- Krikor Jansezian, 50, moved to Billings, Montana, in March after 43 years living in California.
- The hospital COO moved his family to its new $719,000 home after only having seen it on FaceTime.
- Jansezian said he has got his "quality of life back" in the more affordable and friendly city.
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Krikor Jansezian had wanted to leave Claremont for a while.
But it was the chaos of the pandemic that finally pushed the 50-year-old hospital executive to make the 1,200-mile move to Billings, Montana, with his family, in search of a quieter, more affordable life.
"I wanted to stay healthy and get healthier, especially in light of the pandemic," Jansezian told Insider. "And that comes in the form of less stress in your outside-of-work environment."
After 43 years in California, Jansezian said bought his $719,000 four-bedroom new-build house after only a FaceTime tour with the realtor as there were so few homes on the market.
"The first time I walked through the house was in March, and I was already in escrow," Jansezian said. "And it didn't matter, because it was a beautiful home."
"For $719,000 in California, you can maybe get a one-bedroom condo," he added.
Jansezian said that he and his wife had "zero" connection to the 109,000-person city before they moved, but were attracted to its slower pace of life, cheaper cost of living, and close proximity to areas of natural beauty, including Yellowstone National Park.
"I don't know if I can get this in California," he said.
As the pandemic pushed millions of Americans into remote work and caused some to reevaluate their lives, many moved from large, coastal cities to cheaper, less densely populated areas, such as in Texas and Florida.
In July, Billings topped The Wall Street Journal's Emerging Housing Markets Index, a rank of the areas where homebuyers can expect both a strong return on their investment, and a high quality of life.
Billings placed first thanks to its hot housing market, affordable properties, and relatively low unemployment rate, The Journal said. Deb Parker, owner of Parker & Co. Real Estate Services, told The Journal that many buyers were coming from out of state.
Jansezian said he already knew of one couple who had moved from Los Angeles to Billings this year to work in his hospital.
"For someone moving from an expensive market, the offerings here are incredibly attractive," he said.
Jansezian has three children, two of whom are in college, and one a high school freshman. In Montana, he estimates that his utility bills and car insurance cost about half of what he paid back in Claremont.
"Stretch that out over 12 months and you just paid for significant schooling, college-aged kids, private school, fun, entertainment, travel," he said. "You're getting some money back, and you're getting your quality of life back."
For Jansezian, Montana's largest city offered the bustle of a "big vibrant town," as well as ski resorts, hiking trails, rivers, and lakes - and an end to his grinding two-hour round commute.
"You reflect on your ageing body, 50 years old and two hours sitting in the car. And you pull into your driveway and you just feel depleted, no energy," he said.
Now, Jansezian travels less than 15 minutes each way to get to work.
However, there are some aspects of Californian life that Jansezian misses: There are fewer restaurant options and his family has to shop more online, he said. Wine, too, is more limited.
"Some of the wine clubs from California don't ship to Montana. That's a big bummer when you need your wine," he said. "So you have to go and adapt and get the wines that come here."
But the Billings hospitality? That's readily available.
"You can be at a restaurant, and people strike up conversation," Jansezian said. "Just casual and comfortable, warm, inviting."
"It's the kindest community I've ever been in," he added.
Still, moving to Billings has required some adjustments.
"I told my wife, don't honk the horn'. Nobody honks. Even if you miss the red light and it turns green and you're sitting there for another five seconds," Jansezian said. "It's very strange."