Apr 8 2015

California Housing Market, You’re Kind of the Worst

Whenever I tell people that I’m moving to California, the very first words out of their mouth are something like, “Oh, no! You’ll never be able to afford a house, you know that? It’s REALLY expensive there.” I have literally heard this from everyone: friends, family, neighbors, the people who run our current daycare, the grocery store cashier. It’s insane. And every time someone says it, the WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?! alarm rings a little louder in my head.

More than a week has passed since our house-hunting trip, and we still don’t have a house. We’re not looking to buy yet, because — as we are reminded multiple times a day — it’s much too expensive for now. But honestly, renting seems just as impossible. We found two houses (out of more than a dozen) that we felt really good about.

House #1: Loved it. Gorgeous. Located on a quiet cul-de-sac, recently remodeled and super clean (one of my most important criterion), fenced backyard where Peaches could safely play, walking distance to a few small parks. But the rent was more than FOUR TIMES what the exact same house would cost in Michigan. So we did what people in Michigan do: we made an offer. It wasn’t excessively low-ball, but the landlords literally told us, “You need to learn the California housing market.” They humored us by pretending to consider our number, and we kept coming back up (and up and up and up), but ultimately they turned us down over a hundred dollars. I blame us. Mostly.

House #2: Crushed by that failure (why didn’t we just give them exactly what they wanted?!), we began to realize that people don’t need to consider silly things like offers in California. Given that, we knew the second house was too far out of our budget and emailed the landlord to say so: “Thank you, but it isn’t feasible for us at this time.” A couple days later, while Al and I were still berating ourselves about House #1, House #2 emailed back and said he would accept a lower price. WHAT?! Huzzah! We’d put that possibility totally out of mind!

We wrote him back in a frenzy. “Yes!” we typed frantically. “Where do we sign?” If I could, I would have busted out the champagne.

He didn’t reply for 24 hours.

When we finally heard back, he said they’d shown the house a few more times and that our price was now one hundred dollars more than he’d quoted in his most recent email. “That’s okay,” we decided. “We’re not going to lose another house over a hundred dollars. Where do we sign?”

He didn’t reply for 24 hours.

When we emailed again, he had raised the price another hundred. “I’m sorry,” he said. “The house is getting a lot of interest.” Feeling weary and a little badgered, we agreed to that price, too.

He didn’t reply for 24 hours.

“The house has been rented,” he told us eventually. “Three tenants offered to pay the initial asking price. The California housing market can be tough. You’ll learn. Good luck!”

mansion in the mountains

I mean, we’re not trying to move into THIS. Why does everything cost a trillion dollars?

Since then, we’ve spent every spare second scouring the Internet for homes to rent. It’s not as much fun knowing that every asking price we see is just THE PRICE — there’s something sort of exciting about the process of making offers and negotiating for the best deal, and we’re getting robbed of that experience.

More than that, though, is that now I’m going to be moving into a house I’ve never seen. This is not ideal for a control freak. Al starts his new job next week, so he’s moving in two days. Peaches and I are staying behind for another month or so; I’ll be teaching through the end of this marking period (but not the end of the school year, since there’s a limit to how late into the pregnancy I can fly) and then buttoning up some loose ends with our Michigan home. That leaves Al to look around in California — alone — while I just cross my fingers and hope he knows me.

About Melissa

Melissa is a SAG-AFTRA actress and former high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when she was six months pregnant. She is the winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and a past winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize (selected by Susanna Kaysen, author of Girl, Interrupted), the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer's inaugural personal essay contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. She has been shortlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award and was recently selected for The Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

2 comments on “California Housing Market, You’re Kind of the Worst

  1. ugh. yeah, this sounds frustrating. but, are you trying to rent, or buy? maybe renting is a good idea, figure out which neighborhood best suits your new cali personality. and also, if you need to cut square footage, it can be a blessing in many ways. less to clean, less clutter, less stuff to babyproof, and you dont have so far to walk in the middle of the night to help the kiddos. since we left MI we have majorly adjusted our living space and it brings me so much peace now. i cant imagine going back. but i am sending you housing vibes. whatever and wherever you chose, i GET that its important to feel settled before baby comes. i just wanted in our apartment before Y was born. we had 1 month and it was hectic.

  2. Oh my gosh, house hunting from a distance is the worst! My husband and I grew up in the Bay Area, but we moved away for 8-years, and we recently came back to California last August. We rented a small house sight unseen, and thankfully, it worked out for us. But, man, I remember that stress. Just keep trusting that it will all work out. 🙂

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