Thursday, February 25, 2010

House Hunt

“Most of the time it was probably really bad being stuck down in a dungeon. But some days, when there was a bad storm outside, you’d look out your little window and think, ‘Boy, I’m glad I’m not out in that.’”

- Jack Handy

When I ran in the rain to my car yesterday morning, I stole a glance at a dead rat that lay atop the square of earth surrounding a tree on the sidewalk. Rats are everywhere, but especially in cities. Most of the time, I can pretend that they don’t exist until they lay dead on the street or, worse, scurry in front of my path. In my eight years in Cambridge, the latter has (thankfully) only happened a handful of times.

Was I the only one disgusted with the thought of rats working in the kitchen in “Ratatouille”? I loved everything else about the movie, but… the rats. Rats symbolize what I don’t like about residing in a city. For the diversity, variety of foods, entertainment, and good schools in Cambridge, there’s also poverty, noise, congestion, and filth. Filth brings rats.

I fool myself into thinking that if my husband and I didn’t live in Area 4*, we wouldn’t see as many rats. Since my husband got his new job, we’ve been sort of hunting for a house. I’ve written about my problems finding a full-time job (that’s why I’m a sub) and how that’s delayed us getting a bigger place**. It’s rare that homes pop up in our price range, so we haven’t worked on securing a pre-approval. This morning, my husband and I vowed that we would move on that because if an opportunity comes along, we want to be able to pounce on it like a cat on a rat. (Sorry.)

Right now, we live in a two-bedroom condo. My requirements for the next place are modest: three-bedrooms, so my boy and girl would have separate bedrooms. A second bathroom, driveway, and some property (grass), and I’d jump for joy. But no more than two bathrooms or I’d be stuck cleaning them.

Two houses in our approximate price range popped up in recent weeks. One needs work and has no property, but would be big enough for our needs and is in good shape. The other is in the sought-after Cambridgeport section, near the river (don't point out that rats live near rivers) and Trader Joe’s (Good and bad, since it’s visible from the ample yard). It’s big, but needs work and has only one bathroom. And even with the price decrease, it would be a financial stretch.

The big one already has three offers and we’re not ready to compete, but the smaller one may be doable. If there are no offers on that, we can get the pre-approval, and manage to wait for our current condo to sell (bridge loan?), then we may be able to move sooner rather than later.

But I really wanted to have the next move be the final house. Not that I’d never consider moving again, but that it could be the last home because I didn’t need to make any huge compromises. Could I live without ever having some property other than the outline of the house? Probably not. If we buy soon, then the chance that the new house will have anything more than one extra bedroom is slim, but without my full-time job earnings, that may be the reality.

And the clock is ticking. My son is eleven and my daughter is seven. They’ll need to be separated soon, and we’d prefer not to put up a wall in their bedroom. If we move into something we can barely afford, we’ll be scrimping once more. Whether we can afford something now so have to live more frugally as a result, or we start living more frugally so we can afford something soon, we still need to reign in some spending. We save, but we should save even more.

But what Americans “need” has changed in the last fifteen-years. Remember life without cable, Internet, and cell phones?

I look back to our first cheap apartment with few expenses. The biggest cost was insuring our two cars. Heat was included and phone and electricity were each a mere $30 a month. There was no cable in New York City, so the building’s antennae had to do. Internet was $20 for dial-up.

Now I have a big cable bill, Internet costs more, heat is expensive in he winter, we have two cell phones, insuring one car costs as much as our two old cars used to cost, and we have a car payment. (Our Taurus died, so we bought a new car. Then someone being chased by the police because he tried to run over a police officer with his car hit our new car***.) Plus the kids are doing more activities after school.

I don’t mind prioritizing to get a bigger house. If we have to drop an activity or two, eat out less, and think about how to lower other bills, that’s part of being responsible. Why am I paying so much for a telephone landline exactly?

But it’s the knowledge that if I had a full-time job, we could purchase the larger home without compromising on an extra bathroom and property, and still have some spending money, that bothers me. A letter from the school superintendent arrived today, informing parents that due to the economy, there will be millions of dollars in budget cuts. What are my teaching prospects now? And I thought securing a book deal was difficult.

Being stuck in this house is another symbol of me being professionally stuck.

“There’s only one me, and I’m stuck with him.”

- Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

* A little more about Area 4:

** Other posts about money issues:

*** Yes, that’s my gray Mazda in the article. This is the second time my car was hit, but this time it was the new one, and it just received a little damage.


  1. Hi!!

    That newspaper article is amazing. I mean I'm so sorry that was your car that got hit - what are the odds?!! Good grief - but have you read the comments under that news article?? People know the guy wot did it!

    Anyway - gosh. What a difficult situation for you and your family. I do so emphathise with you about your desire to make this house move the last one. I think I remember reading in one of your previous posts how you first moved to Cambridge and your little boy was three and he sat on the floor looking completely shell-shocked! Awwwww! So moving is so stressful enough as it is but it'll be great if you could settle down and root yourselves wouldn't it? And of course your children would need separate rooms. But there are so many financial constraints and restraints that I do not envy you this major mega decision. It's difficult enough when you are on your own but triply mega so when you are a family with growing children.

    GOOD LUCK!!! Really and truly. I hope that whatever happens you will all be happy.

    Take care

  2. I hope you find a house that you love . . . and a job!

  3. Old Kitty, I didn't look at the comments at the end of the article. I'll have to check it out. When the article first came out, our car and the SUV that crashed into it was the photo.

    We'll eventually find something else, but until we do, it's stressful. My daughter's babysitter friend (Nana) had nine children in a two-bedroom place smaller than mine until they could afford to move, and she worked nights to save up. Thanks for your sweet words.

    Edie, thanks for the comment. I hope so too!

  4. I'm determined to figure out how to comment on your blog!Okay I think I did it so....good luck house hunting and now I'll comment all the time!

  5. Good luck - I hope you find the house you're looking for! And you're so right about all the extra expenses these days. Is it just me, or have grocery prices gone through the roof lately? Let us know how your house hunting goes!

  6. The more bathrooms you have the easier it is to clean those bathrooms.

  7. Julie, thank you for the comment. I'm glad you persevered!

    Susan, thanks for the comment. It's true, buying groceries is no trivial expense.

    Sheila, I'll take your word for it, since I only have one bathroom to clean.

  8. I had to smile at your comment about this move being the final move, because I said the same thing! After 10 moves in 5 years (when I first moved to Richmond), I really wanted the house move to be it. But like you, I went for what I could afford. It still is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done for myself. The first few years where hard, but then the house went up in value, the payments remained the same (and my salary did increase slightly over the years) and the tax write off starting having an impact and now it's fine. I am going to move into that dream house(condo now)...damn it, I am. I just have to wait a little longer. I had no idea your car was involved in such drama! I can't believe no one told me. I'm just glad no one was hurt. Anyway, I hope you get the house! - Kisses! Jacquie

  9. Anonymous/Jacquie, thanks for the nice words. We bought out house with Cambridge's help, so we have some resale restrictions and we only get interest, which means if the condo increases in value, we don't get the profit, but if it goes down, we don't get the loss.

    I'm glad you have a good house for a few years. Moving all the time is a hassle, to say the least.

  10. I hope your house hunt goes well. We did the whole pre-qual thing way before we got serious about looking. We wanted to be ready when the perfect house came along. I'm so glad now that we did it.

    Too bad you can't move to Texas. In my old home town 150-200K put you in a beautiful home with 2000-3000 square feet. Here in the Texas Hill Country it is a little more expensive, but still very reasonable. I had some friends here from California the day we signed the contract on our new house and they said the same house would go for 750K in California. I don't know what the pay scale is for teachers in Mass. is. Here it averages 40,000-60,000 per year depending on number of years of experience. So maybe your housing costs are higher but your wages are higher also.

  11. Mrs. H, thanks for the comment.

    Our two-bedroom condo (1080 square. feet) was 300k, but we got help from the city to buy it. When I get a job, I expect to make around 48k because I have a master's plus thirty credits.

    If I lived other places, there would probably be more jobs and we could afford a bigger house with property. It's tempting. If something happens soon we may have to move. My husband works right in Cambridge and we have roots here, so it would be nice to stay.

    Good luck with your house-hunting!