Moving to Fresno

California dreamin’? If so, Fresno is one of the best places to move in the Golden State. Ask any Fresnoan, and they’ll tell you why they love their city. They’re into the relatively low cost of living, proximity to year-round outdoor activities in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the temperate springs, falls, and winters. And then there’s the food. As a center of agriculture, Fresno is well known for its fresh fruit and veggies, along with tacos to die for.

Compared to the California median home value of $547,700, the median home value in Fresno is a refreshing $243,400, making Fresno an affordable California city. Recent job growth is positive, increasing 2.04% over last year, especially in the tech and agriculture arenas. But the best perks of all are all the things to see and do in the fifth most populous city in the state. Fresno is home to dozens of museums, performing arts centers, historic theaters, and parks.

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Living in Fresno: What to Know Before Moving to Fresno, CA

If you’re looking for a lively, well-situated California city that’s reasonably priced yet cultured, Fresno is an excellent choice. Boasting 530,093 residents and covering about 112 square miles, Fresno is California’s fifth largest city.

Nestled snugly in the San Joaquin Valley between the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Range, Fresno sits at the foot of world-famous recreational areas such as Yosemite National Park and the Sequoia National Forest. Plus it’s conveniently located within a three-hour drive from major urban centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

Dubbed “One of the Country’s Most Affordable Places to Live” by the New York Times, the median home price is $243,400, according to Zillow. Home values have gone up 6.6% over the past year, and Zillow predicts they’ll rise 3.6% in 2019-2020. RentCafé lists the average rent in Fresno as $1045, far below the state average of $1,359.

What began as a small, agricultural whistle stop along the Central Pacific Railroad has evolved into a bustling metropolis with all the amenities one could require. U.S. News & World Report ranks Fresno #119 of the Best Places to Live in the US based on the quality of life, the job market in the metro area, and the overall value of living.

It also ranked Fresno as #94 in the Best Places to Retire. With its vibrant arts scene, growing economy, and newly revitalized downtown, Fresno is becoming a great alternative to larger, more expensive California cities. Dozens of top-notch museums and attractions, a flourishing dining scene, and some great schools all add to the appeal. Fresno is an ideal city to consider for those considering an attractive, affordable California option.

Pros & Cons of Living in Fresno

Pros:

Some of the best things about living in Fresno, California, include:

  • Affordable cost of living
  • Dynamic arts scene
  • Fine state university
  • Easygoing vibe
  • Prime location in the middle of the state
  • An endless supply of fresh fruits & veggies
  • Growing tech economy
  • Best tacos anywhere!
  • Great diversity, a good place to settle down and start a family
  • Traffic’s not bad

Cons:

What are the potential downsides of living in Fresno?

  • Unemployment is high
  • A crime rate as high as any major city
  • Summers can be VERY hot!
  • Air pollution is legendary, often said to be the worst in the country
  • Urban and suburban sprawl
  • Hard to get around without a car

Tax Rates

No two ways around it, California’s overall tax burden adds up. While you’re saving on home prices, your taxes will help pay for that year-round sunshine.

Property taxes: On a median home value of $257,000 expect to pay around $1666 per year in property tax. On average, Fresno County collects .65% of a property’s assessed value as property tax. If you own a home in Fresno, you can expect that about 2.5% of your annual income will go to property tax. Surprising to some, California’s average property tax rate of .77% is the 16th lowest rate in the country. However, depending on the county you live in, rates can be higher due to special assessments, so be sure to ask your realtor about special fees or assessments in Fresno County.

Sales taxes: Fresno residents pay a combined sales rate tax of 7.97%, which is made up of a 6% California rate, .25% Fresno county rate, and special assessment rate of 1.73%.

State income tax: California income tax rates range from 1 to 12.3 percent, depending on your income bracket. Residents who bring in over $1 million in taxable income pay an additional 1 percent surcharge.

Housing Market

The Fresno market is fairly evenly split between homeowners and renters. More than 51% of residents own their homes. Compared to other cities in the state, homes are very affordable with a median home value of $243,400.

And rents are also affordable, although going up significantly. According to Zillow, the average rent for an apartment in Fresno, CA is $1450, representing a 13.24% increase from 2018.

The cheapest areas to live include the South Growth Area, McLane, West, Hoover & Woodward Park but beware – you often get what you pay for. You might just be sacrificing location or safety for more room and a more affordable cost of living.

Cost of Living

Fresno’s annual unemployment rate has reached its lowest point in at least 28 years, according to the Fresno Bee. Unemployment hovers around 5.8%, according to bestplaces.net. But that’s still a high figure compared to the US average of 3.8%. Recent job growth is up 2.04% with the biggest increases in the tech and agricultural sectors.

A survey by the financial website, GoBankingRates, found that an individual could live comfortably in Fresno on an income of roughly $44,500 a year, putting the city on par with the cost of living in Albuquerque or Detroit. According to the Economic Policy Institute, monthly costs for an average family of four average about $6152, necessitating an annual income of $73,827. Fresno’s cost of living is 7.80% higher than the US average.

Weather & Natural Disasters

Located in the middle of California, Fresno is in a semi-arid climate zone with cool, moist winters and very hot, dry summers. Fresno’s coldest month is December when the average daytime temperature will be 57°F, and overnight can get down to 37°F. In July, the warmest month, the average daytime temperature rises to 97°F, but it can often top 100°F. A July night will cool down to about 67°F.

The annual rainfall adds up to about 11.5 inches. The driest month is July, and March is the wettest with 2.20 inches. While summers are famously hot, there is almost no humidity so you can expect cooling overnight.

Tule fog is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the San Joaquin Valley during wet winter months. The valley becomes saturated with a dense fog that makes driving extremely dangerous. The chance of earthquake damage in Fresno is much lower than the California average, located as it is in the middle of the state, but it’s much higher than the national average. The Fresno County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan covers emergency procedures in case of dam failure, earthquake, flood, drought, fog, or severe storms. If you move to Fresno, become familiar with the plan so you can stay safe in the event of a natural disaster threat.

Economy & Job Market

The majority of the nation’s produce is grown in California’s Central Valley, making Fresno the number one agricultural county in the country. Agriculture is the backbone of the Fresno area, employing nearly 20 percent of the workforce and providing billions for the local economy. The metro area is surrounded by farms, groves, fields, and ranches, which produce a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, and other foodstuffs.

But Fresno isn’t just a haven for ranchers and farmers. In recent years, the Central Valley tech industry has been growing rapidly, becoming one of the largest hubs in California outside Silicon Valley. Companies like Bitwise Industries have established technology centers in downtown Fresno, revitalizing underutilized historic buildings for new software startups. Their Geekwise Academy has been leading the charge in this growth through education and business incubation. Also, with the redevelopment of Fresno’s downtown, there are myriad opportunities in the food and beverage arena. New restaurants are opening monthly, offering opportunities in food prep, service, and live entertainment.

By population, bestplaces.net reports the most popular employment sectors are:

  • Health care and social assistance 15.8%
  • Retail trade 11.8%
  • Educational services 8.7%
  • Accommodation and food services 8.4%
  • Manufacturing 7.5%
  • Public administration 6.1%
  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting 5.2%

Traffic & Transportation

Public transportation isn’t Fresno’s strong suit. The city’s Fresno Area Express (FAX) line runs more than 100 buses and offers 16 fixed-route bus lines. But, for the most part, you need a car to get around. On the plus side, traffic congestion isn’t as bad as larger places in California—the average commute time is 22 minutes.

Fresno is a bicycle-friendly community with wide streets and more lanes being added to improve bike access. According to walkscore.com, Fresno earns a 57 bike score, 46 walk score, and 32 transit score. The most walkable neighborhoods are The Cultural Arts District, Lowell, and Little Italy.

Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) offers direct flights to 13 major cities in the US and Mexico. Amtrak’s San Joaquin route connects to their major rail routes in Sacramento/Bay Area or south to Bakersfield via Amtrak bus. State Highway 99, a major north-south route through California runs right through Fresno.

What to Do

Affordable housing and a growing tech industry have triggered population growth that has prompted the development of new recreation areas, nightlife venues, and a diverse and eclectic dining scene. A fun day exploring the city might include a visit to Fresno Art Museum and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, capped by dinner and a show at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre for musical comedies, a meal, and fun drinks. While Fresno has no major league teams, the minor league baseball Fresno Grizzlies are hugely popular and play to the cheers of thousands of loyal fans at Chukchansi Park.

If you’re into the outdoors, there are parks galore throughout Fresno, including Woodward Regional Park. The San Joaquin River, which runs along the metro region’s northern boundary, is another place to enjoy the natural beauty. Just 20 miles to the north of Fresno is Millerton Lake, a popular hangout area with fishing, boating, and picnic areas.

Fresno is the gateway to California’s incredible national parks: Yosemite National Park is about 60 miles to the north, Kings Canyon National Park is 60 miles to the east, and Sequoia National Park is 75 miles to the southeast. These Sierra Nevada parks offer unparalleled camping, riding, pack trips, climbing, hiking, snow sports, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

Other fun things to do include:

Amusement Parks:

  • Island Waterpark
  • Rotary Storyland Family Amusement Park

Museums:

  • Discovery Center
  • Legion of Valor Museum
  • Meux Home Museum
  • Kearny Mansion Museum
  • Arte Americas

Landmarks:

  • St. Johns Cathedral
  • St. George Greek Orthodox Church
  • Old Fresno Water Tower
  • Fresno City Hall
  • Fresno’s “hidden gem” is the California State Historic Landmark, Forestiere Underground Gardens, built between 1906 and 1946 by a Sicilian immigrant, Baldassare Forestiere. The site incorporates an amazing underground network of rooms, tunnels, and courtyards built as a subterranean escape from the sweltering Central Valley summer heat.

Schools & Universities

Fresno has one of the most economically segregated school districts in the country with great income disparities between boundaries. That said, Fresno also has some of the best high schools in the nation, including Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship and University High School. Patiño was the first entrepreneurship-focused high school in the country, and U.S. News & World Report ranked University High fifth in California.

Fresno Pacific University and California State University at Fresno were named as two of the best schools for transfer students in the country. Money Magazine reviewed transfer students’ enrollment and graduation rates to rate these two institutions of higher learning as two of the best.

Crime

Bestplaces.net rates Fresno’s violent crime at 23.4, while the US average is 22.7. Realestate.usnews.com gives Fresno a crime index score of 5.6 of 10, a slightly higher crime rate than similarly sized metro areas. Neighborhoodscout.com, however, reports that Fresno has one of the highest crime rates in America, with a crime rate of 45 per one thousand residents. Crime levels seem to vary considerably between neighborhoods, and just as there are some dangerous areas of the city, there are also some very safe areas.

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Best Neighborhoods in Fresno, CA

The city of Fresno, CA, has a total of 12 neighborhoods to choose from. Each offers something for everyone, whether it’s the urban environment of Downtown, the fun college town vibe of the Tower District, or the more suburban appeal of McLane. According to AreaVibes.com, the neighborhood with the highest Livability Score is Woodward Park with tons of green space and walkable attractions. You’ll notice that the schools listed for each neighborhood specify their greatschools.org ratings.

Central/Downtown

Central Fresno is a triangular shaped area, bordered by Hwy 180 at the north, Hwy 40 on the east, and Hwy 99 on the west. You’ll find high-rises and city living at a pretty low rate — apartments go for around $1,017 per month, compared to the average Fresno rent price of $1,450. Downtown house values are fairly low as well. With a median home value of $127,400, home prices rose 22.7% in 2018, and Zillow expects they’ll rise 9.5% in the coming year.

Downtown has easy access to amenities like grocery stores and entertainment. You can walk just about everywhere, or use ride shares and public transportation to get to places like the newly revitalized Fulton Mall, the Fresno Convention, and Entertainment Center, and several sports venues. On the downside, schools in Central Fresno rank lower overall, and the crime rate is 60% higher than in the rest of the city. The population of this neighborhood is primarily young adults rather than families, so if you want to be right in the middle of the action, Central might be a great place to live.

  • Population: 14,052
  • Median home value: $127,400
  • Median rent price: $1,017
  • Median household income: $51,900
  • Schools: Lowell Elementary 6/10; Tehipite Middle School 2/10; Roosevelt High School 2/10

Figarden/Bullard

Figarden, formerly known as Bullard, is an unincorporated community in Fresno. It’s 6 miles northwest of Downtown, bound by the San Joaquin River at the north, Hwy 99 at its western side, W Shields Ave on the south, and Hwy 41 on the east. Figarden/Bullard is ranked the “1st best neighborhood” in Fresno by StreetAdvisor.com. This charming neighborhood features some of the oldest homes in the city, with a median home value of $290,700, and median rent price of $1,512.

The vintage houses, some dating back to the early 1900s, are surrounded by mature cedar trees and plenty of greenery. Residents enjoy the outdoors, biking, or going for walks. Every year, the Fig Garden Homeowners Association sponsors “Christmas Tree Lane,” one of the longest-running holiday events of its kind in the country.

  • Population: 100,730
  • Median home value: $290,700
  • Median rent price: $1,512
  • Median household income: $63,516
  • Schools: Figarden Elementary School 5/10

Hoover

Hoover is a popular suburban neighborhood, about 15 minutes northeast of Downtown. Its northern boundary is E Bullard Ave, Blackstone Ave on the west, Ashlan Ave on the south, and Willow Ave on the east. It’s an established, family-oriented area with a reasonable cost of living. Hoover is safer than 60 percent of the neighborhoods in the city. Walk Score rates Hoover the second most walkable neighborhood in Fresno with a Walk Score of 60.

The housing market is very competitive with a median home price at $240,000, a 5.9% rise over the past year. Homes get multiple offers and sell quickly. Hoover rents are around $1,277. Most of the neighborhood’s shops and services sit on E Shaw Avenue, and Fashion Fair Mall is nearby. Fresno State is centered in the neighborhood, providing lots of sports games to attend at their stadium, as is the Save Mart Center where residents can enjoy a variety of first-rate concerts.

  • Population: 55,566
  • Median Home Price: $240,000
  • Median Rent Price: $1,277
  • Median household income: $45,225
  • Schools: Wolters Elementary School 4/10; Herbert Hoover High School 3/10

McLane

McLane is an up and coming commuter neighborhood. Ashlan Ave creates the northern boundary, N Blackstone on the west, Hwy 168 on the south, Hwy 180 on the southeast end, and N Clovis Ave on the east. It encompasses the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, making travel extremely convenient. The airport takes up a large portion of the community and offers civil-military, cargo, and public air travel for the greater San Joaquin Valley area. Fresno Airways Golf Course, an 18 hole public course, is adjacent to the airport.

McLane is only a brief drive east from downtown and the Tower District, so commuters appreciate quick access to all things work-related. McLane rent index is $1,289, compared to the Fresno index of $1,378. The home value index of $205,000 puts home prices slightly lower than the rest of the city. The median home value rose 10.9% between 2018 and 2019 and is expected to rise by 6.3% in the coming year. The crime rate, however, is slightly higher than the city average,

  • Population: 56,716
  • Median home value: $205,000
  • Median rent price: $1,289
  • Median household income: $37,406
  • Schools: Norseman Elementary School 3/10; Scandinavian Middle School 2/10; McLane High School 2/10

North Growth Area

Despite its unimaginative name, the North Growth Area was rated the top neighborhood to live in Fresno for the second year in a row by homesnacks.net. The median home price is $392,800, well above the average for the rest of the city. The triangle-shaped district borders the San Joaquin River on the north, E. Copper Ave on the south, and N. Willow Rd on the east. Much of the western border abuts the top-notch Dragonfly Golf Course, and the more southerly quadrant incorporates the Copper River Country Club and Tennis Centre. Farms, ranches, and stables also dot the surrounding landscape. The North Growth Area, where 91% of residents own their homes, is a pleasant, green place to live featuring highly rated schools and beautiful parks and lakes.

  • Population: 11,693
  • Median Home Price: $392,800
  • Median Rent Price: $1,566
  • Median Household Income: $89,000
  • Schools: Valley Oak Elementary School 10/10; Clovis West High School 9/10

South Growth Area

The South Growth Area is rapidly rising on the Fresno desirability scale, traveling up from eight to rank “Fourth Best Neighborhood” on homesnacks.net’s Top 10 ranking. The area is a small rectangular neighborhood east of Downtown, intersected by Hwy 180 and De Wolf Ave. The area features the wildly popular Fresno County Blossom Trail, a scenic drive known for its beautiful displays of blooming fruit trees & wildflowers in February and March.

The median home value in the South Growth Area is $201,550. Homesnacks gives it a 10/10 safety rating. If you’re looking for a safe, up-and-coming area with affordable home prices, the South Growth Area is for you.

  • Population: 3,848
  • Median Home Value: $201,550
  • Median Rent Price: $1,245
  • Median Household Income: $66,411
  • Schools: Temperance-Kitner Elementary School 6/10; Reyburn Intermediate School 7/10; Clovis East High School 7/10

Tower District, population 22,761

Bordered by W Shield Ave at the north, N Golden State Blvd on the west, and Hwy 41 on the east, the Tower District forms a triangular neighborhood where most Fresno residents go for a night on the town. And it’s easy to see why. The beautiful Tower Theater for the Performing Arts is a historic Streamline Moderne mixed-use theater that hosts a variety of shows, ranging from country artists to comedy shows. Once you park your car, you can easily walk to the bars, restaurants, shops, record stores, and cafes that make this district all the more desirable.

Most businesses are locally owned, giving the Tower District a unique and distinct vibe. Fresno City College students like to hang out here. But, best of all, it’s just two miles north of Downtown, so you have access to all the amenities you need within a 10-minute drive.

  • Population: 22,761
  • Median Home Price: $225,000
  • Median Rent Price: $1,352
  • Median Household Income: $49,217
  • Schools: Morris E. Dailey Charter Elementary School 10/10; Hamilton Elementary School 3/10; Fresno High School 4/10

Woodward Park

Woodward Park, situated on the northern outskirts of the city, is bordered by N Friant Rd on the north, Hwy 41 on the west, Hwy 47 on the south, and N Willow Ave on the east. You’ll find plenty of open space, access to parks, a much lower population density, and quiet, tree-lined streets. Woodward Park offers a more rural feel than the rest of the city; the schools rank as some of the best in Fresno with the highest graduation rates, and property values are significantly higher, with a median home value of $360,400. Rent in Woodward Park is significantly higher than average at around $1,800 per month.

Crime rates are the lowest in the city, making it an eminently walkable part of Fresno, although you’ll probably want to have a car due to its more remote location. Woodward Park offers 300 acres of green space, including ponds, picnic areas, and more than five miles of trails. Also, the park boasts an amphitheater that seats up to 2,500 people, a golf course, dog park, mountain bike course, and the beautiful Shinzen Japanese Gardens.

  • Population: 58,752
  • Median Home Value: $360,400
  • Median Rent Price: $1,800
  • Median Household Income: $78,412
  • Schools: Valley Oak Elementary School 10/10; Clovis West High School 9/10

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