OMG. So I’ve been waiting for over seven weeks for word on my short sale. Will the bank accept it or not? I’ve no idea. In a bout of frustration, I emailed my realtor, who says,
BofA average time is 6 to 8 weeks. But a lot depends on who is handling the negotiations. There are a lot of moving parts in a short sale and they can take much longer. Don’t expect anything for 6 weeks minimum. I hope this is helpful. Honestly, dealing with BofA is like falling down the rabbit hole. Things often don’t make sense.
SO between a couple other really big things - work, book getting published and funding said book, oh, and working on the next, I haen’t had a whole lot of time to fuss about the short sale. I’m figuring I’ll just take my sweet time, not worry about it, and it it gets approved, awesome.
If not, back to drawing board. After I dump a load of cow manure on BofA.
Ok. How Beat is Too Beat?
Everyone has a limit.
All budgets are not infinite.
And nobody wants to live in a wreck forever.
Tell me something I don’t know.
So. You wanna buy a historically cool house that you hope will be just gorgeous in ten years? You can’t afford it now? That’s ok. You want to find something that’s enough of a pit to live in that it’s cheap, but not enough of a pit that it’s gonna collapse or burn down and kill you when you go to plug in your microwave.
Here’s what to do when you go look at houses:
1. Look at the outside and roof. What condition is the roof in? Will the whole thing need to be replaced? Pieces of it? Is the outside of the home covered in it’s original material and well maintained? If not, what is the material on it? Are facade details, shutters, gingerbread, gables, whatnot, still there?
2. Look at the foundation. Homes built before the 40’s/50’s tended to be built one by one, so there will be significant differences between foundations and structures within old neighborhoods. Some foundations were built on brick (horrible if you are in an earthquake zone), others are covered brick, others are concrete slab. If there is a stand up basement (not just a crawl space), get in there to see if the house is bolted to the foundation (a good thing).
3. Look for the electric panel outside the house. Is it a new panel (indicating a new electrical system, which is very very important - old houses burn because of old/bad wiring). Most home insurance companies won’t even cover homes with old school fuses and electrical systems, or they will charge you an arm and a leg. Another way to look for safe wiring is to look for newer 3 prong outlets in the home. Ideally, if a older home is remodeled/renovated properly, when the electrical system is updated, all old outlets (2 prong oldies) will be removed/disabled.
4. Windows - updated at all? Look at the frames/sill around them. Any areas of damage? Large older homes are incredible expensive to heat during the winter, so people committed all kinds of crimes against them, like dropping the ceilings in old victorians. Unfortunately, double pane windows were not invented until recently…and they are expensive to install.
5. Floors. If there is carpet, peel it back to see what is underneath. If there’s hardwood throughout the home, praise jesus. If not, check to see what condition the subfloor is in. If you’ve got vinyl over a subfloor (god forbid), like in my pit…you will have a hell of a job ahead of you. Anything that sticks on will not come off easy and when it does it will likely leave a disgusting black layer of old glue. You’ll need to install new hardwood over this.
6. Walls. Walls are constructed in lots of different ways. Back in the day they didn’t use the sheetrock we usually see today and I saw my fair share of plaster coming off in chunks. Do you need paint? How much paint? Do the walls need retexturing? What about the ceiling? Is the paint dirty from years of kids and grease and smoking (you need to wash before you prime and paint, trust).
7. Kitchen - what shape is the kitchen in? Are the cabinets is horrible shape? Are they home depot cheap-o? Are you ok with it?
8. Bathrooms - ask yourself the same thing you asked in the kitchen. Then look for water damage.
Hrmmmmm. I hope I’m not forgetting anything.
I had NO IDEA how much things cost when I started. NO IDEA. I’m still trying to figure this out as I search for a contractor to get my work done. My particular loan was the 203k streamlined, which allows you up to $35,000 for rehab and renovation. My thinking was this: My dad might be able to help, and I would also be doing my own fair share of work. I tried my best to estimate what the property would need using online estimation sites and called a bunch of people to get an idea of what things might cost. I decided that I’d lowball it, stick with the 203k streamline loan, take care of the necessary things, and then save money and take care of jobs as I went along. I knew if I could get the place safe a clean and get myself and roommates in there, then I could really save some serious money and put that right back into the house, interest free.
So ok. Let’s say you find this magical home that is just dumpy enough. If it’s a private seller in a hurry to unload, then, viola, they might already have some inspection reports done for you and you can look at these. If it’s a short sale or a bank owned property, then the bank ain’t gonna do anything for you at all and it’s on you to get pest and home inspections done before you purchase. So go ahead if you think you’ve found something. Make an offer!
This is the best step. The most fun, but also the hardest and most time consuming, as well as the most heartbreaking and emotionally difficult for lots of reasons.
I started out looking in Berkeley. I found a couple of houses I liked, tiny little houses really, put in a smashing offer of welllll over 250,000 (getting to my upper end, price wise) and did not get either house. Each time, my offer was beat by about $15,000. For a house that was old, had electrical issues and cosmetic issues that would need addressing, and was no more than 1000 square feet. What the hell? I quickly gave up on Berkeley. I don’t like playing games I can’t win.
So, Oakland it was. I’ve lived all over Oakland and knew I wanted to stay in downtown, west, or north Oakland. Cus these places are the best. Existing neighborhoods like Adam’s Point, Lakeshore, Rockridge - all these places are very nice and very expensive and there’s not much for sale in them anyway. They were largely unaffected by the foreclosure crisis and the houses are mostly in alright shape. I can’t afford to live in those places, and I kinda don’t want to anyway. They’re sorta boring for someone who likes to stay out late on occasion and ride bikes to see shows and occasionally drink and listen to a metal CD real loud in the front yard while I’m BBQ’ing.
And anyway, I am very much a person who thinks into long term projects. No problems with growing bored and giving up after six months with me. Everything I’m into, I’m into for the long haul. So I knew I was cool with a fixer upper. Casa decrepit in other words.
I also believe the following:
“For too many people, being happy at home is pretty much an abstract idea, something they can’t know or imagine, until it appears on some taste maker’s must-have list, or in a magazine, or reposted on Tumblr. A home sweet home is not curated or produced by acquiring a perfect arrangement of chairs, lamps and friends. A real living space is made from living, not decorating. A bored materialist can’t understand that a house has to become a home. It happens, not through perfection but by participation.”
Andy & Elsa Beach
Apartamento issue #0
At first I’d email my realtor constantly, as part of our agreement (since I had pretty specific wants and absolutely didn’t want anything staged, I wanted RAW SPACE!) was that I’d email him a list of properties I wanted to see and he’d email me back and let me know which ones would not work (seller wants all cash, seller won’t take FHA rehab loan, etc) and we’d go see the rest.
My agreement with myself was this:
1. If the block is a horrible horrible bad bad one, pass. This was an entirely gut decision, and when you live in West Oakland/North Oakland long enough you just know. Seriously. (Side note forthcoming…To people that don’t live here, I imagine the whole stretch must look horrible, because yeah, it’s been around awhile. But just because it’s run down doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. You need to ride your bike around, stop in a store and get a soda, drink it, and watch what happens. There *are* hotspots you need to avoid of course, but I want to emphasize that West Oakland is a huge place. And of yeah, when you get the stink eye from the really buff dude hanging out on his porch when you drive by…90% chance that guy is giving the stink eye cus he has no idea who you are, so don’t worry. If you move in, that guy is gonna be your best neighbor cus he will know everything that happens on the block).
2. If the house is so beat (more on this in next post) it has lost it’s bones and has no original details left, pass. Finding a house that is mostly just cosmetically horrible but intact is actually not common. Usually there are a host of other realllllly expensive structural issues as well. They do exist though, so I’ll devote the whole next post to this.
3. If the house has significant foundation or roofing issues, pass. No matter how intact it may be.
Looking takes forever. Looking at houses that really don’t float your boat can be kinda disheartening and sad. It’s like, oh, another house with bad mojo? Another house with the worst kind of everything in it plus a foul smell? Another house bad the most horrible remodel job ever? Sigh. I quickly learned that people will still ask 230,000 for a pit. Just cus it’s the Bay Area. Some people are greedy and won’t sell anything fairly. I looked at a couple of these places, thinking they’d be in slightly better shape because of their price tags. NO. There was no rhyme or reason to it, it was maddening. You’ll start questioning your wants - should I just buy a condo? Should I just keep renting? Should I just wait another 3 or 4 years and save more money?
Just persist. Right when you are ready to pull your hair out, it’ll all be ok. And read the next post. X, A
I’m over my bad mood and on with the PMA. Here’s the how to post for dealing with financing. I’ll also tell you a little bit about some of the programs I’m using and why you should/shouldn’t use them.
It used to be you could shop for a home without getting pre-approved for a certain loan amount, but that isn’t the case anymore. Now you need to do more legwork, especially if you’re buying from a bank (i.e. a foreclosure or short sale) because banks are horrible and don’t negotiate with you and won’t even consider your offer unless they can actually see $$ signs on paper. Pulled right off the howstuff works page:
“In our article on How Mortgages Work, we talk about the difference in getting pre-qualified and getting pre-approved. Getting pre-qualified just means that you have told a lender your income level and your debt and credit information, and the lender has estimated what you can afford. Pre-approval, however, puts you much closer to the actual loan and means that the lender has done the legwork of pulling your credit report, checking your debt-to-income ratio, and has done a more in-depth analysis of your financial situation. In most cases, you’re much better off getting pre-approved so you don’t have any surprises when a lender checks your credit report — particularly if you haven’t checked the report yourself first.”
I talked about how I found my realtor in this post. He pointed me in the direction of a mortgage brokers and consultants (the difference is beyond the scope of the blog, basically these people are just middlemen between you are all the banks they work with) and they *should* find you the best mortgage for your financial situation. I say ‘should’ because that is the theory. These folks usually have access to different kinds of mortgages via different lending institutions, and what they should be doing is taking a complete look at your finances and telling you 1). how much house you can buy, and 2). what your monthly payments will look like - before you even start shopping.
Here’s the rub - these folks get paid lots of different ways. If you get a mortgage with points on it - well guess what, points=paycheck for these guys. Sometimes they get a commission of your final price. It’s nebulous, and I really feel like if there’s any one person in the whole transaction you need to be super careful about it’s these people. They have every incentive to get you pay more for a house and might only meet you once. Just cus you can barely afford something, doesn’t mean you should.
A quick word on mortgages: I knew going in I wanted a 30 year fixed rate mortgage. Interest rates are great right now and won’t stay this way forever. I also don’t want any kind of balloon payment or adjustable rate coming along and surprising me in ten years. People got super excited for these ways of creatively financing their homes ten years ago, and now they’re getting foreclosed on. Be conservative is my two cents.
Ok. So. Let’s say you’re young and single and can’t really afford a nice home because you live in an expensive area. Let’s say you dream of fixing something up and making it very much yours. Let’s say you happen to have a thing for Victorians. Then you would be me, and you have gotten pre-approved for a traditional mortgage, but then decided you wanted to get a special rehab loan, called a 203k, through the FHA. These loans are a little harder to get, because there are more steps and not every lender offers them. They are in fact, much more intricate and of course since they are through the government, they are regulation laden and you have to deal with a host of slow-ass paperwork trails before shit gets processed. But whatever. They are the best option for someone like me, who isn’t in a hurry and since interest rates are super low and you only need to put 3.5% down, it actually makes things QUITE affordable. I’ll blog more this loan soon.
One thing that REALLY irks me is that now that real estate is perceived as being super cheap (but it’s still loads of money, trust), speculators and house flippers are buying a lot of dumpy properties, and fixing them up, then renting them out or selling them. So it’s gotten that even buying a dump is kinda competitive. And house flippers usually are not beholden to the same high safety and energy standards that people who rehab with 203k loans are. Plus, these are folks who already own property and are usually well off…they make their money and have no real investment in the neighborhood. It would be so much better if non-investor homeowners were given priority to homes. I strongly believe that everyone in the neighborhood would benefit far more.
I never would have been able to buy this house if I wasn’t a cheap-o for years. Also, I’ve bought it with a special FHA loan, which I’ll blog extensively about later. Everyone should be educated about this kind of stuff, unfortunately, more rich folks than poor folks are. Buying a home if you are not rich to begin with can be summed up in the following equation:
Fist off all, let me say this. There is a time and a place to spend money. Spend money on your college education if you are in some kind of practical field. Spend money on your pets when they need medical attention. Spend money repairing your car. Spend money buying necessary things like bananas for your lunch and tubes for when you get a flat bike tire. Spend money paying off people and banks that charge you crazy interest. Ok? OK!
Now. The easiest hard equation there is. First, figure out how much you make in a year. Then, figure out how much your living large ass is actually spending. What do you have leftover? If there’s something, RAD. That goes in your savings. If there’s nothing, you need either a lifestyle change or a job re-examination. If you are single and childless and right out of school with a job that pays you decently, you are in an amazing position. If you have a job that pays just ok, you can still do this. It’ll just take you longer. If you have a shit job that pays peanuts (and I’ve been there, TRUST), figure out how you can get a better one without squashing your principles. It might mean a career change. Took me three years. Then, you can save. OK. Here’s how my cheap ass self made myself save more:
NO MONEY ON THE FOLLOWING:
1. Getting your hair dyed. I have crazy roots. But guess what is in style right now? THIS. More broadly, cut your vanity spending. I’m looking at you ladies.
2. Don’t go on trips. Do you need a vacation? I’m sorry, I need one as well. You don’t get a vacation, you’re gonna be a homeowner hell or high water! You can vacation AFTER you have your down payment.
3. Sell the crap you really don’t need on e-bay and craigslist. Just do it, no whining. Keep the stuff you have that will hold it’s value. But sell electronics, knick knacks, and sporting goods that you use only a few times a year, cus that shit just uses up space and loses value and you can rent it when you need it anyway. The average American has WAY TOO MUCH CRAP ANYWAY.
4. Take every opportunity to work overtime if your job lets you. If you are salaried, find a way to make money on the side. For me, I occasionally do still get to take an odd photo job. Plus my willingness to work when the job requires it is always appreciated at work.
5. Rent. Do you live alone? Move. Now. Find cheaper housing with room-mates. This is a BIG ONE. Here in the bay area, you will pay over $1000 for a one bedroom (or studio if you are in San Francisco). Figure out how to cut this by 1/3rd. For me, I used airbnb to rent out my old place until I could move into a new place with a room-mate.
6. Booze. Do you buy loads of drinks? Well, you lush, stop it. You don’t need them. I like drinking as much as you, but try to limit this. Or bring a flask and don’t let anyone see you. I have this very common problem where i quickly get bored and sleepy at bars when I’m not drinking, but I manage. Also, I seem to grow more intelligent the drunker everyone else gets.
7. Stop eating out so much. This is a big one for me. Very hard, since I want to enjoy nice dates with my man and eating out is HELLLLLA spendy.
8. Spend less on your groceries. Don’t buy so much cheese and cereal and pre-made lunch stuff. I like to make a pot of curry or spanish beans and rice and eat it for three days. Buy ground turkey if you’re a meat eater. Ground turkey and black beans and veggies is the cheapest/healthiest protein feast in the world. If your grocery store is expensive (I’m looking at you Safeway, Andronicos, Whole Foods), spend your money at places like Trader Joes and Grocery Outlet. Don’t skimp on your veggies though. Can’t sacrifice nutrition after all. Don’t whine about all your shit not being organic either. You know who whines about this sort of thing? Rich people who do not have actual problems. Everyone else deals. Figure out which veggies are least pesticide ridden, get those. You can buy all the organic stuff you want when your house is bought.
9. Don’t buy new clothing. Go thrift shopping. I grew up thrifting, so it’s just something I’ve done forever. It’s not foreign. But whenever I felt like I wanted something new, I’d go. Obviously if you need work clothing you might have to get something new, but be honest with yourself - most of us have a closet full of clothing we don’t touch. Forget fashion and go with your own style.
10. Do you get cable? Turn it off. Magazines? Don’t renew them. Join the library. Watch hulu on your computer for free. The last season of It’s Always Sunny can be found for free on the internet anyway.
11. Have your savings automatically deducted from your checking immediately after payday.
12. Get rid of your gym membership unless you live in an area that is unsafe to run in. You can exercise FOR FREE by running, biking, hiking, walking. I actually recently rejoined a gym…it’s nice. But now I want to cancel again!
13. Got a car payment? Sell your car. If you live in the burbs and actually really need it, sell it and get a cheap used one instead. Figure out a way to get rid of your car payment, since it’s a depreciating asset anyway. I used citycarshare or zip car and rode my bike for a long time. It’s not forever! I lived without one for two years, and now I have one. Also, I’ve gained five pounds since I got it. GREAT.
14. Transfer all high interest credit card balances to 0 interest cards. Then, pay them down. Cancel old accounts.
15. Last, and most important: everyone’s life is different. I am currently childless and fortunate enough to live in an urban area, so I didn’t need to spend a huge amount on car stuff or childcare. Figure out where your money goes and where you can save the most. Be honest with yourself. Be brave. It’s hard to let go of comfort, services, and behaviors we are used to. Unfortunately, our attachments to these things often times tell us more about our own vanities or fears than we first realize, which makes letting them go hard.
How much money do you need?? Ok, so traditionalllly people put 20% on houses. 20% of a house in the Bay Area is a great big hunk of cheese. So a lot of people don’t put this much down. I couldn’t put that much down, for damn sure. If you put 20% down, you don’t have to pay PMI:
(PMI is extra insurance that lenders require from most homebuyers who obtain loans that are more than 80 percent of their new home’s value. In other words, buyers with less than a 20 percent down payment are normally required to pay PMI).
In other words, PMI is just more money added to your mortgage payment in case you ass out and your bank is left with all your loans. PMI goes away when you pay 78% of of the cost of your home. Which will take me about 10 years. That’s ok, even paying an extra 400 bucks/mo for the PMI and my loan, I’m still buying a 4 bedroom house for only a few hundred dollars more than they change for a small two bedroom apt. downtown. WORD UP!
You can buy a house with as little as 3-5% down. But don’t spend out of your price range. Remember that the house is still a pretty pricey commitment and what you can afford will really be affected by your credit and monthly income.
Next Up, I’ll tell you how to finance a house.
Basically, buying a house can be summed up as follows:
1. Have a down payment
2. Get financed.
3. Find house.
4. Buy house.
Yes. It really IS that easy. Of course, in each of those steps, there’s like, 8 zillion other things to do. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is house buying. And I am here to tell you that it is most certainly NOT rocket science.
I’ll tell you in the next few blog entries how I went about all this stuff, any mistakes I made, and maybe just give you the nudge you need to start the process for yourself. I’ll tell you in plain old english and I’ll make it funny. Promise.
Before you start though, ask yourself the following: Why do I wanna buy a house?
It’s really a big deal. A very huge, stressful, life-altering deal. Kind of like getting married - you can get out of it sure, but be sure you are doing the right thing. I wanted to buy for the following reasons:
1. I wanted something that would be my own funky little version of 500 CAPP ST.
2. I realized I could buy a home and keep having room-mates and pay less for housing (if I found a house in the right price range) and in turn put that money into my fledgling publishing business, or back into the house, or into investments, or a vacation, or whatever. I already pay a ton if taxes, and I live in one of the most expensive housing market in the nation. Paying rent to some out of state d-bag who never fixes the toilet when he should drives me crazy.
My motives were creative and financial. Like rich bastards say, “money begets more money indeed.”
To do this I knew I would be looking at dumps. Which was a really hard concept for real estate agents to get. I interviewed several of them and immediately knew who would work well and who wasn’t going to work well. One guy told me I should move to El Cerrito because I could afford more and have a place that looked like the “inside of a magazine.” I was like, “did you hear anything I just said?” It was hard to find someone who would just let me do my thing, but I did find him, and he also didn’t push me to look at things to the upper end of my price range. He respected my financial status, which was super important. Feel free to message me if you’d like contact info. I have an innate distrust of anyone who tries to sell me anything expensive, and he’s ok by me.
Anyway. I’m digressing. The thing is that once you are sure you want to buy a house, you can do it pretty quickly if you’re lucky (but it might take a reallllly long time if you are in a tight financial place and you have high expectations). Be sure you’re ready. Cus if that house gets robbed, or your water heater explodes and then there’s an earthquake and your stupid new house is looted, flooded, and then left a pile of useless rubble courtesy of the next big shaker…it’s your pile of crap to deal with. OK? OK!
The down payment.
The first house I put an offer on was in Berkeley, and was owned by…Goldman Sachs. Actually, it was owned by a company that was in turn, owned by Goldman Sachs. I didn’t get the house, another buyer offered $10,000 more.
The house was simple, reallllly small, but located in Berkeley and therefore cost 100,000 more than a house in some neighborhoods in Oakland. It was white, and the closets had the same tie hangers that my grandpa had in his closets - they used to build them in back in the 40’s I think. Everything about the house was tidy and not updated. It was a house your nice respectable grandma might have owned. As a matter of fact, that was most likely the case.
I didn’t really think much about the foreclosure crisis and predatory lending until now. I was broke when the whole thing started, and young enough to be ok with living a punk rock cheap-o lifestyle. I didn’t want to buy a house, although I did resent people who could afford to do it. Houses were hugely expensive back in 2003-2006, like 300,000 overpriced. The whole thing seemed wack to me, so I basically tossed the idea. But now I think about it constantly. So many families are losing homes in Oakland and less so, in Berkeley (south Berkeley, not up in the hills as a rule) just because their balloon payments are here or their reverse mortgages have hit them hard. I’m sure a lot of people made stupid financial decisions, but a hell of a lot of people helped them along at every step. Lots of buyers had blinders on, financially speaking, and a lot of banks were making horrible decisions. They shucked their responsibilities and were greedy. And this is fundamentally changing the makeup of places like West Oakland, North Oakland, and South Berkeley.
Don’t even get me started on the bailout.
Anyway, Oakland and Berkeley are amazing places to live. Beautiful weather, loads of things to do, very desirable. They’ve always been diverse, and demographically they’ve survived and changed many times over, depending on the economy. At the turn of the last century, loads of wealthy San Francisco residents built second homes in what is now West Oakland. That’s how we got all the rambling old Victorians. The building continued and many areas of West Oakland became primarily African American, with what is today an abandoned (but gorgeous) train station as the hub of the trans-continential railroad. Many of the railroad porters lived in West Oakland There were jazz clubs along 7th street and the area of Lower Bottoms and parts of downtown were the West Coast’s version of Harlem. The development of the ports, shipyards, and manufacturing brought more black folks from down south to the area. And for years it thrived, but by the late 60’s and 70’s the area was in serious decline. A wave of suburban flight coupled with ongoing closures of the blue collar centers of employment meant the area dipped into poverty. The cypress freeway was built as well, and that cut off a huge chunk of West Oakland from the rest of the town. By the time the 80’s came around, things were looking pretty grim. My mom worked for Kaiser in the building near Mosswood Park during this time, and she said you could see drug deals happening all day when you looked out the window.
Oakland is really different now. It’s changed so much even in the last few years. As has San Francisco. Remember what the Mission used to look like? Capp street used to be prostitute central, the place where there’s a shop that sells wooden knickknacks used to be a nonprofit art space called Build (I had a show there!), and the ratio of fancy places to eat vs. taco joints was much much wider. Also, there were FAR fewer annoying early 20-somethings running around. The same thing has happened here, just less so. Mosswood park is no longer “dead hooker park” and the houses in Temescal are looking like Rockridge-lite these days. Whoa.
All this is happening as demographics shift. The ratio of African Americans to Asian, Latino and Caucasian folks is shifting. Homes that have been owned by generations of African Americans are now being sold. This changes the long standing bonds that are shared by neighbors and many of these families move to places like Antioch, Richmond, or Vallejo because they are cheaper. Meanwhile, all the problems that began in the 70’s and got bad in the 80’s still exist, just less so - the lack of services (grocery stores being a prime example), homes sliding into decrepit pits, drugs, poverty, crime.
Thing is about gentrification is this - while neighborhoods change, gentrification changes them without respect or love for history. People in places like West Oakland have incredible pride in their neighborhood and it’s history. I don’t want what happened to the Mission to happen to West Oakland where it’s like two different worlds exist side by side and the only time they meet is when a white guy orders a taco. I don’t need a f**** trendy bar every block or street full of boutique shops. That is ridiculous and boring and cookie cutter hipster stuff. A little of it is fine, but a whole lot is not. I also don’t want yuppies driving the cost of rental housing up to a level that is unaffordable. What I do want is what I think everyone wants - I want services and businesses in the area, I want safety, I want nice parks and green spaces, I want people to have good opportunities for jobs that will be around for a long time, things to look nice.
The stupid and crappy thing is there is no model for how this can happen without gentrification. Our lovely economic system means that housing will go those already in a better place financially, and those that are suffering (such as those in pre-foreclosure) will be forced to move. So sadly I think, West Oakland will gentrify, just like North Oakland and South Berkeley. It will just take 10-15 years longer. The world is changing, and as San Francisco gets to be more and more unaffordable, more people will move here and buy homes. More services will move in, because there is a vacuum in the market. The issues that plague Oakland now will still be there, but things will look better to outsiders, which means that in ten years things will be very very different. And I have very very mixed feelings about this. Call me crazy, but I love West Oakland. I love riding my bike around and looking at all the old houses, the old abandoned industrial factories, the kids out in the front playing hula hoop, the crazy cars driving by blaring hip hop. I hate the crime, and you need to adjust your life to keep yourself safe (like, don’t get drunk and walk home at 2am, ride a bike and take the well lit path or don’t drink and drive instead, have a drop wallet, interact and be nice to your neighbors, duh) but I still love it.
What will Oakland look like in 10 years? How can people with love for their neighborhood help honor it? How can we be good neighbors and help pull each other up? Now, I’m asking this.
Let’s hit the way back button and venture all the way back to 2004/2005. Back then, I was eeking out the freelance life. I had my salad days (sometimes) and my not so salad days (most of the time). I didn’t have health insurance, I didn’t have consistent income, I had no savings, I had bills, part time jobs to help, I had a ^(&((*)(*&()* ton of stress, etc. The economy was booming, mostly, though. But I was a portrait photographer in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in US, and I wasn’t doing well.
I grew up in a solidly middle class home. Solidly middle class thanks to my mom’s smarts, my dad’s ability to secure a great public works job that didn’t require college but had fantastic pay, and luck. Here’s the deal: my parents and moi, we lived basically rent free for watching a big rambling home for a friend’s parents for three years. And anyway, then my parents saved almost all they could and bought a home in a nice place and then the house went up and up and up in value. And BOOM! suddenly we were middle class. No more Hungry Man microwave dinners cus mom is working late! No sir! We eating fish tacos tonight sir!
Back when I was scraping by, I didn’t think I’d EVER have a house. Ever. I couldn’t even save $500. But here’s what happened in exact order:
1. The economy began to tank, thanks to the subprime mortgage crisis. Nobody was spending ANY money on anything. I couldn’t find a job. I did eventually find one. It was serving coffee. It paid just above minimum wage.
2. I moved home. With my parents. Very demoralizing. San Francisco priced my ass out.
3. My mom asked me endlessly about ‘getting a real job’ and having a direction. I decided to f*** off and race bikes for a year instead. Mom was not happy. I got a job at a bike shop. It paid a few dollars more than my last job. These were not happy times.
4. I began to wonder exactly what would happen if I broke my collarbone, or knocked a tooth out. I was freaking out, silently, about what I was going to do with my life.
5. I decided to change careers. I needed something I could do relatively quickly, not something I’d need to go back to school for a zillion years for. I chose to go into the health professions and went back to school for three years to become an occupational therapist.
6. I moved in with an 88 year old woman to be her caregiver while I was in school. It was really hard and a lot of stress but it saved me a lot of money and her family was really lovely. They lived in Rockridge and had lived in Oakland since the 30’s. I still have a lot of debt from school, but it would have been worse if I wasn’t a caregiver. Now, at least, I make a very good salary and I can save money. I live on my own again. I paid off all my credit cards recently. I bought a (used for 3000) car. I have health insurance. I had a surgery recently and I’m really grateful I didn’t have go sign up for medi-cal. Life is ok. I’ve been renting for some years now, and I’ve lived in every kind of rental situation possible.
7. Rents have been rising and rising, while house prices have remained mostly flat. More folks are being affected by foreclosures and still more are selling homes via short sales because they are in pre-foreclosure. A lot of homes in the city I now call home (Oakland!) are for sale for these reasons. It’s pretty bad for the neighborhood.
8. I decided I would buy one, just like my parents did. I decided I wanted to buy one and rent out the rooms and have a lovely place to call my own, have a dog, have a place to fix up. I love Oakland and I plan on staying for the long haul.
It’s all just timing and luck and the demographic you start out in. Sad enough. If you start out in the middle, like me, you have a better chance of rising up. You also have a better chance of falling down. If you start out on the bottom and you have bad luck or timing, well…we all know how unfair the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing is don’t we? I am so lucky to have grown up with the model of savings and traditional money management I did. I am also glad I’m fine with alternative living arrangements and not one of those folks that must have a nice space all the time. I wouldn’t be buying this house now if I had chosen to stay in San Francisco, or if I needed a whole apartment all to myself all those years I was in school.