities. Some use their Facebook page to keep followers up to date.

Let’s talk about football. Football is a religion here. Be prepared for locals to ask you what team you like? They may give you a hard time if you do not know the final score of the Saturday’s game.  If the Seminoles or Rattlers lose, the office Monday morning might be a little somber.  What team is playing will affect the scheduling activities for PTA meetings, weddings, fundraisers, or even open houses. Locals always consult the calendar to see who the teams are playing before making anything official.  Scheduling something during a big game (especially Florida vs. FSU) is a good way to see a small turnout. 

FSU has been named the #1 party school multiple times. Maybe it is partly due to the amount of alcohol consumed and the time spent in the classroom. There’s a lot of partying on that side of town. It usually starts Friday night and continues until after the games on Saturday. As I mentioned before, most of the college students stay in the southwest part of town. So it is entirely possible to avoid student traffic and noise. 

That brings us to the physical spread of the city itself. Owning a car is necessary. Tallahassee is pretty spread out. But there are many walkable and bikeable areas of Tallahassee, especially near the universities. The city also has public transportation options, but are more limited than most bigger cities. Our city has a handful of cab companies, and plenty of Uber and Lyft drivers. Many of the college students are employed by Uber and Lyft.

One thing to remember, we have thousands of students and Florida is the retirement capital of the states. Let’s just say that driving in Tallahassee around certain areas of town can be fascinating.

An influence the universities and youthful population has on our city is keeping our public utilities clean. They have plans to get cleaner. In 2019, the city commission dedicated itself to go to 100% clean and renewable resources by 2050.  Tallahassee even has a solar farm and electric buses. The city is transitioning the rest of its fleet, including their trucks, over to electric vehicles now.

Tallahassee has a relatively low cost of living. Several things go into calculating the cost of living, including: taxes, groceries, health, housing, real estate, utilities, and transportation. 

Florida does not have state-income-tax Statewide, and the sales tax rate is 6%. Counties can add to the state’s sales tax, and Leon County adds an extra 1.5%.  That makes the total Tallahassee sales tax rate relatively modest 7.5%. In cities like Chicago and Cleveland, the sales tax rate is over 8%.

The average property tax bill is around $1897 per year for the median home value around $215,000.  This makes Florida one of the lowest tax levels in the country. 

On the downside, a rental house near the university can be a challenge to find in premium condition. There is also a high risk of scams since so many rentals are owned by individual landlords. There are a lot of units to lease (more units than we have students) and even more being built. Those are generally leased by the room with a shared common space. The upside is, you don’t have to worry about roommates not paying their portion of the rent and facing eviction.  On a personal note, most Realtors do not work with rentals in the Tallahassee area. The reason, there is little or no compensation for time spent finding a renter or rental.

Finding a two-bedroom two bath home in walking distance of the universities for under $100,000 is challenging if you’re buying. Especially in a ready to move-in condition.  If and when you find it, you can expect to compete against multiple offers. So, having a Realtor guide you through the process will save you time, money, headaches, heartaches, etc.  Be cautious of approaching the list agent directly since many act as fiduciaries of the owner. When settled, your mortgage will be around $700 a month (depending on down payment, interest rates, taxes, etc.). Since rooms are renting for that amount and more, you may find a roommate to cover that expense. We have helped many families set themselves up with little to no housing payment for their student.

A downside to having a large percentage of students is that Tallahassee has a higher-than-average crime and poverty rates. This is compared with other cities of its size in both Florida and nationwide.

Much of the crime happens near and around the campuses. We also have at least seven police departments covering Tallahassee and Leon County and all of them make arrests. Tallahassee has a real-time crime map posted on their webpage. This is so parents can check an area out when they are searching for housing.  Also, please remind your campus people to lock their doors, especially if they live alone. 

Our poverty rate has impacted by the fact that most college students are living below the poverty levels. Our population is well educated and there are many entrepreneurs and opportunities for the savvy marketer.

2.  Tallahassee welcomes you to the South

Locals have a slight southern drawl and tend to talk slower than Midwesterners. This makes a lot of sense when you realize that Leon County shares a northern border with Georgia.  We’ll talk about the weather in the minute, because in Florida the weather has its own personality.  Other than the weather, there is a lot that is different about living here than in the Midwest.

There are many Midwesterners in Tallahassee, while New Englanders tend to move down the east coast of Florida. (Thank you I-75.)  Dan and I grew up in a small Ohio town where everyone knew each other. Tallahassee is similar in that there seems to be only 2 or 3 degrees of separation for any two people.  Meaning, if you join a group, there’s a good chance you are going to start running into the same people. It is not unusual here for a total stranger to strike up a conversation. Even while you are waiting in line together or seated near each other.  Tallahassee is a friendly town.

The phrase you are probably going to hear, and probably come to use, the most is, “Bless Your Heart!” Now, this can mean exactly how it sounds – a blessing that means, “You poor thing, you don’t deserve such luck.” Or, it could be a kinder and gentler way of saying, “You poor thing, your mama didn’t raise you right.” Most of the time, it is safer just to assume they mean it the first way and not the second.  

This is the bible belt and there are a lot of churches here. If you are a Midwesterner, then you probably have been raised up to never ask about religion. So, here’s a heads-up. Locals are going to ask you where you worship Sunday morning. And even after you tell them, they are likely going to invite you to come with them. They’re just friendly that way.  Churches are a great way to meet people in Tallahassee and find your niche.

The downside of our southern location is that even though we are in Florida, we are not on the coast. This is a mixed blessing. The 30 miles to the coast gives most hurricanes time to degrade to a tropical storm before reaching Tallahassee.  We were hardest hit by Michael in 2018. Several neighborhoods were without power for weeks as debris was cleaned up and powerlines restored.  Many newer neighborhoods are installing underground utilities to help reduce the damage from high winds. The closer you get to the coast, the more damage you will see from salty air and winds.

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are only an hour and half away. The sand on our Gulf coasts beaches is often referred to as sugar sand and for a very excellent reason. The sand is easy to walk on and relatively clear of the broken and pointy shells. Unlike the beaches on the Atlantic side of Florida. The closest beaches to Tallahassee include: Alligator Point, Mashes Sands, Carabelle and Apalachicola. St. George Island is another pretty close beach. It has won most beautiful beach awards and worth the two hour drive to get there!

Even though we are in Florida, we have Spanish moss and bugs like Georgia.  The Spanish moss looks cool, especially on the live oaks that cover our nine designated canopy roads in Tallahassee.  The canopy roads, and the trees that cover them, are protected. The street cannot be widened. This causes traffic to slow down when heading into town.  Many places in Tallahassee require you to have permission before taking down large trees, even in your own backyard.  There is an upside to having all those trees. It is the work they do to lessen the ambient heat from pavement and parking lots.  Good thing because it is hot enough here in July and August. Seen from the capitol (the tallest building in several counties) the city looks tree covered.

Tallahassee has a 10-month growing season, and many farmers markets that support our local farmers. Several local restaurants, including food trucks, source their meals locally and vary their menus based on the seasonal availability. There is almost always something blooming here, so you may consider stocking up on the allergy meds.

For me, there is a downside to living in Tallahassee. It is the number of bugs I have learned to live with here. Insects also enjoy our mild winters.  There is a reason for the number of pest control company trucks you will see driving around town.  Every business and home needs regular pest control.

On the upside, Florida has one of the largest varieties of butterflies and moths in the world.  Every September, the monarch butterflies make their way to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge (20 miles south of the Capitol) to rest before they cross the Gulf of Mexico.  There is a festival every year to celebrate and help document the health of the butterfly travelers.

If gardening interests you, we have lots of local clubs dedicated to Southern gardening. Some even specialize in certain types of plants.  We have found that the local agriculture extension agents are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  The number of small and independent farmers are growing, and their average age is getting younger.  There are many local nurseries that can help you find more information about gardening clubs. They can also provide that amazing flora and fauna available in our subtropical zone (zone 8, btw).

In Tallahassee, we live outdoors between September and March.  Many local restaurants have outdoor seating under shade or cover. Many also allow you to bring well-behaved dogs on leashes to sit under your table.  The parks hold festivals, private parties, and meetings all year long. Some of the parks have large shelters that can be rented for free on a first come first serve basis.

We are a dog friendly community.  You can take your dogs to almost any park. Most public areas as well, provided your dogs are kept under your control and on a leash.

Tallahassee is an older city. The streets are layout as a wagon wheel with the capitol at the center. Highways run the 25-30 miles to the next town like spokes on a wheel.  This is very different from the grid system we grew up with in Ohio. It is my biggest pet peeve. Sometimes a single road in Tallahassee will have multiple names (Mahan & Tennessee). Sometimes multiple roads will have the same name (Meridian, & Call). This can make navigating the city and learning your way around fascinating.

Tallahassee does have four seasons. Although we do have cold weather in Tallahassee at times, we rarely have snow.  Long time locals can tell you about their experience with snow in the 80s. The length of our freezing temps are measured in hours though and not days.  Most January days, you can go outside in a sweater or sweatshirt and be comfortable.  It is the best time of year to camp and hike.

3.  The Weatherman is a Liar

Let’s be honest here, even without direct strikes from hurricanes, the weather in our corner of Florida has its own personality. The Tallahassee area holds the state’s record for having the hottest and the coldest temperatures on record in the state!

Being nestled where we are, our weather can change quickly, and it can come from any direction. Everything from the cold fronts from the North, to the tropical systems from the south, will bring rain to Tallahassee.  After those afternoon storms, temps can return to the 90s with 90-100% humidity. It can feel like a sweat lodge outside.

Afternoon storms are common, but you will rarely see a local carry an umbrella.  We average about 59 inches of rain a year. But we know, the weather will roll through quickly and sunshine will return.  The weather here can change in an instant. I have checked the forecast before heading to the park before and still gotten caught in a downpour! It left us and the dogs thoroughly soaked and steaming by the time we got back to the Jeep.

Does Tallahassee get hit by hurricanes? Not technically, or at least not yet.  Tallahassee does get hit by tropical storms. But rarely do we experience sustained hurricane force winds downtown. Michael in 2018 was probably the closest hit Tallahassee has sustained. Just to note, the first couple storms you experience in Tallahassee can be overwhelming.  Seriously, we never realized that the sky could hold so much water! We were certain our roof would cave in. But the city is used to handling several inches of rain on a random Thursday afternoon. 

You don’t have to learn to read the spaghetti models to know when to duck for cover. We usually get plenty of warning. The city is quite prepared, since we have so much rain dropped on us every year. You will notice most Floridians don’t really start to pay attention until the hurricanes reach a level 3.  If you are new here – take it seriously and pack emergency supplies. We keep everything we would need for an extended power outage in a large tote. At the end of hurricane season have a cheat week and eat all the junk food.

In Ohio, we grew up heating up cars while scraping them off! We were used to going from the warmth of home to warmth of the car. Then maybe to work, all without freezing.  In Florida, we spend July and August moving from our home’s air conditioning to some other air conditioned place. Your glasses will fog on a regular basis. The thermometer rarely goes above 100 degrees in Tallahassee. But we have humidity. It can feel hotter than the weatherman says it is.

Even in the ‘cold’ of the winter, we have sunshine.  There’s a reason everybody’s leaving the four-letter s-word of snow behind and moving here for a new four-letter s-word, sand. That first year of blue skies and sweatshirt weather that lasted three months, made us fall in love with Tallahassee.

4. The Wildlife is Wild and Unpredictable

The hunting and fishing opportunities are amazing. If you are into hunting or fishing, our area has a lot to offer. Our deer are closer to the south Georgia deer giants. We don’t have any tiny key deer often associated with Florida. The wild boar can get absolutely huge! They can also be a nuisance and dangerous if hiking alone.

Shark and deep-sea fishing are available in the Gulf.  Boats can be chartered out of Alligator Point, Carrabelle, and/or Appalachicola for reasonable day rates. Fishing licenses are available at most marinas and can be handled before your charter leaves the dock.  Just a reminder that if you are going to the coast to swim, be careful when you swim. Florida is the shark bite capital of the world. Fish are most active at dusk and dawn and sharks are fish. 

We have some of the most beautiful parks in the world. There are plenty of birding trails and Tallahassee has a museum/zoo to see local wildlife up close and personal.  The last time we toured the wildlife exhibits, the red wolves started howling as we passed.  I enjoyed them singing together and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!  While the museum has an admission charge, most of the parks in the city and county have free admission.  The state parks do have a nominal fee for entry, and many of them operate on an honor system.  Don’t leave your car in the parking lot without a validated pass. The ticket is WAY more expensive than the cost of admission. 

We have hundreds of miles of trails in Tallahassee. But watch out for rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and Spanish Bayonet. Yes, even the vegetation here can draw blood.  Also, watch out for ticks, especially if you or your fur babies are especially furry. The blood suckers are everywhere, and they carry diseases to our pets and ourselves.

We also have kayaking at some of our local rivers. You can find rare and endangered lilies and pitcher plants growing wild on the banks.  Alligators and manatees are common on the rivers and are usually going to ignore or avoid you. The manatees are endangered, and it is a federal crime to interfere with them in any way. Seriously, don’t even look at them too long.  The alligators are usually going to run from you if you get too close.  Most of the time we have approached them in kayaks. We see them sunning themselves and keeping a close eye on us.  They need the sun to help them digest their food.  It’s the ones that we can’t see that worry me! I’m sure they are probably the hungry ones looking for a meal.

Some of the bugs they often don’t mention about Tallahassee are the love bugs.  They come to North Florida twice a year in May and September.  Love bugs don’t bite or get inside your house too often. They don’t do much of anything except get hit by your car.  If you wash them off right away, they probably won’t damage your paint.  They are not much to worry about, other than being annoying.

Fire ants are worth worrying about and they are everywhere in our area.  Watch out for the red mounds and do not disturb them. If you step on a mound, you will get bitten all over your skin.

Palmetto bugs is just a nice term for flying cockroaches.  Call the pest control guys WHEN you see them, because you will eventually.  We have a lot of companies to choose from for pest control services and monthly services cost less than $50! Some apartments require the tenant to provide the monthly service. But some places provide it for the tenant – best to check before you sign a lease!

In addition to being the state capital, Tallahassee is surrounded by agricultural and agritourism businesses.  Every October, we have a farm tour. Here local farmers invite you to see where your food comes from and meet your farmer/neighbor.  We have several restaurants that source much of their menus locally.  Check out the Red Hills Farmers Online Market . Here you can order directly from several farmers at once, with organic options available.

Since our little city is growing, we have lower unemployment on average than the rest of the nation. The estimated 2020 population is 6.6% higher than the estimated 2019 population. The most common industries in Tallahassee are related to the government or schools. Those industries were less impacted by the jobs lost in the recession. As a result, Tallahassee did not have the same impact on real estate as the rest of the state.  Except for a few condos and townhouses, the housing market in Tallahassee has surpassed the past high values. Even before the housing crash in 2008. 

The past seven years have seen steady increases in property values and more buyers than we have homes to sell.  Everyone is waiting for a housing crash. But with the influx of people from the north, we do not see demand slowing down any time soon.  If you are considering moving to our area, please Contact Us. We would love to help you in your search!

One final word…. When you come to Florida, whether you plan to move here or visit, please remember that seagulls are flying rats! They will mug you for your picnic. basket! Please don’t feed the seagulls. Seriously, it really irritates the locals.