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!
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.