And I'm Even Too Old For A Quarterlife Crisis

Something is happening to me. Correction: something has happened to me. Two years ago, I distinctly remember feeling utter revulsion at the thought of owning a house. I believe I may have recoiled at the mere mention of ever having a mortgage. If you owned a house, I thought, you couldn't do anything: all your money went to roof repairs and broken plumbing and god forbid you ever wanted to just pick up and go traveling for six months and start all over again somewhere else when you were done. You couldn't. You'd have a house. You'd be tied down. My god, the commitment.

I think you can guess where this is going. I am currently absolutely obsessed with owning a house. Or hey, owning anything: a shoebox apartment would be just fine as long as it was my name on the deed. Well, my name and Sean's name, of course; I'm not trying to get away from him or anything. Let's not make that many life changes at once.

The trouble with buying a house in San Francisco is that even a shoebox apartment will run you more than half a million dollars, and I'm really not just saying that: it's true, and you should check Craigslist right this very second to confirm it---well, as long as you don't mind the person in the cubicle next to you popping their head over the wall and saying "goodness, are you alright? You keep gasping!"

San Francisco property is beyond expensive. And as for what you get for your money? Well, the privilege of living in the city, I guess; it's certainly nothing to do with floor space or curb appeal. Nothing---and I mean this: nothing---would change the quality of my life right now as much as having a second bedroom. People could come and stay without being subjected to the couch! Arguments could be resolved by one party retiring to his Man Room to watch the baseball as loudly as he wants! There probably isn't anything on earth that raises my blood pressure higher than watching smug newlywed couples on House Hunters---aged twelve, all of them---strolling around four-bedroom properties costing the equivalent of a down payment on a San Francisco studio and sighing "oh, but it's so small." Lady, I live in seven hundred square feet with one man and two enormous cats; you don't know small until you've squeezed eight people into your living room for a dinner party and told them not to breathe in case they crush each other.

Here's a confession: Sean and I have started going to open houses on the weekends. It's rather fun, actually: sort of a new hobby we do as a couple, like ballroom dancing or kayaking. Other people go hiking in Tahoe; we stroll our neighborhood like sniffer dogs, casing the joint for those telltale white realtor signs outside open-doored apartment buildings. In the evenings, I scan the listings for Oakland and Alameda and Berkeley, clogging Sean's inbox with sweet two-bed/one-bath Craftsman bungalows boasting sun porches and herb gardens.

But I don't know what I want. That's the thing. If we saved and saved and saved, we might be able to come up with the down payment for something very modest in a year or so: perhaps a small one-bedroom apartment in a uh, up-and-coming area of the city, or maybe even a little house across the bridge in the East Bay. But either way we're sacrificing something: a yard and a second bedroom if we stay in the city, the experience of living in the city if we move away from it for the extra space.

And there's this, too: mistaking me for a fratboy dragging his feet on letting his girlfriend keep her toothbrush at his place, my commitmentphobia occasionally comes back to rear its ugly head. A house? it mocks. You? But you don't settle down! You keep moving, leaving, it's what you do. You want to be in California forever? You sure? A 30-year mortgage is quite the albatross, you know.

When I was sixteen or seventeen, I couldn't figure out who I wanted to be: part of me wore baggy pants and fell for the naughty skater boys and even, at one point, entertained the idea of wearing my wallet on a chain. The other part bought powder-blue turtlenecks at the Gap and always got my homework in on time. The two parts of me battled over this until one day, around twenty-one or twenty-two, I guess, they came to an impasse. I figured out who I was going to be.

But now I find myself slipping again, the edges of who I thought I was smudging and smearing, my confidence in myself faltering as I catch myself thinking Tomato plants? Did I just think I'd like to start a little garden and plant tomato plants? Me? For real? Half of me sees myself as a brave conquistador, packing up a few years from now, light and unencumbered, to see a little more of the world: no mortgage, no commitments, no regrets. The other half is sitting somewhere on a back porch a few miles from here, a pie in the oven, a paperback on the table, and (gasp!) maybe even a little person wandering around, blond and be-diapered, in the back yard.

How do you choose between these things? Do you choose? How do you have both? How do you know?

Camels & Chocolate
Jul 08, 2008

We have tomato plants! And a lemon tree! And still not too many commitments, other than a big-boned cat.

But I feel ya, honey. Scott wants to buy in a year or so, and I'm like WITH WHAT MONEY??? Even in South City where we live, prices start at nearly a million for a fixer upper. And I want a house house, not a measly apartment (side note: 700 square feet so isn't SMALL. Trying living in 500 square feet with two roommates and bookcases for walls in Manhattan. Now that's SMALL.). Every time I come in the office room, I find Scott perusing Craigslist. And I'm like you, after moving 14 times in 7 years, permanence freaks me the eff out. But I've come to terms with the fact that this is where I want to be. (I think.)

Jul 09, 2008

I know exactly what you mean because I've avoided any kind of home purchase based not only on scraping together a down payment but also knowing that if I give up renting, I will also be giving up an entire maintenance staff that takes care of my every whim and I never have to do yard work. Open houses ARE really fun to go to, though...
House of Jules

Jul 09, 2008

Dude, if you can finance it, SO do it. Because values and therefore sale prices are down right now and your equity if you wait it out will go through the roof. All the financial analyists say wait it out and your value will skyrocket. We know, because we have been watching the OC market bulge and tank for at least two years.

Buy when values are down; sell later when values go back up. You can't lose. We've been Cali homeowners for going on 9 years now in an area about as desirable as yours.

Also, can you afford Marin? 'Cause our friends up there are just rolling in equity.

Jul 09, 2008

You choose knowing that you must learn to be the sort of person who can be happy where you are, doing whatever you're doing, either way.

You already seem like that person to me, actually, so I think you will be a-okay no matter what.

Me, I've started thinking about moving out of the city, not that I actually will. But the fact that the thought even crossed my mind is amazing. Just when you think you know yourself, eh?

Jul 09, 2008

God, I KNOW. I want a big kitchen and a yard with a hammock and tomato plants, and a white, airy bedroom for guests to sleep in (with the good sheets). Instead, I have this brown monstrosity (can something be a monstrosity when it is 2x2-sq ft?) and moldy bathroom and landlords who don't care if we are eaten by rats in our sleep. If we want to have children, where in the heck would we even put them around here? Do we sell our home in charleston, so we can buy a cardboard box under the freeway in SF? And if we do, does that mean we can never leave?

Jul 09, 2008

Jemima: Children= necessary fenced grassy yard, which do we not have despite having three young ones who despite go mental in our house and postage-stamp paved backyard. And are we suffering, plenty, and I expect so are they. We bought while childless, (shit without even married) and now rue the choice of square house footage over 1/4 acre of land.

sanguine spice
Jul 09, 2008

I'm living proof that you can own a home and still skip town. (You just rent it out!) That doesn't mean though that home ownership doesn't still scare the bejesus outta me sometimes. Like any major decision, I think it both eases and doubles the load. The question is really how much you want it. How will you know? Same way you know about all good slow down, check your gut, and go with the thing that puts a smile in your heart and on your face -- even if it scares the crap outta you. You can have the pie in the oven and the toddler on your hip and the train tickets on the counter if that's what you want. The big challenge is in continuing to choose your choices every day after that.

Jul 09, 2008

Buying a house, getting married, and having a kid are all Big Life Decisions, it's true. But the only one that's irreversible is the kid. Sometimes I look around and am surprised by all the grown-up things in my life- mortgage, husband, toddler- and I'm "only" 26. I have fewer options in life than you do, but I look at what I do have rather than what I can't do (delicious baby belly to kiss vs. hang out with friends all night, say).

Partly these things choose you, and partly you choose them- we were looking casually at houses, and stumbled onto a ridiculous bargain in the perfect location. If we hadn't? We would have rented. I married my husband when I was 23- if I hadn't met him? I would have kept enjoying the freedom of singlehood and casual dating. Sometimes these decisions seem like massive forks in the road, with those tire spikes that make it impossible to back up without all kinds of damage. But while the decision is sometimes scary, the result almost never is. And you can always rent the house if you want to go off on part 2 of the Grand Tour.

stepping over the junk
Jul 09, 2008

there ARE alternatives. Buy. You decide to move or travel, you rent it out or sell it. What fun. I love owning my own home. It's my fourth home I've owned (as I have moved around, bought and sold over the last 15 years) ENJOY the process!

Jul 09, 2008

Eh. I don't know if I'll ever buy again, and I don't mean to be morbid here, I just got stuck in a crappy housing market with a house that I rented out, but cannot sell. The day that house sells will be the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.

Because while it's true, you can rent your property, it is not necessarily true that you can rent it at a price that covers all your expenses, and that can be a little bit of a pain in the ass.

That being said, I sort of have both now. I have a house with a big yard in the country(ish) and a husband and am trying for that little blond be-diapered person, and I rent it.

Because of jobs, we're on the mobile side of things -- we're not sure where we'll go next -- so we're not buying anything anytime soon. The next time I buy, it will be somewhere that I want to live for a very, very long time. I'm not sold that it's worth it otherwise.

Jul 09, 2008

I understand your pain and I'm a realtor for a LIVING! I do encourage people to own not just because it is my job, but because also what stepping over said, "You can always rent or sell it..." Just because it is a 30 year mortgage doesn't mean you will be living there for 30 years. Look at your parents and how often they have moved! They are wonderful examples! I say this because my parents have bought 12 homes and no they aren't in the military.

On the other side of that I rent... I uhh don't admit that to my clients. It's not because I don't want to own because I do, I really do! (I too look at houses for me all the time.) But at the same time I love to travel and I don't know if I will be living in the same city two years from now. My situation is different because I don't have a set salary and am based on commission only, which at times is WONDERFUL but at times is not so great. I'm also single so if I buy a house I will be managing my money a lot differently and probably eliminating my yearly international trips and taking them every other year which I don't know if I want to do that just yet.

Which by the way I'm planning a trip to Honk Kong from Dec 28-Jan 10. I think you have been there any tips?

Oh my goodness I have written a novel in this comment.

Jul 09, 2008

It's all about the trade. You give some stuff up, but you'll get something in return as well.

Before I was married I lived in a chic Sex and the City type bachelorette pad in the trendiest area of town (where I could walk to restaurants! And shops! And my yoga studio!). It was fabulous.

Then I got married and I moved to a house that's 35 miles from town next to a pasture with 3 brown cows and one black one. I have a hammock and a second bathroom. It's nice.

But I don't walk to brunch on Sundays any more, I don't go to yoga and "going to town" is something I actually say with derision. It's just so far away.

What surprised me is that I really like it out here. A lot. I thought I was giving up so much, but I didn't know that I'd like it so much better out away from people. In the next few years we're planning to move even further away from the city.

Everyone else is right - nothing's irreversible. Plus, you might just like it even better. I suppose that just like traveling to a new place, you'll never know if it's for you until you give it a try.

Jul 09, 2008

I lived in a lease house for 9 years. When I told people that, they looked at me like I had two heads. Apparently "throwing your money away" is a BAD IDEA; but it suited me just fine. I was a single parent and didn't want the headache of trying to buy a house on my own. I didn't know if I was going to have to move for work or whatnot and didn't want then have to turn around and go through the headache of selling a house too.

When I remarried, my husband insisted on buying a house so I insisted on NOT GIVING UP MY ABILITY TO TRAVEL. We bought a smaller house than what we were approved for and he put a savings plan into place so that we travel at the very least once a year. It quells my fear of being "stuck", knowing that I have some place new to visit.

I have the garden and plants to tend, which is something that I never did in my lease house, so there is a sense of permanence here that I never indulged there; you can find balance and feed both sides, you just have to figure out what will make them satiated.

Jul 09, 2008

(Note: this is the first time in years I comment on someone's post and I got it all deleted by firefox. Twice. A sign?? I will persist).

This is one of those really old fashioned comments (as in 6 years ago old-fashioned, when blogging was still sort of new), when I say: 'this is the first time I've read your blog and I love it!' or something more or less lame - but true - of the sort, instead of writing something funny/quirky/witty in reply to what you wrote as most people now do. But I'm a brave girl and will dare to be old-fashioned. And lame. *laughs*

I've only started reading blogs again a couple of days ago, but the point is that I did, actually, just want to say thank you. Your way with words is incredible. After a very difficult day, you had me (for the first time in a while, I might add) in fits of laughter. And it felt SOOOOOOOOOOOO good.


Jul 09, 2008

I am with Jonniker on this one. I own a house now, thinking that I would just sell it in this booming Hilton Head market once it was time for us to go. Well, it has been time for too long now, and we are somewhat stuck in a place that doesn't work for us.

On the other hand, the best thing about living here is our sanctuary - our home.

I would be super hesitant to buy in SF. While it is probably my favorite U.S. city, I have always thought that if we live there (and my other half has already lived there in his life) we would rent. And maybe buy land in Oregon to slowly build the dream house. Just think, you could "summer" in Oregon. (or your place of choice)

SF is SO expensive to buy, it just seems that renting is the way to go. And to commute into the city for work every day...biggest. mistake. ever. Your quality of life will be greatly compromised, IMHO.

I don't mean to sound like a downer...I also believe that you can make happen whatever you desire in your life, so anything can work if you want it to.

All that said, unless I found a money tree, I would rent in SF and look to own a home elsewhere.

Good luck, and enjoy the process!

Operation Pink Herring
Jul 09, 2008

I totally understand your dilemma. My boyfriend and I bought our house four years ago, against everyone's advice (What if you break up? What if you want to move out of Baltimore? How will you afford it?) (Answers: we'll sell it; we'll sell it; it was rough at first but doable) and it was one of the smartest things we've ever done. But I still felt like throwing up the entire week after we signed the papers and secretly hoped the deal would fall through so I could say that I tried, but the whole thing didn't work out, guess we'll keep renting with our asshole landlord.

Jul 09, 2008

I own a house in a place where housing is so cheap that it made no sense for us NOT to buy, yet still, I'm not sure I would advocate it, particularly when you'd have to give up so much to do so. I was also obsessed with looking at houses and had such a fun time going to open houses with my husband that we didn't really think about what home ownership would mean. If I'm honest with myself, I don't think the reality has lived up to the fantasy, and I'm pretty sure the next place we move (fingers crossed we sell this place), we won't be buying.

Jul 09, 2008

Oh, Holly. I hear you loud and clear. Sometimes I feel that you and I (and many others, I'm sure) could be part of the sisterhood of the traveling commitmentphobes. I see friends in Egypt and elsewhere buying homes and talking mortgages and I wonder WHAT? WHY? HOW? But then sometimes I think, it would be nice to at least have a place to store all my crap for a year or two whenever I decide to go gallivanting. And a place to come back to when I'm done. And in the middle there, I could be making some sort of supplementary income by renting it out.

That's the only way I can look at it to make sense of the thought of settling down and being more or less tied to one place after years of picking up and moving every couple of years.

Good luck with this though and, if nothing else, getting to snoop inside other people's houses is always fun!

She Likes Purple
Jul 09, 2008

I think I just said this the other day, but I agree with Jonna again. We rent a pretty nice-sized house (although we live in Texas and although you can find those---nice-sized and reasonably priced homes---the flip side is that you LIVE IN TEXAS) but we have the freedom to do what we want when the lease is up. It helps us reconcile the traveler with the settler (and I've got both myself).

Jul 09, 2008

I am just as ambivalent as you are about buying. I don't know where I want to be or what I will be doing in 2 years, let alone 10 (other than with the wonderful man that I married). Living in NYC is wonderful, but, with the prices of apartments, what we can afford now might not be what we want to live in 5 years down the road. And we're not sure about be-diapered ones, but fitting a wee one and his/her accoutrements in a smallish appartment seems like a marital disaster waiting to happen.

And hello? where is my real estate bubble? Can we get some price reductions here in NYC pretty please?

Jul 09, 2008

I love my one-third-of-a-million wee 500 sq.ft condo outside of DC, but it does tie me down, at least mentally. I'm also 27, desperately crave a spare bedroom (for guests and an office and bookshelves) and a proper place for a kitchen table.

If I could do it all over again, I would wait a few more years until I had a bigger down payment (thus resulting in a smaller mortgage payment each month) and a higher income (thus being able to afford a two-bedroom-condo mortgage).

Lastly: I moved to a super cute burb of DC (kind of Hoboken- or Brooklyn-esque), and I love it. Life is more convenient (I can park my car! Near my door!) but I still can walk to places, have a few drinks, and not have to drive home.

Jul 09, 2008

We didn't have a choice, we had to take the plunge and cross our fingers. Having a mortgage does change things, but I am surprised at how relatively little has changed - we still go out, we still go on vacation, I don't have to go to work naked (neither does J). What hasn't changed one bit is wanting what you haven't got. Despite our apartment and my love for it, I can't help but dream about having a garden where I can sip my tea in the afternoon and grow vegetables.

Jul 09, 2008

I go through the same thing - I did buy and sometimes I wonder if I settled down too fast. But the fiance is a settler, whereas I'm a traveler.

However, I live in central Ohio, where the the mortgage payment on my condo is equivalent to the rent we paid when it was an apartment (conversion project). So it made sense for us to buy, to gain some equity for the same monthly cost as renting. But because it is a more traditional area with affordable housing, people here think we made a bad choice with buying our condo instead of going straight for a house! Dude, I did NOT need a 4 bedroom house right out of college!

Anyways, you should look into renting a house maybe, if it's more space and a yard that you want. Then you can fit a kid in there if needed, and still up and move or travel if necessary.

Amanda Strong
Jul 09, 2008

I think I cried for a full week after our offer on our house was accepted. I felt completely trapped and sure we had made a major mistake.

Turns out I love having our own home, the beginning of spring and working in the yard is like a second christmas to me and it's not irreversible. I say just look and if you find something you really love, act on it.

You're not "giving up" anything, you're "trading up." :)

Jul 09, 2008

As much as I love my little apartment and living alone, I miss being able to throw dinner parties for eight people. It's just me and Wino, the creepy breathing dog. (Not that Wino eats much. So rude.)

Jul 09, 2008

We have owned our house for seven years and love it! This despite the fact that we have been renovating for every single one of those years (Almost done! Give us another seven!). My husband likes to build and putter, so it makes him happy. Houses ARE a lot of work, though...

That being said, we have three kidlets and need the space, so 700 square feet would not quite work. Like others above said, could you rent? Try it out first?

Jul 09, 2008

I think there's been lots and lots of great advice above about making choices--and how we have to keep making those same choices to stay happy with them--so I'll skip that and say just these two things.

First, you should only buy a house if you can plan to stay in it for 5 years. You'll need two years to hop over the capital gains (well, assuming there are any!!) if you sell sooner, and five years is the typical standard for expecting any kind of return. That said, we're in a weird real estate market--where is the East Bay in all of this mess? Still growing? Slumping? [We bought--in the eastside of Seattle. Sometimes I feel suffocated that we can't pick up and move back to the OC, but that would just be running home and we're finally starting to like it here, 1.5 years later.]

Second, the grass will always be greener unless you tend to your own lawn. I think that's some of the best twisting of a cliche that I've ever heard.

Jul 09, 2008

Oh, I so feel you on this. I have a little less anxiety about the settling down part of buying a house, and I agree with all the folks who posted that you can always rent out the place if you want to travel. But,I feel like there's something about living in the Bay area that forces people to stay unattached, even once they decide they're ready to settle down. The housing market is just ridiculous here -- I have a great job, making what would be pretty darn good money in most of the country, and I can't even think about buying a place here. I've lived all over the country, and I've never seen so many Craigslist roommate adds posted by people in their 40s, 50s, 60s. Something like 60% of folks rent here, instead of buying, versus only 40% in most of the country.

Sometimes I feel like the trade-off is worth it. I mean, I get to live where everyone else wants to come for vacation, right? But other times, I just feel like my hands are tied in terms of really "growing up" and settling down. Plus, I'm perpetually annoyed with the fact that buying the same things in Michigan, where I grew up, costs half the price it does here. Even veggies that COME from here! Explain that to me! :-)

Anne & May
Jul 09, 2008

I used to live in New York City and one summer, my friends and I all came down with REAL ESTATE FEVER at once. It was like an epidemic.

Since then, all but one of us has bought--and I think we'd all do it again. It took me almost five years of scrimping and saving but boy howdy those tax breaks have been worth it.

Plus, psychologically when I'm writing my mortgage check I feel like it's one big SCREW YOU to all my old landlords. I'm not paying your mortgage anymore, bucko! I'm paying MINE.

Anyways, you can do it. Just start saving now and be thinking of compromises you're willing to make. I have a friend that moved to a neighborhood in Brooklyn that even native Brooklyners haven't heard of--but she loves it.

Jul 09, 2008

I have two 5-year plans: one involves selling everything I own and moving to Oregon to be a river guide (living off of the money I made from selling everything), the other involves buying a house in the country and spending all of my time and money on making it MINE ALL MINE (that plans includes being featured in Cottage Living in about ten years).

It's okay to be of two minds.

Jul 09, 2008

For me it was just that same way. All these decisions serve to define you more and more - and it's very hard when you are not quite sure you are ready to decide that. Am I a Californian? Do I like danish modern or shabby chic or rustic farmhouse? Do I want to live around the corner from my family or across the country? Am I ready to be a mom? Who am I, really?

I still don't really know, but I think someone up there was watching out for us and I am very happy with the tiny tiny tiny little house we own now - two bedrooms and lots of light and my dahlias in the front yard and space for tomato plants next summer and a neighborhood pool. And although I lost sight of a bit during the process, I think deep down I knew what I wanted and I stuck to my guns and got it. And if I change my mind, we'll sell it!

I am not a patient person but I do believe sometimes you have to sit back and see what happens.

Jul 09, 2008

I don't have the answers either, but if you find them, let me know. I think a mortgage scares me more than marriage. Although, marriage equally freaks me out. I also don't regret moving cross country four times and that would have been a pain in the arse with a mortgage.

Jul 09, 2008

I have a house that I own (yay, mortgage!) in Texas. And I have to work in downtown Los Angeles for about one out of every four/five weeks. And it's been that way for almost four years now.

For the longest time (and still sometimes, if I'm honest) I drove myself CRAZY by wishing and hoping for the LA renters lifestyle. Living in the city (because I am a city girl at heart), walking to shops, having a more urban lifestyle - it all is so desirable to me. And so when I had to come back to suburban Texas, I was like UGH.

But the thing is, I was only "ugh" until I walked into my (by Cali standards) big house with all its comfortable roominess and things that are mine, and took my dog into the backyard, and pulled weeds out of the bed that has my orange trees. Then I was like "AHH".

So now I am just enjoying that I am lucky enough to have both worlds - I get to pretend I am living in the city for a week every month or two, and the rest of the time I get all the room and homeyness of my own house.

At least that's what I TRY to tell myself. I still wish I could pack up my house and transport it to the city, or transport the city here. I think it's normal, being of two minds - at least I hope it's KIND of normal.

Maggie May
Jul 09, 2008

i just read a quote- where i don't know, from who i have no idea- but it said basically that the seasons of our life are so short and never come back, the rebellious teen, the egocentric twenties, the child centered (often not always) thirties, etc. when we are going through a 'phase' it feels like a permanent state, or it can. but we're kidding ourselves. it seems like you are an adventurer, a traveler, and this means you like to try new things, meet new people- even a new you.

Jul 09, 2008

You have to weigh your options.
We bought a condo in Los Angeles, which isn't AS expensive as San Fran, but still no picnic. We sold two years later and made enough to buy a house in Seattle, plus pay for our wedding and some extra debt from medical bills.
Granted, the housing market was very different a few years ago than it is now, but it's in a slump, as they say, it's a good time to get in.
It will go back up in a few years, so if you buy now, chances are, (especially in San Fransisco, LA and New York) you will make money in the long run if you decide to sell later.
Just my two cents.

Jul 09, 2008

Buy a home. Just be smart about it - buy what you can afford now; you can always upgrade later. Right now you are renting - you're basically throwing your cash right out the window. You just need to adjust your way of thinking about it: why not pay yourself the rent instead of giving it to a landlord? Think of your mortgage payment as rent that is going toward your equity. And then there is this perk: you get to deduct the mortgage interest from your annual income. So right now you are paying rent, you don't get anything tangible in return, AND you have no deductions on your tax return so you are probably paying more taxes to Uncle Sam.

Jul 09, 2008

East Bay! East Bay!

There is definately something satisfying in the soul about owning a house. Each time I do anything to improve my surroundings, I have a different feeling than when I was in a rental. I'm improving this for ME, and I can keep it.

When I cought my first house in about 2001, I went into the basement, and I took a marker and wrote on the cinderblock wall: "This is my house, and I can write on the walls if I want to." It was very satisfying.

Jul 09, 2008

I sort of fell into homeownership since the man I was marrying already owned a house, and since we were long distance relationship people at the time, it seemed like too much both to plan our wedding and sell his house, especially considering that it had been occupied by two bachelors for quite some time and needed some, um, sprucing up (also known as cleaning and organizing and just getting rid of some things that were beyond hope). I felt very wary of it since it is not in a neighborhood I would ever consider living in on my own, but it's turned out to be okay. I am a nester by nature, and I do admit that it's been fantastic to be able to paint whatever colors I want and choose the design and details of the kitchen and bathroom, both of which are being remodeled in the near future. We wouldn't be able to sell it in the current housing market for what it's worth, but after a few years we should make out quite nicely. Once we sell, we may or may not purchase another place. It all depends on what is out there and for what price. I wouldn't purchase something I don't absolutely love, in a neighborhood I really want to live in.

But in the meantime, the garden? Is wonderful. We recently ate peas that I grew all by myself, and I felt quite a sense of accomplishment.

Jul 09, 2008

Right now you're paying someone else's mortgage. You're helping them get rich and build equity. Does that make sense to you? Time to grow up and join the rest of the adults.

Jul 09, 2008

Homeowners for a year now and we still spend Sundays going to open houses, imagining where we'd put the tv and whether there's room in the backyard for a hot tub. We have everything we want in our house, tomato plants and all, but I think that a part of why we keeping looking at places we don't intend to buy is exactly what you're talking about here: we're indulging in the fantasy of an alternate life for ourselves because, as happy as we are with the life we've chosen, it's always fun to wonder about who else we could be. How would it be if instead of coming home to a Craftsman farmhouse in Oakland we returned to a Victorian in Alameda? What if we got a midcentury ranch over the Berkeley hills? Next time we visit Salt Lake, we're actually going to a home show to look at properties I would never in a million years want to chain myself to, but still, even that is interesting (and helps me realize that we're lucky to have what we have, even at the enormous cost).

Two more things:

1. It's only a 15-minute drive across the bridge. It's not a trek to outer Siberia.

2. When you get serious about buying, ask me for the name of our realtor. She's a tiger and will get you what you want.

Jul 09, 2008

When I was 29 I scraped together every bit of money I had and bought a 725 square foot condo in San Mateo. When escrow closed I had $85 in the bank. It was the best decision I ever made. But 13 years of hindsight does wonders. Since then, I sold that condo, bought a house, sold that house, bought a condo, moved out of state, sold that condo, got married, bought a house, bought a house, and sold the prior house.

There are a lot of good websites that will tell you what you can afford, should you decide to make the leap.

Good luck!

Jul 09, 2008

I'm a newbie like Monica... I've been reading your blog for a little while and I think you are great at what you do.

My advice to you is not to force anything. If you still have doubts, then perhaps it's Mother Nature's way of telling you the timing is off.

We just completed the purchase of our second home (away from downtown to a major hick suburb 30 miles from my employer). A huge part of me wishes that I had spent more time listening to my commitment-phobe self. Now I'm just so far gone that there's no turning back. But there's still hope for you! Resist the urges to commit to a home! Do it for those of us that miss our independence!

Jul 09, 2008

I totally feel you on the indecision. I was quite the mover too... even continuing my meandering ways after I married. He just got dragged along too. Yet, we did end up buying an adorable two floor condo in the DC area for an exorbitant price. We lived there for one year when the bug caught me again. Now we still have a condo in DC, which I like to think of as an investment, and we live in Japan while traveling many, many places on this side of the world. Another move is fast approaching for us too. So back to the states, maybe even to our own condo? Or maybe to Spain or Italy or Greece? We just don't know. The point... don't let buying stop you from being the same adventurous person you always were. It certainly hasn't stopped me. And it seems like you don't go for the 5-star vacas anyway, so buying and LIVING is totally doable.

Jul 09, 2008

As a former renter now very happy home owner for 5 years (love those tax breaks!), I have one key piece of advice: don't settle for a little bigger, buy as much square footage as you can.

I spent 11 years in a 370 sq. ft. Manhattan apartment with two cats and for five of those years a boyfriend who came with lots of musical equipment. It was an incredibly tight fit that eventually broke us up. I would have killed for even an additional 100 sq. ft. So when I found my lovely place in Brooklyn, clocking in at 650 sq. ft, I wondered what I would do with all that extra space! Well, a couple years later the new fiance moved in guessed it, we were out of space almost immediately. We want to buy a bigger place, but prices in our neighborhood have nearly tripled since I bought. Great when I'm ready to sell, but not so good since we want to stay in the hood.

Jul 09, 2008

I can relate. I was in your shoes several years ago. (I was also pregnant as it turned out...uh, not to be too indelicate, but ????) We bought a house, and it turned out to be a fine thing, being land-barons. (Ok owning a 1923 house and yard in a non-trendy area of Portland. But the house had great character, and I did grow tomatoes and roses) And, when we decided to move overseas and raise our kids in Africa, we sold it the first day it went on the market, for a substantial profit.
You can still travel. You can rent it, or sell it.
As for who you are, well that's another question. But it's one that comes up at various points in life, I suppose. I transitioned to house-owner and mother, and once I had I loved my new life, the one I was so terrified of before.

Jul 09, 2008

in 2004 we were in contract on a 720 square foot condo in the lower haight. $560k. I went back to look at it and said, "I wouldn't RENT this apartment, but I'm about to buy it because it's just a little over half a million dollars?"

that night I had a nervous breakdown. my wife found me sobbing in the closet that served as my office, on the floor. we're not sure, but we think that was the night we conceived our firstborn. right after we called our realtor to back out of the contract.

you should be okay in 700 square feet for awhile. we lived with the kid in 600 for 18 months before moving into our $100k 1500 square foot (+ 700 foot basement) mies van der rohe designed modernist glass box in detroit. and now we're probably going to buy a farm in the country.

very few people stay in san francisco forever, and with all respect to leah and simon, the suburbs of san francisco suffer from everything that's wrong with the CA real estate market with none of the instant gratifications of living in the city. a trip into the city will always take an effort and sometimes you just don't want to make an effort.

why not do what maggie mason does: rent in the city and buy a little vacation cottage somewhere up in tahoe or sonoma or shasta. real estate will probably be cheap up in shasta these days. or maybe something out in foreclosureville, near yosemite. rent it out when you're not planning to use. and when you're ready to move on from california, sell it to some other young romantic with need to see her name on a deed.

jennifer in sf
Jul 09, 2008

You might want to check this report out:

It involves a good deal more math than I'm capable of dealing with right now, but from what made sense to me it looks like it's a pretty bad idea to buy around here right now. Even considering equity, etc...

Jul 09, 2008

My husband and I bought a house in the suburbs four years ago. At the time it was the best house for the money we had & we figured we could handle the commute. Now the commute is rather painful, but we're happy in the knowledge that we'll be able to purchase another, larger home in our favorite neighborhood in the city in another year or so. Also, after the first year, the money is less daunting and you can resume doing all the things you love - we still travel (trips to SE Asia & Paris in the last six months alone)!

Jul 09, 2008

I understand what you are saying COMPLETELY....especially those last 3 paragraphs. Scary, isn't it?

Jul 09, 2008

I don't know how you do it in SF. DC is hard, price wise, but SF is impossible! We chose small house and "up and coming" area (ha) to keep in the city.

I'm not a traveler like you are, but the 30 year thing is a bit crazy. I suppose if you get restless, you sell it, or rent it out?

Jul 09, 2008

i think i'm in the same place you are mentally. my husband and i (so strange to use that phrase - husband, ack!) live in SF and i am always looking at craigslist for homes. i'm an advocate of the east bay because it's cheaper, but he's addicted to san francisco.

the thing that scares the crap out of me is the notion of buying a home in SF and earthquakes! i hear there is no earthquake insurance. isn't that frightening? perhaps i ought to be more concerned about living through the actual earthquake, but i can't help but think that we (we're both public school teachers) couldn't economically survive the destruction (and rebuilding!) of a house..

back to the east bay vs. SF thing - berkeley seems like an amazing place because it is cheaper and there is actually more space in that neighborhood and park sense. seems liberating.

my co-worker is always advocating for san leandro. alameda is pretty cute, but obviously can't compare, even a little bit, to san francisco's energy.

why are we all held hostage to this damn city! argggh!

Jul 10, 2008

I completely understand the feeling: I always thought I wanted to be able to up-and-go whenever I wanted and for me, this meant renting as opposed to buying (not that I have a financial choice about this BTW!). However now, with the three children I am beginning to understand the financial lesson of owning vs renting and we are starting to look for our own place here in Berlin (where the prices are ridiculously low, compared to any other big city).
I still feel that I would like to own an appartment and not a house, despite the fact that we have three childre. To me, the part about 'needing' a garden when and if you have children isn't necessarily true, but I might have a very european view on this. The other thing is that of course you can still sell the place or rent it out if you ever feel the need to move away. I think the decision as to what you need to do will come naturally and will feel right for you, so just go ahead, and see what happens!

jive turkey
Jul 10, 2008

Yeah, it happens to the best of us. I felt pretty much the same way you did about keeping the commitments to a minimum (except that I was married at age 23) - until I got to be nearly 30, and then suddenly, something within me started shouting "HOUSE!" And then, last year, "BABY!" It's scary and weird, but it's OK to give in to it. Buying a house was totally intimidating (SO MANY things to sign), but it's do-able. I'm sorry for the awful prices where you live...but life will guide you to the right home in the right place. Trust.

Jul 10, 2008

I don't know, Jim. It seems like the 15-minute drive into the city from Oakland is a lot easier than the trek up to Guerneville or Shasta...

Jul 10, 2008

I'm not saying it's the same thing: obviously a weekend getaway is different from a home.

I understand why you'd be defensive about this dude, but I'm just basing it on my experience. every time a friend moved from the city to the east bay, things really changed. the BART stopped running at eleven or whatever so nights out became early evenings out, or they'd drive so they wouldn't drink as much and they were always looking at their watches. then they stopped coming into the city altogether and started inviting us out to places in gasp. . .Oakland. and frankly, if you're going to live in Oakland, you might as well move to Detroit. so we did. 15 minutes, by the way, is a non-rush hour, non-weekend situation. I've sat on one of those massive overpasses leading up to the bridge in some buttcrack of alameda county for an hour waiting to get to that damn bridge on a saturday evening.

as I said in the earlier post, it's a matter of energy. if you know you'll always have the energy to pack your daypack and do the day in the city routine, then maybe the suburbs are a good option. but sometimes it's just easier not to go to the hassle of heading into the city, especially now with the whole brooklynization of the entire east bay. the place is filled with people just like y'all who couldn't or didn't want to buy a place in the city but couldn't bear to leave the region either.

just think: if any of this were any easier, the place would be filled with even more annoying midwestern refugees!

Jul 10, 2008

It's tough; if you really love where you are geographically (i.e., in the city, as opposed to the burbs or the equivalent of an outer borough), then I think it's well worth it to pay what it takes to live there as long as you can stand it, and if that means that you have to keep renting instead of buying, so be it.

I imagine SF is like New York in that you can get marginally more for your buck renting, plus you don't have to scrape and scrape only to blow your savings all at once on a down payment (not to mention all the closing costs and renovations and on it goes). So to the extent you might be able to save up to *rent* a bigger place (second bedroom = teh awesome, for real), that might be a good bet.

Plus, the obsession DOES NOT END when you buy. Trust me. The moment we went into contract on our apartment (which we only did, btw, when we could afford a place we really liked in the neighborhood we wanted, and even then we had to renovate the hell out of it), every newspaper we saw was emblazoned with warnings not to buy because the market was about to tank. And we still hover nervously over the Real Estate section of the Times every weekend and look at market projections, and there's always that creeping envy of three bedrooms and brownstones and so forth. So that part is not solved by buying, at all.

(Hi! I'm rambling!)

I do also envy my friends who have continued to rent but upgraded over time to bigger and bigger apartments -- they are saving quite a bit on monthly housing costs, kept their savings intact, and rent (or buy) summer/country places with their extra expendible income. I'm happy where we are and with our decision in the end, but it does add an element of very grown-up-ish stress to life.

Jul 10, 2008

Jim--Not defensive, I just hate to see people who love this area being priced out of it when it comes time to buy a house/have kids. Oakland et. al. aren't cheap by any standard other than SF and NYC standards, but you CAN get a lot more for half a million there than you can in the city, provided, of course, that you can swing half a million in the first place. (Anything less and you'll be in the ghetto, for sure.) Granted, I don't think there's any way we'll be able to stay here once our kid starts school (Oakland public school = OH HELL NO; private school = with what money?), but for now our situation is working really well and I'm glad we decided to take the risk and buy rather than move away prematurely.

But everything you said is right--a lot of people are indeed too lazy to make the effort to go to the city, but we're not (and I don't think Holly and Sean would be), so for us it's the best of both worlds: a home with a garden and a space to grow, just across the Bay from one of the greatest cities on the planet.

Now, if we could just get our city friends to come visit us way out here...

Jul 10, 2008

buying is not the end of life, i promise! i bought a house four years ago and my husband and i decided to pack up and travel to spain for three months this year, so we sold the house and left. granted, we were in a more affordable area of the country, but if you remember location, location, location, you'll always be able to sell.
however, on the location topic, i agree with lawyerish that it's worth renting if it allows you to stay in an area that you really like. owning a home costs SO much more money than you would think and especially in an area like sf where i'm assuming you can get more for your money if you rent.

Jul 10, 2008

I think your clock is ticking and your body is saying, start nesting girl! A cozy little house, with a yard, outside of the city with the pitter patter to be heard sounds lovely!
We live in 500 sq. feet. My husband, our two year old blond, blue eyed, diapered son and I! can't wait for a house! I advise the save and get a house plan! So fun! You can always discover the world and return to your "HOME"!

Jul 11, 2008

I spent most of my life not wanting a child. I was clear and firm on that. I wasn't particularly maternal. I had no desire to emotionally and financially chain myself to another human being. And then something happened. Snuck up on me. I fell in love with a man who wanted children and suddenly decided that I wanted children with that man. I wanted his child, quite powerfully. And I thought, 27 is as good a time as any to stop sleeping and frittering away my life in cocktail bars and the internet.

I was ready to embrace that life change, although for about three months after my son was born I thought it was the most idiotic life change I had ever initiated.

Six months into the baby-wrangling game I cannot imagine not having my son and I adore him but it does mean that going out once a week is an achievement, that travel plans have been supremely limited (perhaps your kid will enjoy plane rides, but mine is inclined to protest after more than two hours of enforced stillness) unless the child is left behind with family members.

There is no one good way to live your life, you know? My sister at 35 is living a vastly differnt life, one that involves an intense and rewarding career and a lovely house uncluttered by plastic baby crap and the ability to go out several times a week and take off for holidays several times a year.

A mortage will eat your income. I live in terror of the boiler carking it because it will gouge out a huge chunk of our savings (savings that then won't be paying for night out, or holidays). It is quite possible to fit a child into a small space - my three bedroom house has the same square footage as your flat- and while it is true that I spend quite a portion of my time squeezing around things, it also houses three adults, one child and two cats on a regular basis without great difficulty.

A mortage will chain you down for thirty years, but you can always sell. A child on the other hand would chain you down more intensely, because there's no backing out once you've started. It's likely that many things you enjoy will take a back seat, including travelling and writing because you may end up being short on both money and energy (the cost of childcare is fairly high, when I'm exhausted I turn in with my baby around 9 pm and when i want to spend quality time watching telly and mainting my marriage then I make do with six or less hours of sleep). Today I am using my baby's naptime to read and write but that means the housework is being left. Your needs and desires take a back seat to a kid's, especially a baby's. It's quite a bit to take on.

I am delighted I have - despite the fact that me time is scarce and prized - but I guess think well and hard before you get yourself in that. Msybe when you feel broody experiment with waking each other up six times a night and see whether you hate each other after a week. ;)

Jul 11, 2008

you are me! i'm obsessed with open houses. i send the BF craigslist listings of the super cute craftsmans that i want to gobble up. but there's definitely NO WAY we could do it anytime soon. i say if you really want to purchase - look across the bay. oakland/berkeley could be really great! and not too far away.

Jul 11, 2008

You can always buy a house and then rent it out while you travel the world. If you get in a good area you can rent it out for MORE than the mortgage and make extra buy more food and chocolate. And you get a huge tax refund.

Jul 15, 2008

Lots of great advice here, you can tell there's no clear cut answer. It all depends on your circumstances and where you are in life.

The first thing to do is realise that it is NOT an irreversible decision and you will NOT be stuck in one place for 30 years. The average mortgage is about 7 years, people move on all the time.

The next thing to find out if it's cheaper to rent or to buy in SF. I suspect renting is cheaper, but what about after the tax breaks you get for a mortgage? It's time to do some sums. If it's cheaper to buy then think about it [even if you rent it out you'll have income coming in]. Keep an eye on your neighbourhood or wherever you'd like to live, are the prices going up or down? How long are places on the market? Open houses are great, but get to know the realtors as well to find out if they're achieving their asking price.

I *strongly* suggest you start reading personal finance blogs like . You'll learn a lot in a short amount of time and realise that a house is not an albatross around your neck for the next 30 years stopping you from doing things you want to, it can be an asset and the first step on the way to wealth.

Good luck!

Atlanta apartments
Jul 17, 2008

half a mil, wow the expense is quite excessive, good luck