Home is Where the Mortgage Is
Everyone in California is obsessed with real estate, and I am no exception. Before we bought our house I spent countless hours perusing Realtor.com until I had memorized the asking price, square footage, and HOA fees of just about every available place in the Concord area. When we finally moved, I figured my fixation would diminish, but I find myself drawn to the website again and again - to reassure myself that we did not pay too much, to see if property values are still increasing in my neighborhood, or - more typically - to torture myself by looking at the price of housing outside of the Bay Area.
Yesterday, bored out of my mind on a lengthy conference call, I was at it again, checking out listings for Salt Lake City, Utah. Though I have absolutely no plans to move now or in the forseeable future, I have always kept Salt Lake City in my mind as one of the places I would consider living if I weren't so tied to this area. The economy is healthy, the natural surroundings are gorgeous and clean and not clogged by traffic and pollution, crime is practically non-existent, and the Jewish community, while tiny, is close-knit and so progressive that the synagogue is led by a gay, female rabbi. Also, my dad grew up there amid a large extended family, so I feel like I have a personal connection to the city. Aside from an elderly aunt, all of my relatives there are gone, but I kind of like the idea that if I did live there I might periodically run into people who remember my dad or my grandma or my Uncle Max, who taught me how to play hearts and Crazy Eights and once bought me a triple-scoop ice cream cone because I couldn't decide what flavor I wanted.
What I found on Realtor.com was astounding - so much so that I almost blew my cover and shouted "Holy Crap!" in the middle of the conference call. Most of the homes were selling for about half of what we paid for our house - and the homes in that price range were typically brand new 5-bedroom models with huge yards and more square footage than I would know what to do with. And what could you get with the amount we did spend on our place? Well, how about a 7-bedroom, 4-bath custom-built showcase with an entryway straight out of Gone With the Wind and a master suite with a hot tub and fireplace? Or, if you prefer, a lovingly restored 5,276 Sq. Ft. Victorian with a 4-car garage, stained glass windows and a panoramic view of the canyon?
It's not that my house here in California is so bad. In fact, when real estate envy overtakes me, I have to remind myself that not long ago I was toiling for poverty wages as a social worker, and even moving to a bigger apartment seemed out of reach. I never dared hope that in just a few years I would be the owner of a nice four-bedroom house in a wonderful community with miles of greenery and a playground and three swimming pools and one of the best school districts in the state. I love my house and I do appreciate how lucky I am to own it - yet I must admit I am still recovering from the disillusionment of being approved for financing beyond our wildest dreams, and consequently discovering that even that seemingly astronomical amount only qualified us for the most basic, no-frills, modest older homes in the area.
Then again, it is not just "the area." It is the Bay Area, and that is really what I am paying for - the chance to live in one of the world's leading centers of arts and culture, museums, resturants, wineries and shopping. As nice as Utah seems, I don't know that I would feel comfortable in a place with so little ethnic diversity - or political diversity, for that matter. I don't necessarily toe the liberal party line on every single issue, but it would be VERY hard for me to live among people who would allow Proposition 3 on the ballot, much less vote in favor of it.
So, even though moving to the Beehive State would make it easier for me to stalk both Donny Osmond and Ken Jennings, it looks like I will be staying here for awhile.