Category Archives: Real Estate & Rent

Rental Prices Rising as Housing Stuck in Slump: Or, The Tiniest Apartment in NYC

When people don’t want to buy houses (or are forced out of their houses because they can’t afford them) that means one thing: rental costs are going up. It’s a simple law of supply and demand. Reis Inc’s quarterly report showed the vacancy rate dropped to 6.2 percent in the first three months of the year, down from 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter. It was the steepest fall since the commercial real estate research firm began tracking the market in 1999.

Increased employment, especially for 20- to 34-year-olds, is spurring demand for housing. Many of those newly employed younger people, however, cannot come up with the tens of thousands of dollars often needed for down payments, turning them into renters. — Reuters

However, not everyone is letting rising rents get to them, even in the world’s most expensive cities. Renters, for frugal inspiration, 40 Year Old Felice Cohen — a professional organizer in New York City — shows that you don’t need to spend a lot to live in an expensive area, you just need to be, well, extremely organized. And be willing to sleep 23 inches from your ceiling. This woman spends $700 a month in NYC on a 90-square-foot closet apartment… closet. You have to see this (if you haven’t yet)…

20-Something Life in The City vs. The Burbs

It’s Sunday morning, and I roll out of bed after a much-needed full night of rest and stare out my window. One roommate is up, clanking around the kitchen, but otherwise, there is just a slight breeze that can be heard through the windows and silence.

It’s all too tempting to remain in my bed another hour longer as there really isn’t anything to jump out of bed to do. In order to get anywhere, I have to drive at least 10 minutes away. To get to the city, it’s an hour drive give or take. So, while I’d love to head to Golden Gate Park for a run, instead, I lie in bed, and imagine what it would be like to live in the city.

When I moved out to the Bay Area in 2005, I always assumed I’d end up in San Francisco. But, instead, I’ve managed to live just about everywhere within an hour radius around the city and never in it.

There’s a part of me that feels like I need to experience city life now, before I get “old” and have a family and a reason to trap myself in the ‘burbs. Right now, there’s a piece of satisfaction with life I’m missing, and I think that has a large part to do with not living in the city. I want to be able to go to a figure drawing open session on Tuesday night… or Thurs night. And make new friends that are my age who like to go out and do… things.

Right now, I’m in a coffee shop in San Francisco near the Lower Haight, and the energy here is so city Sunday. Soft music plays, people are talking, reading, enjoying the day. Through the glass in front of me are four women, probably in their early 30s, enjoying a relaxing lunch, the SF version of Sex & the City (more hoodies, ponytails, but probably similar conversation.) And I want that… I want a life outside of work and watching reruns at my boyfriend’s house.

July 1 I have the opportunity to move… I can either stay close to work, or… maybe it’s the right time to make the move to the city. It would mean an hour-long commute to work, and more expensive rent, but it could also mean finding the missing link between my life today and my happiness.

What do you think? Do you live in a city or suburbs? Does living in a city help one be happy and feel more connected in her 20s/30s?

My Dad Thinks I Should Buy A House

Mom: “Dad thinks you should buy a house.”

Me: “I don’t have enough money to buy a house. The cheapest 1br condo here would be more than $300k.”

Mom: “He said you should put a down payment of $100k. You have $100k.”

Me: “Most of that $100k is in my retirement accounts.”

Mom: “Dad thinks you should buy a house before you put money in a retirement account.”

Me: “Ugggggh. Tell dad if he wants to buy me a house, I’ll buy a house.”

Mom: “Dad thinks YOU should buy a house.”

A day rarely goes by when I haven’t browsed the condo listings on Craigslist or Zillow, oogling at various houses that I can’t afford. I don’t feel the need to buy a house right now… as it seems the option is paying $700 in rent or $2000+ in mortgage, interest, insurance, taxes and HOAs. Buying a place just doesn’t add up.

What really frustrates me is how my dad always thinks he knows what is best for me. Here’s why it doesn’t make sense for me to buy my own place… my job, despite being full time with benefits, isn’t a sure bet. Working a startup, you have to assume that within two years when the money runs out you may be out of a job. I’m confident that even in this dismal economy I can get another job eventually… but when I’m renting digging out $700 a month to cover rent from savings doesn’t kill me. Covering a mortgage probably would. Then there’s the fact that I don’t know where I’ll be in one year, let alone five years. And housing prices here aren’t that low like they are elsewhere in the country.

So, you know what dad, I’d rather rent. I like my mobility, my semi-affordable monthly payments, my ability to put most of my monthly income into the stock market (which… may also be a bad idea, I’m not exactly an investing genius.) In the long run I don’t know if I’d do better “investing” in a house vs taking all that money and investing it in the market. But I figure odds are I’ll make out better in the long run going the stock route vs. the crap the foundation of my house collapsed route.

But seriously, dad, if you really want me to buy a house, I’ll gladly accept a downpayment from you.

Moving On… Out?

Sure, there have been moments where I wanted to pull my hair out living with my current roommates, and I’ve been guilty of causing these moments in return, but the past 2.5 years living in this apartment have been some of the most stable in my life. This has been the apartment of my mid 20s, and now it’s time to figure out the housing situation of my late 20s.

My current apartment — a room in a 3br, 2ba in a nice condo complex in the Bay Area burbs (next to houses that cost $1.5M+) cost me $632.50 a month. The room is small, but big enough for a full size bed, and has a wide widow overlooking greenery, blocking the parking area from view. It has large sliding mirror doors on the closet, which makes it seem more spacious, and much better than the room I first lived in when I moved to the Bay Area (in Burlingame) that cost $450 a month but really felt like a closet.

The rest of the apartment is nice. It has a balcony that I rarely use, a large living room / dining room space, full kitchen, the full bathroom that I share with one other girl, and another full master bedroom with its own private bathroom. The cost breakdown between myself and my roommates has never seemed totally fair… the private bedroom with walk in closet and private bath is $770 a month, where the much smaller bedrooms are $632 each. But I’d prefer to have access to a bath (not shower only) and like the window in my room, so never bothered to complain. The complex is nice, has its own small park-like area, and a pool that I’ve used probably 6 times total since I moved in (but enjoyed greatly on the rare really really hot days of summer.) And the location is pretty good too. It’s about 25 minutes to work, 30-45 minutes to the city sans traffic by car, 10 minutes to my boyfriends house, 5-10 minutes to the supermarket. I’m right by a freeway exit (off the better freeway in the Peninsula.) Oh, and there’s a washer and dryer in the unit!!!

So why move? Well, maybe I won’t. But whether or not I move, there are some major changes coming, because both of my roommates are moving out. One is moving out for her school program, she’s relocating to Southern California. The other is moving in with her girlfriend and closer to work. That leaves me with one 3br, 2ba apartment and no roommates.

While my landlord may choose to increase the price of the apartment when my roommates move out, they may not if I can find immediate replacements. And there are only a few reasons why I’d want to leave…

1) Finding two new roommates is going to be very difficult, and I’ve had so many bad roommate experiences before, that maybe I want to live alone right now

2) The location is ok, but it’s really inconvenient for biking anywhere as it’s up a giant hill. I’d like to live somewhere that makes it possible to bike to work, and use my car less.

3) Maybe now is the opportunity to move to the city. I’ve always wanted to live in San Francisco, and it makes a lot more sense to do it in my 20s/ early 30s, versus when I am ready to have kids and settle down. That said, it would be kind of dumb to move to the city right now, as it would increase my commute time. There are rooms in the city for the same price I’m paying now, or even less, but the apartments wouldn’t be as nice as the one I live in, and they’d also probably not be in the areas I’d want to live in the city (if I’m going to keep my cost the same)

4) Should I find a place that’s cheaper? 632.50 is not bad for a room where I live, but I could feasibly find a place that’s $500. It may not have its own laundry in the apartment, it may require a longer commute, but I could save more money (or have more money to spend on things I need like a car, mental healthcare, etc.)

So… I’m not sure what to do. I’m scouring Craigslist on a daily basis but it’s too early to look. My roommates and I have decided that our move-out date will likely be July 1, which means I can’t really start looking until Mid-to-late May. So that’s three months of driving myself nuts over this.

It could be a great opportunity to be in control of finding my new roommates for this place… but, to be honest, I’m just tired of having roommates. I want something more private, a place I can be a recluse in when I don’t need to be around people. Where I can watch American Idol in peace. But that dream is expensive. When I lived alone previously my rent skyrocketed from $905 a month to $1300 a month in just two years. I feel much wiser paying $600 a month vs $1300! Then again, if I was paying $1300 a month or more it would be an easier decision to BUY a place vs renting. Right now I think I’m doing pretty good renting. I’m able to put a good chunk of change into my investment accounts.

Is it better to own a studio apartment and put all my savings each month into that, or just put all that money into my investment accounts? Plus… with my mental instability (the joys of bipolar II) I think I need the freedom of not being locked into anything (like a mortgage OR expensive rent payments.) I guess I will just have to wait until May/June to figure this out. I’m so tempted to move to the city, but that’s probably an awful idea. What do you think?

The Housing Bailout: It’s unfair, it’s necessary, it’s ridiculous

They say a housing bailout is necessary. For all the people who purchased homes they couldn’t afford at to-good-to-be-true rates, here’s your bailout. I’m generally a liberal but this is going too far.

The problem stems from how the American dream is so closely linked to owning a house. If you can’t afford a house – don’t buy one. Renting is not the end of the world. It’s a lot cheaper. Wait until you can afford a reasonable 30-year fixed mortgage to buy a house. That’s what I plan to do.

Of course, given that the government is going to bail everyone out who can’t afford their poor choices, it seems I may have been better off buying a condo years ago. I could be facing foreclosure now, with my home underwater. I could be begging the government to bail me out.

I understand that when you have children the situation changes a bit. You want stability, a house that you’ll own, and not have to worry about moving if your landlord decides to kick you out. Ok, I get it. I feel for you if that’s the situation you’re in. But I still think that when it comes down to it, Americans need to be responsible for their own actions.

God, I sound like a Republican.

Live Within Your Means

While being interviewed for a television news feature about frugal living and saving money, I realized that despite being fully aware of ways to save, I’m just not doing enough when it comes to saving money. With gas prices rising, and my rent being what it was, I was breaking even at best most months, or covering the prior month’s expenditures with my next month’s savings.

While that’s better than going into debt, it won’t get me the things I want to save for – getting my teeth fixed ($10k), laser hair removal ($6k?), a condo/house (an $80k downpayment?), and grad school ($120k?). That’s a lot of money I have to save above and beyond the basic emergency fund and other living costs.

As many of you know, my rent was skyrocking up to $1300 this year and while I could pay that with my current income, it would basically cost me my savings plan.

So I left my apartment, without knowing where my next home would be. This month I’m staying with a friend for a measly $350, as she’s being so kind to let me crash in her spare bedroom. That’s helping me make up a little of what I spent on my vacation in Israel… I spent way too much there, figuring I could make it up when I returned and found a cheaper place to rent. That, indeed, is what I’m going to do.

I found a place that I like, and it has a lot of the features I was looking for. And my rent is going from $1050 to about $670 per month, after utilities (except internet/cable). I’ll be splitting the internet & cable bill 3 ways, so instead of it costing me $100 per month, it will be just $30. Total savings, based on last years rent, is about $350 per month, or $3750 per year. Based on the rent I was supposed to pay this year, I’m saving $600 per month, or $7200 per year.

While that’s not the $80k I need for the downpayment on a house, or even the $10k to get my teeth fixed, it’s a lot better than wasting that money on rent.

My new room is small. I’ll be sharing a bathroom. I’ll be paying a bit more in gas to actually get places since it’s close to a freeway but not that close to work. Biking to work is no longer an option. But the place, for the price, is rather nice. It has a washer and dryer in unit, plus a dishwasher, and a nice community pool. The complex is a mix of owners and renters, so the property is well maintained. The owners of the specific condo that I’m renting are supposedly nice (I haven’t met them yet) and haven’t even raised the rent in a while – much better than the money-hungry apartment management company that took over my last complex and those $250 a year rent increases!

So… while my savings has depleted itself a bit during the last few months, I’m confident I can make back most of that money within 12 months. Or at least I hope I can. And then the real saving will begin.

Why Living Alone is Worth Half My Paycheck: Part Two

Over lunch today, I plan to drive to my apartment complex’s office and fill out a form to renew my lease for another year. I’m hesitant to do this, as I know I could be saving upwards of $300 a month if I were to live in a smaller “cozy” studio or perhaps even $500 a month if I could put up with a roommate situation. I might put off signing the lease until tomorrow, but tomorrow is the day my lease officially expires – and, as far as I know, I have until June 8 to agree to sign a new lease under the new terms.

Those terms include a rent-raise of $145 per month. My rent, for my studio, was $905 per month, utilities included (sans cable TV, internet and phone.) Now the price is being bumped up to $1050.

Realistically, I could find another studio for $850 somewhere else on the Peninsula, saving me $200 per month, or $2400 per year. But avoiding having to deal with moving again seems to be worth at least $2400. Besides, I’m still hopeful that at some point in the next year I’ll either get a raise or find a job that pays a little bit more. Most likely it will be the later, since I’m pretty sure my company is going to go under sometime fairly soon.

My rent costs have varied drastically ever since moving into an apartment in college. In Chicago, I shared a 2 bedroom with two other people. I opted for the large, door less living room and used a curtain for privacy. At the time, my parents were paying my rent (thanks mom and dad) but because I was so stingy I’d rather spend less on rent than have a place of my own and spend more. When I moved out to Burlingame, CA, I didn’t have a job – so I knew I needed to find an extremely cheap place. I ended up moving into one small room in a 4br apartment (in a nice location) for $480 a month. It was a pretty good deal, considering rents in the area. But my roommates and I didn’t get along. I was (and am) messy and they were party animals. It was a six month lease under someone else’s name. She also paid for all the utilities and charged the boarders rent. What missed me off most was the month she decided not to pay for the wireless internet (although it was supposedly included in my rent and I needed it for my freelance work and my internship). After the six months, I moved out. I was supposed to move in with one of the girls I had been living with and her friend. We found a 3br in Belmont, CA, that I think was going to be about $500 each per month. We paid our deposit of $500 each. Then, a week later, they all backed out on me. I lost $500. I was not a happy camper. At that point I figured it was worth my sanity to move into a pricey studio.

I’m not sure it’s worth it to pay $1050 a month for a studio when after taxes I take in about $2100 a month. It is, however, worth it to live alone.

I like being around people. Sometimes. But when I come home I just want to kick off my shoes, rip off my clothes, and be naked for the rest of the evening. Seriously. I need that kind of freedom. While I make my own amount of noise (the most noise I make is when I’m singing), I can’t stand other people making noise. And while I’m a bit of a slob, I cannot put up with other people’s mess. I like having ownership of my space. It’s not just about being able to go into a tiny room, close a door and shut myself off from the world. Maybe it would be better if I had a room with my own bathroom. But I like the idea of a studio. I’m even more comfortable in a studio compared to a 1br. My studio is very spacious.

What I like about my apartment:

– the high ceilings and openness
– my neighborhood, even though I don’t take advantage of it.
– Location – I’m really smack dab in the middle of anywhere I’d want to be by about a 40 minutes drive either way. I’m a six minute drive from work.
– a nice pool in my apartment complex… that I used maybe twice last year. I’m
– the utilities are included, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting to pay my monthly bills
– the dressing room hallway/closet. Lets me keep my mess contained if visitors come over.
– The size – there’s room in my place for a futon and a full size bed.
– Privacy. No one knows my name. I come home, I disappear into my apartment. I like being anonymous sometimes. I mean, I’d like to get to know my neighbors, but I also like it that no one there knows who I am
– Onsite maintenance workers that are fairly responsive. No annoying landlord to deal with.
– Carport parking (no worries about finding a spot in the middle of the night)
– Decent street parking availability for guests
– Light-hued carpeting and off-white walls make apartment look even more spacious

What I don’t like about my apartment

– The cost
– That it’s a studio, so if I have a friend stay over there is absolutely no privacy
– It’s not rent controlled. I worry how much the rent will go up next year.
– The building is old. Weird things happen. The paint on my wall seems to have melted off in stripes due to the suns rays coming in through the blinds
– Most of the people who live in the complex are older families. It would be kind of nice to know a few people my age in the gigantic complex, in case I were to have an emergency.
– I’m not close to any “downtown” area. I’m a few blocks from a large shopping mall, but that’s really dangerous when it comes to my spending habits, so I avoid going there as much as possible.
– there’s no outdoor trails to rollerblade on locally, I’d have to drive to a trail to rollerblade, and I’m too lazy to do it.

But, I’ve come to conclusion that I have to live alone. At least until I’m living with someone I’m dating or married to. I think I could deal with that. I might even like it. But I just hate living with strangers. Or even friends. Well, mostly I hate living with strangers. I’ve had the worst experiences in roommate situations. And many of them were my fault. I just can’t deal with sharing my space. Sometimes the awkward situations were not my fault. In college, the second year I lived in my 3br apartment a crazy girl moved in. She was extremely overweight and had a lot of mental issues. I could put up with her, but her boyfriend just drove me crazy. He has some sort of social disorder, which is fine and all, but I felt threatened by him on occasion. Once I was watching TV in the common area and this girl got a phone call so he walked over and turned off the TV without asking me, even though it was obvious I was watching it. So I said “excuse me, I was watching that” and he says (in a very creepy, evil way) “fuck you.” I was so pissed off I walked up to him and said “excuse me, you do not talk to me that way. Do you live here?” I was very proud of myself for my defense, but ultimately the whole occurrence sent me into depression for a few weeks.

It’s just I have such anxiety when it comes to dealing with other people. I honestly feel like there has been this huge weight lifted off my chest ever since moving into my own place and getting my car for transportation freedom. All of that costs a fortune, but I think it’s worth my sanity.

Besides, I save money on not needing therapy.

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RENT $ HISTORY

$450 (utilities not included): Chicago (Lincoln Park) “living room” in 2br apartment.
$800 (all utilities included): Washington, D.C. (SW) room sublet in a house.
$? (internship paid for housing): Berkeley, CA (room in 3br apartment)
$480 (all utilities included): Burlingame, CA (room in 4br apartment)
$905 (most utilities included): San Mateo, CA (studio)
$1050 (most utilities included): San Mateo, CA (same studio after rent increase)

Why Living Alone is Worth 50 Percent of My Paycheck: Part One

According to the recommended budget split, I hear you’re supposed to spend 20 to 30 percent of your income on housing. After my rent increase next month, I’ll have hit 50 percent. As I’ve pointed out before, my rent is now $1050 a month for a studio apartment. Before you gasp in horror, take note that the hefty fee also includes PG&E, water, and garbage, and access to a swimming pool.

Still, living in The Bay Area is painfully expensive. Out of curiosity, I went on Craigslist to see what $1050 would get me in various locations of the country…


SAN FRANCISCO

$1025 Quiet Studio with Beautiful Floors and Remodeled Bathroom (downtown / civic / van ness)
This gorgeous apartment has hardwood floors throughout, fresh paint, a lovely remodeled bathroom, and a walk-in closet. Located at the back of the building, this apartment is perfect for someone who enjoys peace and quiet.

$1050 Bright, Spacious Studio *Completely Remodeled* OPEN HOUSE. (downtown / civic / van ness)
High ceilings and large windows make this a bright, beautiful, spacious studio. Completely remodeled with fresh paint throughout and has refinished hardwood floors. There is a walk-in closet, too. A separate large eat-in kitchen has plenty of room for a table. The building is centrally located, with great public transportation options, just a block from the Van Ness corridor. There is an elevator and a large laundry room in the basement with coin operated washers/dryers. Sorry, we do not allow pets. There is a resident manager on site and the building is professionally managed. The required deposit is $1150.00

NEW YORK

$1050 HUGE 2 ROOM STUDIO BY A/D EXPRESS BIG KIT-FRENCH DOORS + PARK VIEWS!! (Harlem / Morningside)

RENOVATED PRE-WAR 2 ROOM STUDIO – BIGGER THAN MANY HARLEM 1 BEDS
GLASS FRENCH DOORS! EAT-IN-KITCHEN!
THIS GREAT APARTMENT IS A FEW SHORT BLOCKS TO THE EXPRESS SUBWAY A/C/D AND CONVENIENT TO ALL
THIS APARTMENT FEATURES –
GLEAMING OAK HARDWOOD FLOORS
CERAMIC TILED EAT IN KITCHEN – BIG ENOUGH FOR A TABLE AND CHAIRS OR OFFICE SET UP
MODERN RENOVATED WINDOWED EAT-IN-KITCHEN WITH COUNTERSPACE!!!
A HUGE DOUBLE CLOSET AND STORAGE ABOVE
A WINDOWED BATHROOM WITH A ENAMELED PORCELIAN TUB
AND LIGHT!! IT’S SUNNY AND BRIGHT WITH PARK VIEWS!!

CHICAGO

$1000 / 1br – Gr8 Price & Location?Rehabbed?FREE Heat, Gas, Water?No Dep Super location! Super price with lots of savings with free heat, gas & water!!! Plus everything has been rehabbed.. Check out the stats: • It’s a new rehab. • It’s a great price!! Heat, water AND gas is included in rent, and there is NO security deposit!! • It’s a bright unit located in a courtyard building w/ fruits trees!! • It’s in a great location… Lakeview… walking distance to Wrigleyville, Lake front, gyms, restaurants and Lake!!! • VERY EZ access to CTA (bus and el)!! • It’s a REHABBED 1 bedroom about 500-600 sq ft. That means everything has been recently rehabbed!! New kitchen, new appliances including dishwasher, new hardwood floors throughout, new electric service, new dry-wall, new bathroom, new vanity. • Also, there is laundry & bike storage in building. • Cats and small dogs (30 lbs or less) allowed • Cable and internet ready. • 24/7 maintenance.

$1045 / 1br – GET A JUMP START……………for August. Make sure you have a look at our building as part of your search. You will find a gorgeous vintage high rise across the street from the park, several blocks to the lake & Zoo, by boutiques, restaurants, bus stops, grocery. 24 Hour doorman, hardwood floors, fitness room, laundry facility, heat included, no security deposit. Call 773.477.7000 for an appointment. 401 W. Fullerton.

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What can you get for $1000-$1050 a month’s rent in your neck of the woods? I’m planning on following up with a post tomorrow to explain why I spend 50 percent of my rent on living alone, and why I’m damned happy I do it.