Zach spent some time yesterday driving through neighborhoods and getting an idea of where we may want to live when we move back. We're still trying to debate our choices-- apartment or house? Cheap, temporary apartment till we find something nicer, or splurge right off the bat? Pay to live in a cuter neighborhood within walking distance to one of our favorite farmers markets, or save what might be several hundred buckaroos a month and live in a slightly less cute location? Should we live closer to Zach's office for shorter commutes, or try to be close to other friends? Go for cheaper rent in hopes of saving up a down payment so we can buy in a couple years, or pay a bit more now and hold off on buying? Will 1-2 years from now even be a better time to buy or will prices still be declining at that point? Will we ever be able to find something we can afford there?
During the 3 years that we lived in California we had many many people telling us we should buy a house. The state mantra was "BUY BUY BUY even if you can't afford it just BUY already BECAUSE LOOK AT ALL THE MONEY YOU'LL MAKE!!!!" And for a while that was true. In those 3 years the average housing prices in Santa Clara went up something like 20% every year. Buying a house wasn't so much about making yourself a Home to live in with your family, but instead seemed to be more about making a financial investment. We looked into buying a condo that first year, but didn't for a couple of reasons: 1) our plan at the time was to live in California for 3-4 years, which to me seemed like not long enough to justify the headache and potential hassles of buying and then selling a house, and 2) Zach looked at the housing market and the prices, etc, and thought, "Um, this is nuts. There's no way it can keep up like this."
And I know it's a bit childish and petty of me, but I do feel a bit justified in seeing that he was right.
Many of our friends in the area bought houses, and while I;m sure the downturn isn't great for them it also doesn't seem like they're being that negatively affected by it. Which I'm glad-- I would hate to see any of them in trouble. But I'm also glad that we made the decisions we did, and that we didn't cave to all those people who told us we HAD to buy and were practically stupid for not doing so.
I don't see buying a house as an investment. To me, buying a house is about a Home. About deciding that This Is Where I Want to Live. We don't need anything very big, but we do want it to be attractive and inviting. And when we do buy, I'd like it to be a home we can see ourselves living in for years and years.
Buying in California is still more expensive than renting. Our tentative time-line right now is to maybe buy in 2+ years, depending on what's still going on with the market, our finances, our life situation, etc. Ultimately the decision of where we live next won't be made until we're back and actively looking and able to see what our options look like. There's the desire to save up and thus find a cheaper option, battling the desire to live in a cute neighborhood or opting to rent a house instead of an apartment. Part of me is dreading the search-- I'm sure touring rentals will be BREEZE with a 7 month old in tow! But part of me also can't wait to get started, excited to see where this next phase of our lives will take us.