Tag Archives: home buying

24 Days Close, 52 Days Until Move In: Buying a House While Pregnant During COVID is… uh… something else.

My emotions in the last 24 hours have ranged from extreme self satisfaction (I did it — I saved my ass off and bought a mudda f*cking house) to literally crying from the sheer stress of trying to do all the normal crazy things one has to do during closing on a new house–while 5 months pregnant — in the middle of a global pandemic — and wildfire air — and… and… and…

This is really hard folks. I know I can be a bit of a drama queen, but I think this would be hard for anyone.

My husband is my rock. My logic sounding board. Many great things. But I’m the CFO of the household. I’m the one who has saved enough to buy this home. He’s the one who has been there for me long enough to keep me semi sane and make it possible. We’ve both earned this.

That doesn’t make this any easier.

For starters, I want to ensure the home is SAFE when we move in.

Being that we bought in the Bay Area, we went in no contingencies and we (uh) gleefully dropped off a $50k escrow payment and said buh buh $50,000. We can still drop out of the deal for the next 24 days until close, but that $50k… we’re not getting it back.

The seller’s inspection report was rather light. There was a separate pest and roof report which noted repairs needed. I understand nothing of how serious things are and what is really required to fix them.

Seller wanted a 30 day rent back (in Bay Area a “rent back” basically means they get to stay for 30 days for free while we pay their mortgage) so I tried to negotiate credits for the major repairs. That somehow ended up being them giving us $5k towards the closing costs and us basically agreeing to $5k more over the life of the loan. I guess that’s a better deal than paying the $5k up front. But then we’re losing $7k on not being able to actually move in. Numbers, numbers.

So the sellers will fix the roof (out of the credit) before they move out, and supposedly will schedule tenting the week after they move out, or something. I don’t know.

We have other work we want to do. The most important is any safety stuff. There’s some electrical things that need to be fixed. That’s my #1 concern. We need a new electrical panel and some wiring.

My next concern is that the report mentioned that the chimney is separating from the house. Or maybe my next concern is the standing water in the crawl space. Hmm. Both seem concerning. But what to do about them? How urgent are they? Will a chimney fall on my son? We aren’t going to use the chimney… but the bricks are scary.

Other than that, the house seems… maybe ok to live in for a while?

We want to put in AC by next summer. It probably makes to do this before we move in. So we are looking into this option. I have a not-going-to-happen dream about getting a bathtub in the hall bath so I have a tub (which is important to me I’m a big bath person and my son also takes baths.)

But it’s a nightmare trying to get access to the house to get contractors in to quote…

Our initial plan was/is to bring contractors into the house over the next month (they are supposed give us access within 24 hours) and get quotes… but the sellers still live there so that’s proving rather difficult. They’re giving us one Saturday and my realtor has to be there and she’s only available for 3 hours or so. Initially we were trying to do this on a Sunday but I discovered all the contractors are off on Sundays. So now we’re aiming for next Saturday. And scheduling all these folks is a nightmare… plus they need to sign COVID forms to get in the house and we have limitations how many people can be inside at once and anyway it’s not fun.

We SHOULD probably just wait until we move in. But…

All construction work we do before moving in, ideally. Between normal construction dust and COVID and everything else, it seemed reasonable to say we’re going to select contractors now and then start work as soon as we have access to the house in November. We might pay 1-2 more months of rent in our apartment (about $3k per month) PLUS the $7k per month mortgage (yes, that’s $10k per month – forking A) just to get things done without us being in the house.

Outside of the whole $10k a month issue… let me remind all of you (because I certainly have not forgotten) that I’m super preggo and I shall be popping out one new baby sometime in January. Hopefully in January. God willing, January. I am not in the mood to be either living in a house with tons of construction going on in the last month of my pregnancy. But it’s extra complicated because…

We now live about 45 minutes from my in-laws and 30 minutes from my hospital.  That’s not a huge deal except when I go into labor, we need at least one of them to watch our son. Neither live in places where he can stay. Ah, but we have a house! And — isn’t grandpa supposed to be living with you?

Well, yes–this is all true.

If grandpa moves in Jan 1 (and I deliver close to my due date) then we can leave my son at home with him. We still would like to get my mother-in-law there, somehow… but I’m not quite sure how that will happen as my husband will need to drive me to the hospital then drive her back to the house then drive back to the hospital (that’s like 2 and a half hours total — he very well may miss the entire show.) Or… grandpa lives with us, my son stays there, I give birth, after that husband drives grandma to our house and then comes back. Or… I don’t know. I’m still not seeing how this works. And I’d like grandpa not to move in with us until Feb 1. so I can have access to the bathroom tub which is actually an amazingly nice tub (assuming it works) that has jacuzzi jets and everything. I’m not a fancy tub person (I just like deep soaking tubs) but I’m sure being super preggo it will feel good to be in the jacuzzi. Unfortunately the master bedroom doesn’t have a door separating its bathroom from the rest of the house. Bummer. So if he’s living with us, I can’t use that bathroom. I can’t use a bath at all. $7k a month, and I don’t even get a bath. Woe me and my first world problems.

So it probably makes the most sense for us to move in Dec 1 and grandpa to move in Jan 1 and all work to be done to be done between Nov 4 and Nov 30. Which is not a lot of time given thanksgiving is in there and from my understanding contractors can be booked up months out in advance. I’m not sure WHAT we’ll be able to get done by Nov 30. Sounds like prob roof and pest stuff. I’m hoping electrical. Everything else might have to wait.

Waiting– is also complicated. When grandpa moves in, and infant moves in, I don’t think any of us are going to feel good about having contractors in and out of the house for a while. This means that remodeling the bathroom will prob have to wait. AC work… if not done up front… may not happen in time for next summer (my husband is making it a priority to get that done now, and I do think electrical and AC are the 2 things that we should try to get done up front if we can.)

I’m trying to go into this house open minded. My husband gets so mad at me when I change my mind all the time. It’s not that I really have changed my mind, it’s just I have two ways of looking at this…

  1. Our mortgage is $7k a month, which is insane, and having his father live with us to pay $2k a month for a while really helps. This makes our cost more like $6k (mortgage minus deductions plus fixes) which is comparable to what it costs to rent a house, or maybe more by like $12k a year, which I can stomach. My frugal side says woohoo, I’ve bought a $1.6M 3 bedroom, 2 bath home for 2.625% 30 year fixed with 20% down and outside of semi minor repair work, it seems totally livable for a while. The master bedroom, which has a ridiculously large master bathroom (designed not to my taste but that can be fixed eventually and whatever, it’s still nice) will be all ours in prob 2-5 years when my FIL moves out. It is OUR house and I like the neighborhood overall (I think) and I like the schools and I think my kids will enjoy growing up there and maybe I can make friends and I got such a large lot and this will be good. This house isn’t near perfect but it has a lot of things I wanted and I will feel good pulling up to it and knowing it’s my house!
  2. I put $320,000 down and we’re paying $5k-$6k+ a month for this house. As the breadwinner, this is a lot of pressure on me to keep my job. While I feel better about my job stability at the moment than I have in the past, I know I could lose my job at any time. I also now am going to have to deal with a long commute if/when I go back to the office. I do LIKE this house… we looked at a ton of houses and this one checked most of the boxes. It’s missing a 4th bedroom, AC, and a bathroom I can use when FIL is living there, but otherwise, it’s good. It’s like… it’s fine. It’s nice. I knew to get something I really liked I would have to spend at least $2M. So I know this is $400k less than that. It feels like about $400k less than what I would really like. — BUT — man, I worked so hard to save up for this house and for the next 2-5 years of my life, including through the rest of this pregnancy, my healing, and probably one more pregnancy (though we may remodel some by then) I will be basically living in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with an in-law unit. It’s a nice house, don’t get me wrong, but the bedrooms (other than the master) are tiny. My husband and I will both be WFH for a while. The house is big but feels small because so much square footage is in the master bedroom. One day I’ll be able to enjoy that. You know, if the stress of home ownership doesn’t kill me before then.

That’s why I’m conflicted. And stressed. And freaking out. All the things. I’m grateful I’m off work this week. I couldn’t handle this stress while working FT. My realtor is SO ready to be done with me. She is always nice and responsive–at this point I know she’s just thinking how she has to grin and bear it for a few more weeks and hopefully we will write her some really nice reviews and she will feel like the last 6 months of putting up with us was worth it.

In the future, though, I’m going with a more experienced realtor. I mean, I’m sure there’s pros and cons to a noob vs someone who prob would have gotten tired of us a while back… but I realize how hard the final negotiations and contract part is, and I wish I had someone who just had more experience with all the ways it could go, and where we could really push back, etc. I’m sure no matter what there is some blindness that comes with the situation (you don’t know what the other offers are) so maybe this all went as well as it could have. We ended up buying for just a little over list, which is pretty much unheard of here, unless the house sucks, and I don’t think it sucks. It has issues, but the location is good, and nothing is unfixable.

Anyway. I’m going nutso. I think I just have to start packing to get my mind off of this insanity. And we’ll do one day at the house with contractors and see what we learn and then just wait until we can get in on Nov 4. Day of reckoning. We’ll be emotionally hungover from election night and certainly the drama that will come with Trump claiming Biden cheated even if Trump wins — seems like as good of day as any to move into a $1.6M house. Right? A democrat with a $1.6M house and no SALT deductions. Yea, that’s me.

Buying a House in the Bay Area Even Though It’s Probably Going to Burn Down

Anyone on the west coast at the moment is dealing with some ill effects of the insane wildfires raging up and down the coast. Many of us woke up to apocalypitc orange skies earlier this week, and have been coughing through the impact of that atmospheric ash slowly raining on us all weekend. COVID is still raging as well, as is the occasional heat wave, and we’re all stuck in our various apartments and homes that do not come standard with air conditioning.

Yet, I’m still planning on buying an overpriced home here. That will likely set a wildfire to my own FIRE journey. All logical signs point to RENT but I can’t get the buying dream out of my head. At the very least–when times get tough–this will force us to find a way to earn more. This is good for me (I won’t be able to give up) and good for my husband, who hasn’t changed jobs (one part time job) in over 15 years. He has the same home ownership dream I have, so in a way it gets us on the same page regarding finances a bit. I think that will be good. It’s not like I’m just saying we need to save more for retirement (no matter how hard I try, he doesn’t get it and thinks he can live cheap and be fine on his minimal savings.) But a house — he gets that. So at least he will be on board to earn more if (when) shit hits the fan.

I see my own financial life going one of two ways:

  • I get somewhat wealthy. A few years ago, I would have said you’re bonkers if you proposed this idea to me. I had been saving for years and while I had “a lot” in my accounts, it was still no where near the amount that would allow me to ever achieve “wealth”–that is a minimum of $5M in networth. The I joined a company with actual stock (not stock options) and it went up in value a lot. And my other stocks also went up. It showed me how in 4 years, I could increase my networth by $1M. From ~$500k in 2017 to ~$1.5M at the end fo this year. Now, that was a winning lotto ticket. But there’s also no reason to think, if I were a normal person, that I couldn’t keep moving up in my career and getting similar grants for the next 30 years of my career. They may not go up as much as this one did, but at some point I would hit the $5M goal. It doesn’t seem completely impossible–and I don’t even need my husband’s money to make it happen.
  • I can’t afford the mortgage. This is the other option. I know, these are two extremes– but I really see this being how my financial life plays out going forward. If I can figure out a career where I can every 4-5 years or so go to a new job and keep moving up, I should be ok. If I can continue to obtain mid-level/senior-level roles in large companies then I should be fine. But the other–very realistic potential–is that I let my mental health issues get the best of me–I stay at this job for a while longer, then move to a different role (in order to maintain the level of stock grant you have to switch companies usually) and then I bomb, and I spend the next many years working at low-paid startups with crazy CEOs who hire me to do the impossible as a one-woman shop because I can’t get another role at a public company again. I’ll burn out on that too, because I’m no longer in my 20s. So then I don’t know what happens. My one ask to my husband is if we buy a house, after our kids are in school (and he is no longer a part time SAHD), can he get a FT job (esp if this scenario plays out.) He seems open to it, but it’s hard not knowing what that looks like. It’s hard to commit to a very expensive 30 year mortgage when who the hell knows what will happen.

So why not rent?

I know, I know. Renting is a fine idea. We’ve looked at a few rentals. I’m the type of person who is mentally impacted by her living space. And the actual SPACE. I grew up in not only a reasonably large house with a big backyard, but also a large room. I tend to feel claustrophobic in small spaces. I understand if financially it’s the best thing to do, I can deal with tiny rooms. I can deal with a lot if we just don’t have the money to have a nicer life.

Then I look at my bank account. Between my husband and I, by the end of this year, we should be just shy of $2M, or perhaps quite shy of $2M if the markets keep dropping. I also watch as my total wealth drops $100k-$200k in a day or two, and at this point I don’t bat an eye (outside to check if I should tax loss harvest any dumb investments I’ve made before they drop further and rebalance into a better diversified portfolio.) I’ve trained myself to be ok about losing $200k in the stock market (on paper) yet I’m completely terrified of buying a $1.6M house and it being worth $1.4M after we live in it for a few years (I mean, I’m terrified of it being worth $800k after we live in it for a few years — but the stock market could also drop 50% in a few years and I’m not selling. So why NOT buy a house?)

I’ve also run the numbers. It appears with the limited tax write-offs, at some point it still makes sense to own. That $500k capital gains tax exclusion on homes helps a lot when you’re a high earner (which is dumb as I hate how most of the tax law benefits not only rich people more but people who consistently have high incomes, as it assumes if you make a lot one year you always will.) But–as a current high earner (which in CA means something different than the rest of the country, mind you) I feel like I have to take advantage of what’s left in the tax law that benefits higher earners, as long as it still exists.

Home Ownership Tax Benefits are Slim, But Still Exist

There’s Prop 13. For those of you who don’t know Prop 13, it basically locks your tax amount into the value of your home when you purchased it, plus inflation. I’m torn on how I feel about this law. On one hand, I think it’s necessary because it makes sure that people who buy homes that are affordable (to them at the time) don’t get priced out because suddenly a tech company moves in down the street and their house is worth a bazillion dollars, and their forever tax bill goes up so much they have to sell and move.

On the other hand, Prop 13 keeps people from moving when they should, making the housing inventory low. Worse, it also significantly reduces property tax, which means despite being a high tax state, public schools are chronically underfunded. It’s all pretty messed up.

Nonetheless, it is what it is. So, buying in my 30s and staying in that home for years can be quite fruitful, as long as Prop 13 stays intact. I would imagine they would probably have to grandfather current owners and phase it out over time, even if they realize it’s not sustainable — but who knows. In any case, it is the law now, which means even though we will have to be paying taxes forever, in 30 years we’d be paying taxes on a home “worth” $1.6M, even if the going market rate is $3M or more—even if our neighbors who just moved in are paying taxes on a $3M and we’re paying half what they’re paying. That makes retiring here possible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about old age lately–not because I’m old quite yet–but because I’m helping my 66 year old mother plan HER life. And that situation is a total cluster due to poor money management by my parents. My goal is to be wealthy to be able to help her out a bit (at least pay her back for college and my wedding, especially if she lives long enough to really need the money, which I hope she does.) BUT — for me, I think I want the option to stay in my home and have a live-in aide. Who the hell knows what I will want when I am 65/70/80 etc, but why not plan for that now? The worst that happens is I end up with way too much money to split between my kids and charity when I die. At the very least, that buys me options. Especially since my husband seems on the “I don’t want to think about retirement bandwagon” (I did convince him to set up a Solo 401k so we’re putting about $35k collective to that a year while we can to make up for many years of no retirement savings–but buying a house will def make that saving harder to do.)

Let’s Be Stupid and Buy a House in the Bay Area

Anyway, here we are, ready to do something maybe stupid. Maybe making the worse financial decision of my life. After looking at hundreds of houses all over the Bay Area, we’re ready to put our second offer in — and first one that’s actually AT list. I don’t know if that will get us anywhere, but I have a good feeling about this one. It’s not perfect at all, but I feel (somewhat) good about the compromises.

The major compromise is that it’s a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath that we will be sharing with my father-in-law for TBD years. FIL will pay $2k a month towards our mortgage and help with watching our son while we work. It isn’t full time childcare coverage, but it’s still a huge help. And my husband and I both feel strongly about keeping our kids out of daycare during the whole COVID mess for many reasons.

Our initial goal was to find a 3/2 with a separate living unit. We’ve looked at all sorts of places–homes with weird in-laws, detached ADUs were the ADU was modern and beautiful and the main house was decrepit, 5 bedroom houses with a downstairs master that was beautiful that could maybe work and 4 upstairs “bedrooms” that were barely bigger than my pinky, on lots with no real private outdoor space.

The conclusion I came to — in my semi logical state of thinking right now in a complete blur as a pregnant woman who has seen a thousand too many houses so far — is we must compromise to make it work here and not totally kill us financially.

I had to throw most of the “how much can you afford” rules at the window. Few people have $1M in taxable stocks at my age also. I can’t rely on the $1M in stocks because that could drop to half that or less, but it’s a different kind of cushion. I’m not selling right now because our capital gains tax in CA is so high — but if we hit a rough patch and need to sell stock, even if it’s gone down a bit, we’ll likely have a lower earning year and have lower cap gains tax. So it’s worth it to leave the stock and not put it into a larger down payment after losing 40% of it or so by selling it all, and let it ride and have it as a safety net.

Where I want to be is at 28% or less of our pre-tax income, before bonus and RSU. I wanted to do this after-tax, but if we did that the math shows we can afford to stay in our current 1br. I decided I need to be slightly less risk-averse here. The 2-3x salary rule doesn’t work. It tells use we can buy a $750k house. That doesn’t exist here. And that doesn’t take into account bonus or RSU which I prefer to ignore for planning purposes, but still doesn’t tell the whole story.

My banker said 32% is the DTI rule he prefers. I’m aiming for 28%.

I am assuming I can make $175k a year going forward, or my husband can eventually get a full time job and make up the difference (ie if I earn $150k, he can make $25k more, which is very realistic if he got a full time job.)

His income is a lot more consistent than mine is actually — so I’m locking him in at $90k a year. I feel good that even if he has to change jobs and get a FT entry level job in a tech company (which I think he could do), he could make at least $90k.

  • That gets us to $265k a year, or $22k a month, give or take.
  • 28% of that is about $6k a month.
  • I feel pretty good about $6k a month going to our housing costs.
  • I feel better about $5k a month going to housing costs.
  • If we do my banker’s 32%, that gets us to $7k a month. I don’t like $7k a month, but I’m ok with it knowing that we probably will earn MORE than the total comp I’m including in this plan (my last two startup jobs my base was in this range and that was years ago)

So $6k a month is our target, $7k is our stretch, $5k is our happy place.

Even though my FIL’s contribution won’t go on forever (esp if we buy a home with only 3 bedrooms), it will definitely help up front when our income is likely the lowest as inflation hasn’t kicked in to increase our income while our mortgage stays flat.

In terms of rentals, we can definitely do better short term. At the moment, WFH, we can move far into the south or east bay and get a house for $4500 – $5000 a month rent with more rooms and space. That is a thought as well.

But the tax savings on the interest for the first few years seems to equate to about $1k a month between federal and state taxes. Maybe less than that. But it’s significant enough that it makes up enough of the difference between a $5k rental and $6k home.

So $6k a month it is. That’s a scary number, since we’re paying $2500 a month in rent right now for our 1 bedroom. But if I’m ever going to feel ready for it, I feel ready for it now.

  • $1.6M home = $7000 PITI
  • $1.65M home = $7250 PITI
  • $1.7M home = $7500 PITI

Based on the above figures, $1.6M should be our absolute max, with my FIL. Unfortunately — anything worth buying here (that also works with my FIL) in the area we want to live is at least that.

Buying a Home and Compromises We’re Willing to Make

Here’s what I’ve decided are non compromises:

  • Under 1 hour drive to work: (I wanted 30 minutes, I gave up — hoping WFH is something I can maintain going forward, or eventually I get a job closer to the home we buy )
  • Larger lot (7500-10000 sq ft): Lot size is interesting here. You see $3M homes on 5000 sq ft lots. Some people don’t want large lots because they aren’t outside much in their own private spaces and don’t want to deal with maintaining a yard.  I get that — growing up on the east coast a yard was expensive to maintain, but it rained so the watering bit was usually covered, with the addition of occasional sprinklers. Still, a 5000-6000 sq ft lot seems limiting. We do (/would) spend a lot of time outside in our private space. A larger lot also means we have room to build onto the house should we ever have more money and want to make it bigger without going “up.”
  • A “vacation” in my house: Decent sized master bedroom suite with existing bath. This is definitely a luxury item. But my mental health is improved by privacy, space, and access to a soaking tub. If I’m going to be “house poor” I at least want to have a space at home that feels like the vacation I won’t be able to afford because I bought a house.
  • Nice street/neighborhood. We’re homebodies. On a good day, we make it to the neighborhood park, or a restaurant around the corner. There are a few neighborhoods I like, and I’ve decided it makes sense to focus our home search there.
  • Decent schools. School rankings don’t tell the whole story (they just tell you if non-native speakers go to the school), but I still find it concerning when non-native speakers are averaging a 2 on their state tests. So I’ve made the cutoff a 5 for school rankings in the area. My kids will be going to those schools. Not only do I not believe in private school, when we buy a house here we won’t be able to afford private school! Also, resale value is also impacted by the school ranking… so buying in an area with “better” schools helps later if we decide this house isn’t right for us and we want to move, or we want to move in retirement, or whenever we decide it is time to move on.
  • Enough Space Inside (1750+ sq ft): Can we live a perfectly happy live in a cozy 1300 sq ft house? Of course. But I don’t see the point in buying something so small– for us. We don’t need 2500 sq ft either. I’ve come the conclusion that 1750-2000 sq ft is perfect, especially with the plans to live with my father-in-law. It basically ends up being that we are living in about 1300-1500 square feet for a few years, and FIL gets 200-400 sq ft. But long term, FIL will move out, and we’ll have more space. That’s important to me as we’ll have at least 2 kids and possibly a third, if the stars align.
  • Family Room AND Living Room: having two main living areas is important to me. It’s a luxury, not a necessity. And it’s rather rare here. But with 2+ kids, having two living areas will be nice when my kids have friends over, and we want to be not all in the same space. Plus, having the extra room gives us flexibility long term (we can convert a family room to a bedroom if needed, instead of having to add on.)
  • Garage: we just need a place to store things (I’m tired of having my bike in the living room) and a spot to put a treadmill for my husband etc.
  • Nice to have — Laundry Room — this is a rarity here, but with 2+ kids, I want a laundry room (not laundry in the garage, or in the bathroom, etc)
  • Nice to have — 4+ bedrooms: This was a must have until I realized I really like big rooms and in a 1750-1900 square foot house with a good master bedroom, bigger master bath, and all of the above, a 4th bedroom is hard to find.
  • General good flow: some houses here… a lot of them… have very strange additions, poorly designed and unpermitted.

The house we are bidding on meets most of the requirement below.

  • $1.6M list
  • 1900 sq ft
  • 9000 sq ft lot
  • family room + living room
  • laundry room
  • giant master bedroom suite (they actually converted an existing bedroom into a bathroom, so you can imagine how giant it is. It’s a bit too big, but I can see long term changing the layout a bit and turning part of it into a home office
  • good neighborhood/street (close to restaurants and park)

What isn’t perfect about it?

  • It’s listed at $1.6M, they prob want $1.7M. I’m not sure they can get $1.7M — the neighborhood seems to go more $1.5-$1.6. A few houses are actually sitting for various reasons. That said, this house does have an oversized lot (for the area) so if anyone else has been waiting to snag a bigger lot in that general area, we may lose the house, or have to pay more for it. We are doing a preemptive offer before offers are due — which makes it hard to know if we’re over paying if they do accept the offer. What we have going for us is down the street there is a 2000 sq ft 5br/3ba listed at $1.7M that has been sitting. It’s a flip, and while it looks nice it was a poor flip job if you pay attention to the actual work done (they did it in a month — bought $1.25M and now it’s $1.7M!) But because that is sitting, I’m hoping a 3br/2ba house can go for $1.6M.
  • It has one giant master bedroom… and 2 teeny tiny bedrooms. That kind of sucks. It sucks most because our FIL will take the master bedroom for a few years, and we’ll be relegated to the two smaller bedrooms. BUT at least there’s the two living spaces. We’ve discussed putting our bed in the family room (it would be kind of like a studio apartment situation since it’s open to the kitchen and garage) and we’d put my son in one of the small rooms and my husband’s office (and possibly a guest bed–that I might occasionally sleep in) in the other small bedroom. Our baby would sleep in our room until s/he turns 1, and then baby either goes into my son’s room (they can share for a while) or my husband moves his office into the family room and we put baby in the other small bedroom. … … eventually, his dad moves out (it’s complicated but the plan is when my mother in law needs to move out of her house — which is owned by her 96 year old mother — she will buy a 3/2 near us, and my FIL will move in with her — they unmarried but friends) and we’ll get the master bedroom, my husband can probably put his office in the family room, or in the master bedroom (though I prefer he doesn’t have it in there, but there’s room if we need to make it work.)
  • While the lot is 9000 sq ft, it doesn’t actually look that large to me. I think that’s because it’s a wider yard and the houses next to it are 2 floors, so there isn’t a lot of privacy. I think we can add a little privacy, but we won’t be able to grow a tree big enough to block the neighbor from seeing into our yard. Which isn’t that big of a a deal, I just like having privacy and feeling like I’m in my own secluded little park. We can probably make it better, and at least there’s room for a swing set.

We probably won’t get this house. But we might. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth going up to $1.7M for it. If we can get it at $1.6M, I will feel good about the purchase. In the town we prefer to be in, we’ve decided not to bid on houses that have gone $1.7M. They weren’t as big or nice as this one, but if we have to pay $1.7M for a house 30 min further from my work, I start wondering if we should just go $1.8M to get something that works in the better area. But, no, I’ve run the numbers, and we really shouldn’t do more than $1.6. If we do $1.7 it’s over budget, but we can make it work.

So, what do you think we should do?

Should We Buy a Home or Rent a Home in the Bay Area?

East Bay. North Bay. South Bay. Peninsula (Bay). So many–unaffordable–options where to live!

Sane people would take this pandemic situation and pack their bags and head to any reasonably blue part of the country that doesn’t cost $1000 per square foot.

But we’re crazy and want to stay. And there is no reasonable way to calculate how much house we can afford because our income is SO variable. This year we might make $700k (yes that’s crazy and like double our best year ever)! Two years from now, we might be lucky if we make $200k. How on earth do we figure out what we can afford?

28% of Lowest Income Earner After Tax
The safest way to figure out how much you can afford is to plan on spending 28% of the lowest income earner’s income after tax. My husband makes $90,000 but since that doesn’t include benefits I’m going to say that’s $75,000. If we as a family made $90,000, our taxes would be lower. That would be $7500 a month pre tax or maybe $6000 after tax. We could afford $1680 on rent or mortgage per month.

Well, that’s not going to work… we’re already spending too much at $2600 per month on renting our one bedroom. I guess we can’t plan based on this conservative model.

28% of dual income assuming minimum earning potential
If I assume my husband can keep his $90k a year job even and I can manage to make $150k on average, that gets us to $240k a year. I think I can probably make more than $150k but I don’t feel comfortable committing to more than that (my base is now $170k.) So At $240k a year that’s $20k a month pre-tax, or $10k after tax. So we should spend $2800 on housing a month.

That’s about what we spend now. :/

36% pre-tax dual income minimum earning potential
Same numbers as above, but I’ve read some more risky plans suggest 36% of pre-tax income. That gets us to $3600–still not going to buy us a house in the Bay Area!

Ok, so none of these models work. So how do we figure out what we can really afford?

  • Downpayment & Emergency Fund: $380k
  • Pre-Tax Taxable: $197k ($98k after tax)
  • Taxable Accounts: $294k ($205k after tax)
  • Retirement Accounts Pre Tax: $346.5k ($242k after tax)
  • Retirement Accounts Post Tax: $70k
  • 529 College Fund: $52k
  • TOTAL NETWORTH AFTER TAX = $1M
  • Potential earnings next 1.5 years = $710k pre-tax ($355 post tax) + ~$100k savings from bonus and income (if we stay in our current apartment)
  • TOTAL NETWORTH AFTER TAX IN 1.5 years = ~$1.45M

So if I can maintain employment until January 2022, and my husband keeps his job, and the stock market doesn’t totally tank (which it could) we will have about $1.45M after tax, with $1M of that being in non-retirement and non-529 accounts (or maybe little less if we put more into 529 which we probably will.)

So let’s say in 1.5 years we have $1M in cash and after-tax taxable funds. But our income ratios say we cannot afford a home that costs more than $2800 a month.

Do we put down a large downpayment?

One way to reduce the monthly cost of a home is to put down a giant downpayment. Do we wait until we put down 50% or more on a $1.7M home? Does that work…

$1.7M home
55% downpayment = $935k!
$3875 monthly payment

Ok, so we put down almost $1M and we still have a $3875 monthly payment, which according to above calculations is still more than we should be spending on a mortgage based on our income!!!

And I don’t think we should $1M into a house probably, but it seems to be the only way to get our monthly costs down to something within a reasonable range.

How does anyone afford a house here?

Even though my income is good now, I cannot assume this will go on forever. I already know I need to change jobs in two years to get another stock grant, and it’s highly unlikely my next job will see growth at the same rate my current company has over my tenure here. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of this growth, but that’s not the reality of my future jobs. I already want to take on less stressful roles so I can actually see my children grow up. This shelter in place situation has made me realize just how important that is.

Before you say WHY DON’T YOU LEAVE THE BAY AREA just know that my husband refuses to. I don’t WANT to but every time I run these numbers I think what we need to do is rent here for another 1.5 years so I can vest my stock and then we need to GTFO of this HCOL area and live a slower, better life somewhere else. We’ve talked about moving to maybe Seattle, but I’m not a fan of the Pacific Northwest. I’m not sure where we’d move. He likes rain and grey skies, I like sun and heat. I like oceans. He likes being close to the Bay Area because his family is here. My family is in PA and FL. I feel comfortable with the job situation here–I don’t know if I could get a job or have job stability elsewhere. Maybe New York. I’d move to New York, not sure he would.

So we’re kind of stuck in this dilemma. I want to buy a house because to me that feels like I’ve made it. I want to settle down and meet the neighbors and really feel like we have a place for our kids to grow up. It also feels so not worth being in a career I don’t love and being so stressed (though less so not having to go into the office) and making $600k a year right now to not be able to afford a house because that $600k is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. And I know I sound like I should be thrown in the looney bin because $600k is a fucking lot of money–especially when a huge chunk of the country isn’t even getting a paycheck right now. I know it. It doesn’t change the math. We can’t afford a house. Not here. Not if we’re being remotely risk averse about it.

It is more challenging in that my husband is requiring us to live with his father-in-law. His father-in-law does provide part-time childcare, so I am supportive of this–and he can contribute to the monthly mortgage–but it makes it even harder to find a house that  is within the ballpark of reasonable for our projected income levels. I can’t expect my husband to get raises as he never asks for them. I got a shitty 1.7% raise last year so I’m just estimating I’ll stay flat for the foreseeable future, esp given the state the world is in today. We really need to find a $1.5M house with an ADU and put 50% down ($750,000) and then his father can contribute $2k a month and we’d be ok.

I don’t know what to do. I feel like until I have $5M in networth, I won’t feel like we’re in a good place to buy a house. But with one toddler and a kid on the way, I feel like it’s the right time to buy. What do we do?

Another Sunday, Another 20 $2M houses

They range in price from $1.4M to $2.2M — that is, houses that in any other part of the country would range in price from $200k-$600k, but in the Bay Area are priced beyond comprehension. I took a solo day of open house touring to check out a few on the “lower” end of the range that I thought might work for myself, my husband, my son, my future child(ren), my husband’s dad and my husband’s mom. You know — a 1500 square foot 3br/2ba on a lot at least 6000 square feet with an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that we could all live in together as one big happy family…

I even started, in previous weekends, exploring further south (as in San Jose) – but prices aren’t much better there. You get a bit more for your money space wise, but you’re still spending $1.5M+. For a 2 hour commute to SF, you can possibly find something for $1.2M. It’s just extremely depressing and every day it weighs on me. I constantly text my husband “let’s move to NY” and I’m partially serious but he’s very serious he doesn’t want to leave. He’s right that with his mother and father we can afford something here. And I do want to stay but it’s just too much pressure if he’s going to continue to make $90k freelance income per year without asking for a raise or seeking additional projects –though his flexibility is helpful with childcare, but not so much with home buying.

I know, I know – we should keep renting. We’re fine in our 1 bedroom right now (which at 800 square feet and $2500 rent controlled to inflation is a STEAL!) When I have kid #2, we can move to a 2/2, which will likely be $4500/mo, but that is going to be in at least 21 more months. (hopefully) as I don’t plan to get pregnant again until May. That’s nearly two years of saving $$$ living in a one bedroom if we can survive it.

But I’m still just a train wreck over the whole “so this is it” mentality I have now… this is it… I’ve “made it” – heck, this year I may bring home over $350k in total income – and yet there is no way I can buy a house as my career won’t consistently deliver $350k / yr in income. I’ll be back to $150k in a few years probably and we can’t afford to buy on $240k income. I don’t know how anyone does it.

I’m trying to just let it go… to stop wanting so much because I know that’s what makes me unhappy, and outside of feeling a little distraught by the state of my bedroom (because it includes my husbands office and looks like a college dorm room in terms of furnishings), I’m pretty happy where we are now. I wish my son had an outdoor space to run around in,  because we don’t get to the park often enough and our balcony isn’t safe for him – but he has the entire living room floor as his toy room. There are no stairs (inside our home anyway) for him to hurt himself on. We have a pool in the apartment complex I’ll definitely be enjoying with my son this summer. So it’s not all that bad.

I just don’t see how I go from where I am now to that next step. Buying a home is probably the wrong move financially. So we wait. We wait and probably get more and more priced out of the area until we have to move. Maybe that’s the strategy now. I wish it didn’t have to be. But these $2M houses make me spit out my water and laugh so hard… $2M should buy you luxury and I don’t think I’ll get over that to buy a home in that price range, nor can I get over spending $1.5M to buy a fixer upper on a not-so-great street. So, yea, for now, for-ever?- we rent.