So we're house shopping. We have been armchair hunting since first moving here in summer of 2005, at which time house prices in our neighborhood were below the $500,000 mark.
Since that time, home prices in our belly of the woods have risen markedly by about 16% each year since 2005 and 2006 respectively, bucking both the regional and national trend.
Which brings us to early 2007. Housing bubbles abound nationwide, but not here. There's some flattening but that's in the new-build outlying areas or in pockets of Seattle proper. The grim reality is that there is a ton of dot-com money here, a fair percentage of northern California migrants and a diverse, booming industry afoot here with Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Costco and well, name your dot.com - it likely has an office here.
Tiny Bubbles - near the Sea
When we first moved here, we strategically chose to rent in central pleasantville bedroom community in hopes that our son would make it into an immersion school nearby. It's a fairly central area minutes to downtown and points north, south and east. It was really a great choice. Still is. Shopping is close, the schools all take great pains to brag about how they are some of the county's best, and the district is inordinately safe.
In fact, I have to say, crime stats were much higher in each and every neighborhood we called home over the years in Canada. People leave their doors unlocked, garages wide open - it's extraordinary really, when you think about it.
And alas, although our son didn't make it into that particular school, the local sloppy-second feeder school (plan B) was reputedly touted to be top notch, as well. Emphasis on well. Well, either we've been lied to and these schools really aren't as schmidthot as their whitewash varnish, or, this is as good as it gets. To be fair, much of the statistical information is driven by silly demographic profiling and not-so-silly funding. And so because we happen to live in an affluent pocket of Puget Sound that receives a decent level of taxpayer funding and PTA-driven fundraising, it tends to look a tad rosier than some. It's all relative though.
So this new fear-based construct, coupled with the fact that our son was admitted entrance into a more rigorously-academic lottery school, means I feel a bit tied to making a home purchase decision within the boundaries of this school district for not altogether rational reasons. But you're probably thinking, what's the problem - a focus on district means we can limit our home search efforts.
Here's the thing. There's a huge price to be paid for this so-called quality education experience. According to a report just released last week, the average schmuck looking to buy a home in the area we're in needs to make $124,000 a year. The lowest figure I saw in the district was $89,000. Is that unbelievable or what? You're probably thinking we must live in mansionville. Not.
We currently rent a mid-70s, 3-bedroom plus den rambler with double detached garage. Think Brady Bunch with less space, less kids and no maid. Not to mention no family room, no basement, no spare room. Square footage pn this home was purported to be about 1900 sq ft. but we have since learned that square footage figures in the US tend to include attached garages, below ground developed areas and in our case, our outdoor courtyard. Which means they lied. We're probably living in closer to 13o0 sq ft. and even that is bound to be a stretch.
And to buy a new-build here? Hah, good luck. It means spending a minimum of $800,000, a price, incidentally, that will not necessarily guarantee you a lot larger than 5,000 sq ft. or a view of anything but your neighbor's siding. And let's not even speak of the number of listings in this market over the $1 mil mark.
On second thought, change my mind: let's do. There are approximately 30 or so single-family home listings under $700K, and most of them are pretty darn forgettable. But over the $900K benchmark, there are some 250+ ~ and most of those sport a $1.5 mil pricetag or better. I mean worse. Some go as high as $15 million. Quite a few are $7 million but most are sitting right about $1.9 million. I would say that's more the median price point on the market right now. It sure as heck ain't $500K, but for those Californians who've moved north, it's a steal of a deal.
It's a crazy kind of boomtown we've transplanted ourselves into here, and while it's a great place and vibrant and community-oriented and ever-expanding and has the potential for investment growth with real estate, we're starting to question if this choice is real for us, being that we are so many years removed from getting our green card and guaranteeed double income earnings. We can afford to live here and are fortunate to have a very good standard of living, it's true, but at what price?
Part of me thinks that buying in here and tripling our mortgage debt could pay-off for us in the long run - we can write-off our mortgage interest on taxes, we stop pissing away money to someone else's mortgage payments and we get in on the low, low end of an ever-increasing millionaire homes market.
But another part of me thinks the whole thing is crazy, absurd and just wants to pack it all in - say bye-bye to hubby's decent contract wages and steady overtime pay; see ya to the great locale and milder winters; adios to the bigger pond sports and activities for the kids, etc., etc. - and hightail it to the nearest small town across the border, where the pay would suck but we could buy a house for cash, I could work (7/11 is even starting to look appealing), and we wouldn't be feeling as though we had sold our souls to a mortgage company and the big city rat race, where money must figure uber-prominently if you are even to dream of staying afloat.
And I'm not the only one. Check out what another frustrated local, Beast Mom, and her readers have to say about this issue.
It's ironic, dontcha think. It's all so ironic. And it all points to the ever-increasing gap between the haves and have nots. Living, breathing proof of a disappearing middle class. It's downright disturbing if not depressing because if this generation struggles with these big market plights, imagine the lot in life our kids will face.
Have I ranted enough? Well, not really.
We're not going to give up quite yet, although we have given up on our deadbeat realtor, who has earned a perfect track record of being late and ill-prepared for every single one of our home showings and/or appointments. Not to mention that we knew more about the properties we were going to look at than she did, thanks in large part to the folks at zillow.com.
In fact even without her having given us the address of a property we were going to visit the other day, (she inadvertently dropped the last name of the homeowner into the conversation), we found the address on Dex and the house history and schtick on zillow. She seemed really taken aback that we knew so much when she had told us virtually nothing at all about the house other than an approximate locale. In fact she was so bewildered that it makes me wonder if agents really get how much the buyer/seller game has changed. And let's face it, caveat emptor is as prevalent a consumer credo now as it has ever been.
I've also given up all hope that a decent copywriter exists in the local real estate market. One who gets that home shoppers just might possess some small measure of intelligence at least some of the time or worst case, maybe have read Freakonomics and are onto their game, which ya gotta know, is not entirely a skill-based activity - I liken it more to dice-rolling than anything.
The property descriptions kill me. Do realtors read the descriptions they write? I'm thinking not. I mean, come on: Charming? (outdated). Designer paint? (dark or busy). Cozy? (you need to step outside to turn around).
And what is this west of market and east of market thing? What the hell does that mean? If you know, please, please clue me in because I have no idea what that means. East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet in the market? I've only seen these as descriptors for schwanky homes so I think it has something to do with style, but what do I know? I fell into the "read the Freakonomics book" category.
But how crazy that realtors will use industry acronyms and buzzwords that the buying public doesn't even understand. And how crazy that they get paid several thousand dollars commission and yet it's left to the buyer to verify property figures, zoning and square footage. Half the time, the listing agent doesn't even take the time to list the feeder schools, (buyer to verify, they claim), much of the time the descriptive copy is typed in all-caps with hordes of typos and a good percentage of the time, they don't load interior photos. And for this, and the gift of a standard real estate contract and some ugly housewarming plant, they expect their hefty commission.
It's especially refreshing then to see new flat-fee and fee-for-service entries into the market.
Ziprealty promises its clients a 5% rebate on their commission, although in fairness, their agents are purely Web-surfer reactive and not necessarily as seasoned as their biggie brand brokerage counterparts.
And Redfin, another newbie online brokerage, claims even lesser commission fees (2/3rds commission refund) and thus, larger savings to the buyer, but buyer beware: you will do the bulk of the work and you need to be savvy to home buying and selling. Which we aren't, hence our hesitation to buy a for-sale-by-owner home off craigslist.
Buying a home in Canada is a vastly different process. There are way more closing costs here and it's much less a one-stop-shop process; hence, we really do need to work with a traditional realtor. Which sucks, because finding a decent realtor who will attentively and intuitively work in your best interests - it's like trying to match socks from the dryer. Not to mention that the model is so archaic and dysfunctional.
Then there's the foreclosure market. Another excellent way to buy a home - especially these days with people in debt up to their yin yangs and home prices skyrocketing - but there again, you have to know what you're doing. I'm going to keep my finger on this pulse just in case, with help from the guys at ForeclosurePoint.
And if the finger crossing doesn't work, I may have to bite the bullet and buy me a lucky real estate talisman from my friends at Archie McPhee. What the heck, if it worked for Kristi, it can work for us, too.