When Brian and Camela Oyler moved to southeastern Indiana in 1994, they chose the area for its rural charm and reasonable prices as well as its proximity to the big city.

"A lot of people think it's so far removed from Cincinnati, but it's not," says Brian of the couple's choice.

Area Realtors tend to agree with the Oylers: The area provides accessibility to Cincinnati and low housing costs as well as peaceful settings. It also has room to grow, and leaders expect a population boom to continue as more homebuyers discover its assets.
"Typically you get a lot more house for your money in Indiana," says Ashley Howe, associate broker and partner with Star One Indiana Realtors. She notes land costs are cheaper than in other Cincinnati suburbs, allowing for more investment in homes. A $300,000 to $500,000 property will be really nice, she notes, adding that much of the new construction stays close to the $300,000 mark. She compares costs with Hyde Park and other suburbs, saying, "Our high end is not their high end."

But it's more than just good value that is drawing a crowd. "We have a combination of things," observes Howe. Hills, trees, creeks and small lakes enhance the environment she describes as quiet and peaceful. The pace is slower in the rural setting. Howe says some residents ended up in Dearborn County, which borders Ohio and the Ohio River, because they visited friends or family there and fell in love with the area. There's no abundance of convenience stores or malls"”yet"”so it might require lifestyle adjustments. Some areas are developing, however, as movie theaters and restaurants arrive.

Brian Oyler first noticed the area while traveling from Indianapolis, where he grew up, to Cincinnati, where he attended to Xavier University. He saw the hilly, wooded terrain that was different from Indianapolis and thought it pretty. After finishing dental school he joined a practice in Lawrenceburg. Camela, a teacher from St. Louis, loves the small-town feel of the area. She says people look out for each other there. They couple and their two children still have access to big-city attractions in Cincinnati. Brian notes they are season ticket-holders for Xavier basketball.

The Oylers built the house featured here in 2000, in Valley Woods near Hidden Valley Lake. They love the neighborhood, but recently decided to sell that home in favor of a 76-year-old house they've been remodeling. What attracted them to the new house was location and the number of choices available, from selecting a builder to finishing their custom house exactly the way they wanted. It wasn't a cookie-cutter setting that restricted their options. Camela notesd they were not limited to just two or three builders, as in some developments. They have a large lot where deer and turkey roam, but they also have neighbors nearby.

Their future home, on which they've worked on for about a year, is in nearby Greendale. "We're just drawn to older homes," Camela explains. "We get to be the caretaker of this home." (The house had stayed in the same family since it was first built.) Brian says property values in the area have appreciated, but he notes it's much more affordable than many other Tristate areas. Camela says Lawrenceburg has done a good job of managing growth. So, although they might move from house to house, they plan to stay in the area indefinitely.

Living in some areas of Southeast Indiana might mean a little longer trip to a supermarket, but "it's so accessible to Cincinnati," Howe says, noting the drive to the city is about a half hour, and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is 20 minutes away for most residents.

Affordable taxes and top-notch school districts also draw and keep families, Howe says. The schools are smaller than those in Cincinnati, but people are pleased with them, she adds.

VACATION HOMES

Cold, hard research led David Hammond Sr. to Indiana. He was looking for a vacation haven for his family when he found the Hidden Valley Lake community outside Greendale. Vice president of Inland Marine Service in Hebron, he says after maintaining a vacation home in Florida, he thought, "There's got to be something closer." Now he has a vacation home sitting 20 minutes from his primary residence in Florence. "At first our kids rolled their eyes," he chuckles, but then they decided it was smart to have such an accessible retreat. Hammond says not everyone in his family could make it to Florida regularly. The Hidden Valley location makes it easier for them to get together. Now they go "whenever we can get away." The proximity not only reduces travel time but cuts down on costs of getting there. The new 4,000-square-foot house replaces their Florida vacation home.

Hammond says he and his wife were trying to get value in buying a home, and they could get a lot for their money in Southeast Indiana. Although he says every day confirms the purchase was a good decision, he notes, "When I sell it, I intend to make money on it."
Other attractions were obvious to the family. "The topography is beautiful," he says. "It's a spectacular lake." The setting allows for swimming, water skiing, boating, fishing and trail walking. The residents are friendly too, he adds.

The property owners association is well-run, Hammond says. He researched that too, having had a bad experience earlier with the management of his Florida condominium. Association dues are one-third of what he paid at another property, and he says Hidden Valley has more services. "We have so many amenities."

PILOTS LIKE IT
Like Hammond, those moving in often are from the Cincinnati region, and even more frequently they're from the west side of the city. Sometimes newcomers will move within Dearborn County after they arrive, but they usually stay somewhere in the county, Howe says.
People connected to the airport industry commonly settle there. Pilots have bought higher-end homes and often live farther out than the typical 20-minute airport distance because they work multiple days at a time and don't face a daily commute, Howe says. But the national airline slump has hurt locally, too, slowing the influx of airline employees.

Growth of the Indiana casino business has brought other workers to the area, and that industry also has made regional residents realize that Indiana is not so far away, Howe points out. She believes that once people get past the state line obstacle, which has been a deal-breaker for some, they see the advantages. "It's just a wonderful option for people, but I don't think they think of it right away because it's a different state."

Dearborn County's Argosy Casino, Perfect North Slopes and Lawrenceburg Speedway, along with marinas and golf courses, are providing job growth. Arts, entertainment and recreation employed 1.5 percent of the county's workers in 1990; that number grew to 18.2 percent by the end of 2003, according to a study by the University of Cincinnati.

DIVERSE HOUSING

The area doesn't have many uniform residential developments, says Howe. "The housing is a little more diverse." It's more rural than cookie-cutter, and Hidden Valley Lake is one example of diversity, with its 1,700 homes ranging in price from $100,000 to $1 million.
It's a community that's changing, however. Howe has lived there for 20 years and has watched it evolve from a retirement or weekend-getaway focus to a place for families with school-age children. Smaller homes are getting major renovations, she says. The county's largest upscale community is becoming more upscale, but it's still known for its diversity.

"Hidden Valley does have a variety of homes, and that's what makes it unique," says Mark Rosenberger, who serves on the board of directors of the Dearborn County Home Builders Association. The community also is known for its growth. "It is definitely a booming area," Howe adds. The U.S. Census Bureau says that the county's population has increased from 38,835 in 1990 to an estimated 49,082 in 2005"”a 26 percent jump.

Kathy Patterson, co-owner and associate broker at Premier Properties Real Estate, says that in addition to the new homes being built, older homes are getting major renovations to bring them up to the luxury level. Besides the work being done by buyers like the Oylers who take on a project because of a love of an older style of home, others are putting additions on homes to make them fit better with their surroundings.

When the Hidden Valley community was established in the early 1970s, buyers chose the lakefront lots first. Those prime lots now have the oldest homes. Architectural requirements were not very stringent back then, since people didn't know if it would be a year-round community or one for second homes, Patterson says. So today, "the house may not merit the lot it's on." It's not unusual for buyers to get a smaller, older home and gut it or double its size.

One couple bought a lakefront home in Hidden Valley for $275,000 in 1999. Patterson says they did a lot of work on it, including doubling its size, and sold it for $900,000 in 2005. They then built on another lakefront lot.

In addition to the remodeling work that owners are doing, the properties are appreciating, especially on the lakefront, which is now 99 percent built up, Patterson says.

Some high-end buyers don't end up in towns or neighborhoods, but they find a home in the country with some acreage, Patterson observes. Those sites are scattered all over Dearborn County.

Patterson expects opportunities for luxury living to multiply, especially as the area becomes better known. Another upscale development is planned just north of Lawrenceburg"”it will feature some homes that have a view of Perfect North ski slopes. She also anticipates more in the way of luxury condominiums, drawing more of that market from nearby Ohio or Kentucky developments. She says there are some attempts under way to develop some now.

Rosenberger notes that about 260 new single-family homes have arrived each year for the past five years in Dearborn County. An office manager and land surveyor for engineering firm Bayer Becker in Lawrenceburg, he says that although the area is growing, growth is slower than in other Cincinnati suburbs. "There's great opportunity here"¦It's the last frontier around Cincinnati," he explains.

Jim West, president of the Dearborn County Economic Initiative, says people like the area for other reasons, too, such as easy access Interstates 275 and 74. There are also the school systems he calls "excellent," including three public districts.

The opportunity to escape unwanted hustle, congestion and other characteristics are additional factors to consider about living in the country. "They see a little quieter lifestyle in Dearborn County," West says, yet still have most amenities.

Despite local job growth, more than half of the workforce leaves the county for employment. "It is a commuter's community," West explains. The coming Honda plant in Greensburg, located in Decatur County, is bringing workers who want to be close to Cincinnati but also near their jobs. Work has started on the Honda site where the plant is slated to open in 2008; about 2,000 workers are expected to be employed there.

Residents can find rural or developed areas to suit their preferences, West says, adding that builders are looking more at mixtures of housing options rather than just single-family homes on large lots, which dominated the scene in the past. Condos and patio homes"”options for baby boomers"”are multiplying. He also believes more luxury homes will be built. "It's a coming trend."

A Dearborn County luxury neighborhood, in addition to Hidden Valley, is Valley Woods in Greendale, which has condominiums and single-family brick homes. Sugar Ridge, in the Lawrenceburg-Greendale area, also has both condominiums and single-family homes, with costs ranging from $250,000 to $450,000. The unincorporated area called Bright also is experiencing growth. Howe says she'll drive through and "one day there will be a new street and a new development." One such project is Park Place, where new homes range from $200,000 to $350,000.

Besides development in Dearborn County, luxury home options are growing in adjacent Ripley and Franklin counties. Batesville is a town of 6,000 that is in both Ripley and Franklin counties, and has a school district that is highly rated by the state, says Bob Koester, managing broker-owner of Tudor Square Realty in Batesville. Lake of the Woods is a subdivision on the Ripley County side of town. With 60 houses already built, additional lots are still available, and single-family home prices range from $250,000 to $1 million. The wooded neighborhood has winding streets and a small lake.

Hillindale is another Batesville subdivision with a broad range of home prices ($200,000 to $1 million), with condominiums offered at lower costs. The 150-home development is built around a reservoir. On the Franklin County side of town is Farmington Estates, which has single-family homes ranging from $200,000 to $375,000.

Koester says the Batesville area also is starting to see the arrival of Honda workers, and Howe says it will be interesting to see their impact locally.

She comments that she and her husband have lived all over the United States, but "when we got to Indiana, we loved it." They appreciate that they can have both city and country advantages, which is what southeastern Indiana is all about.