Thursday, March 8, 2012

Guest Post: Why Juan VI and I aren't homeowners

Firstly I'd like to take a moment to thank J5 for allowing me and Juan 6 to be guest bloggers. Hello - we'll do our best to enlighten.

Before becoming a higher education fundraiser, I was an urban planner interested in transportation and social policy. In fact, I'm still into those things.

So I read this analysis in The Atlantic Monthly on why fewer young adults are becoming homeowners than, say, their Baby Boomer parents with great interest. They posted a follow-up entry highlighting comments from readers on why they were or weren't homeowners ("We wish like hell we hadn't become homeowners").

Juan 6 and I rent a rent-controlled apartment in the city of Santa Monica, a well-to-do beach city with wide sidewalks, good weather, and good schools. Every resident lives within two blocks of a bus stop. The street in front of our apartment is getting a bike lane. Most days, I like living in Santa Monica.

I also know that, unless things change dramatically (like my take-home income), we will likely leave Santa Monica if we start a family.

As DINKs (double income, no kids), my husband and I are doing pretty well, but does not make sense for us to become homeowners at this time.

But I am also making decisions based on the experiences of my parents, and my familiarity with the run-up in housing prices here in Los Angeles.

We lived in East Hollywood until we bought our house in an inner-ring suburb in the mid 1990s. Initially my dad wanted to realize his dream of living in Larchmont, but he's a bellman, so we wound up in the Valley for reasons I now think were faulty. The Valley is no safer than the City (especially if you're a pedestrian); it is too damn hot; the schools aren't necessarily better; and the transit grid doesn't have sufficient headways to be appealing to choice riders.

I still lament the following places we passed on that later went on to appreciate at a far higher rate than the place we bought:
  • a house on Alexandria north of Melrose near the Bicycle District
  • a house on Aloha Street in trendy Los Feliz, near Marshall High School
  • a 3bed on Lucerne Blvd, south of Melrose, near Paramount in Larchmont Village
Of course, it is important to bear in mind that in the mid 90s, the "city" was a mess. Schools were bad. Entire business corridors were blown out due to the 1992 riots. A lot of the housing stock for sale was in bad condition due to the '94 earthquake. Urban planners probably could've predicted the renaissance we've experienced in the City, but no real estate agent told my parents that. 

So, now, 16 years later, the parents still own their house and they are stuck in place. Their work commutes are long; my mom's is nearly 40 miles each way.

It also turns out that home maintenance is expensive. They tell you to budget one-half of one-percent of the total sale price of your house for home maintenance. Let me say this in bold: That is not sufficient.

And when you become a homeowner, you end up putting on blinders. Things you never would have said or done as a renter, like balking to the construction of additional housing units to ameliorate your area's housing shortage, are second nature to homeowners. Homeowners don't want change, even if that change is for the betterment of their community's less-enfranchised members.

I see all of this and think, no freaking way. Renting has provided me with the flexibility to relocate to where I can find the best job opportunities, which I believe in turn will enhance my lifetime earnings potential.

Also, I have ideas about the kinds of housing I want to live in during different phases of parenthood -- a bigger house when the kids are little and their crap takes up tons of space; an apartment near the subway when my kids are teenagers and I want them to use their bikes, walk, and transit to get around. Renting will afford me the flexibility to do this.

So I get it that baby boomers might be confused about why people like me (educated, DINKs) are renters. Don't worry. We've done the math. We know that cities and neighborhoods change. We know what we are doing.

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