Tuesday Blue

The Jura J9. A 2012 splurge that pays off with delicious coffee every time we hit that magic button.
The Jura J9. A 2012 splurge that pays off with delicious coffee every time we hit that magic button.

The blue is in the early morning sky as I sit in my backyard with my labrador at my feet, anticipating a new workday. There is a lone wisp of cloud tinged pink with the rising sun. The air is cool and even though we’re still technically in summer, I can feel the change in season. I believe you need to live in LA to experience the season change. Seasons obviously are not as pronounced as they are in New England for example, but the subtle shift is there. The early mornings have a cool freshness about them, and we’ve started to feel a chill in the evening as we enjoy our walk in the park. The sun has more or less gone down before 7:30PM. With all that said, today’s forecast is still expected to be 90 degrees. This is something I love about living here. Not the heat, but the beauty of the cool morning on a September day. The knowledge that the heat will come to an end and we’re only mere months away from the possibility of much-needed rain. The low whoosh of the morning traffic fills the air, birds twitter in the trees, and all else is quiet but for the tap of my fingers on the keyboard. It’s a peaceful way to boot up over a cup of excellent coffee.

Today is a return to work after a lovely long Labor Day break. The weekend started highly productive with completion of overdue household chores. By Monday though, I was listless. I have an end-of-summer cold that I can’t shake off, and combined with that and general malaise (despite wanting to do something, I really couldn’t be bothered), it ended up being a wasted day. Sure I did the grocery shopping and cooked a shepherds pie to cover dinner for two nights. Other than that, I laid around feeling bad that I wasn’t doing anything meaningful reading.

Towards the end of the afternoon I started to feel an anxiety about going back to work today. I thought of all the things on my To Do list that I should have gotten done last week and didn’t. I have to meet with my boss this morning and it’s going to be a 92% made up agenda due to lack of progress on said To Do list. I need not stress though. I know that a couple of hours of focused work will take care of everything currently outstanding. I’m reminded again how the pressure and inner-stress needlessly mounts for the sake of a few hours of getting stuff done.

Back to the Now though, and my labrador hops around with a tennis ball in her mouth and another one between her paws. She is purely having fun in the moment. Now I get to walk her up the hill to the park for some play time and stick chasing before I have to get ready to go to the office. These are simple moments to reflect on how blessed I really am.

Part One: Los Angeles, CA

Our City of Angel$

Last Friday I stopped by my husband’s office between meetings. I found him engrossed in Trulia. He was checking out properties for sale in Portage, WI and marveling at the prices. Single family homes on large lots for $200,000 and less!

In our Los Angeles neighborhood single family homes sitting on postage stamp-sized lots that haven’t been upgraded or decorated since 1953 sell for $750,000+. Realtors in the area say you need to have the full amount ready to put down in cash to even get into a buying discussion. We don’t even live on the phenomenally expensive Westside any more. We moved out into the Valley suburbs to a more affordable and value-based proposition closer to our work. Still, housing is out of control. This is why we rent at $3,200* a month for a 1,400 sqft 2-bedroom home in a safe middle class neighborhood with a swimming pool. The house and this area provided the best value for money of every place we looked at, and the fact it happened to have a pool was a lucky and luxurious bonus rather than a requirement. *Note: although that sounds like a tremendous amount of money, in Los Angeles, it’s a steal. Older homes in critical need of modernization without swimming pools rent for upwards of $5,500 a month in our old Westside neighborhood. You’re lucky to find a decent apartment that rents below $2,500 in many neighborhoods.

Now we don’t not own a home in LA because we can’t “afford” one. We could easily double our monthly housing payment and carry a mortgage on a million dollar home. Why on earth would we do that though?! Put down a huge chunk of our savings and be slaves to a gigantic loan, all for the privilege of “owning” a small fixer-upper? In West LA, tear-downs sell for $1,000,000+. Homes that are beautiful for $250,000 in other cities have $800,000 tags on them here. We just don’t see the value in what your money can buy in LA, and although we like the climate, we’re still not willing to pay that high premium.

Another option-to-own would be moving way out of the city, but doubling and tripling our commute time and cost. Have you seen the traffic LA has to offer these days? All those folks moving here from New York and San Francisco to save money (LMAO!!) like LA isn’t crowded enough? No thank you! I value my life and sanity too much to spend 3-hours in my car every day.

Yet another option would be buying property in the so-called “transition neighborhoods.” A coworker of mine did that recently. She has a small but lovely little home with a pool. She was recently the victim of a home invasion, and doesn’t feel safe taking her dogs out at night. She owns that $600,000 home though!

OK… LA has some pretty nice sunsets (pictured with some multi-million dollar homes!)

Now I know I am ranting about the cost of living in Los Angeles. I should probably answer the question: why on earth do we live here then?! Well, the weather is nice but work is the primary answer. We both have very well paying jobs in the entertainment industry, the center of which is the studio system here in LA. After graduating from college in the late ’80’s, my husband hitchhiked to LA to get into the movie business. My first job was at a media company in the UK (which is where we met), so when I made the move to LA and got my green card (which wasn’t even green) the natural place to look for work was at a studio.

Our current standard of living is as cost-optimized as we are willing to make it. We loved living 10-minutes from the ocean and in a summer climate 20 degrees cooler in West LA vs. the Valley, but prices skyrocketed and when we had to move out of the house we’d rented for 10-years, we weren’t willing to pay more for that privilege. Aside from the change in location, there are plenty more things we could forego to bring our costs down further. Much more would impinge on our desired quality of life though. We are in our late 30’s (me) and early 50’s (my husband), and we do want to live in house with a yard for our dog and an extra bedroom for family and friends to visit, rather than a small apartment or condo with no outdoor space. Our jobs do require travel, and I need to feel safe in a low crime area when I walk my dog or if I have to sleep alone at night.

Wrapping it up with that original point way up there in the first paragraph though… Homes with land for a few hundred thousand in other states. I spend plenty an evening in my comfy chair looking at said homes and longing for a different life. Seeing my husband in that same state last Friday was a miraculous meeting of the minds and the beginning of a path to a change.