Just before I head to the bedroom for the night, I walk to the door by the car port, fiddle with the lock, tug on the door handle. It’s secured. Sliding door to the porch? Secured. En route to the sounds of my wife’s intermittent snores, I check the front door, fiddle with the dead-bolt, tug the door handle: secured. Great, now I can go to bed.
I have become my step-dad.
When my wife and I started talking about buying a house, we used the place we were renting in Berkeley as a blueprint. It was roughly three bedrooms, had a wonderful backyard and was in what some have called “an up-and-coming neighborhood.” Which, by my observations, means it is in the process of gentrifying. Browsing the prices in the San Francisco Bay Area however was an exercise in humility. I thought I was well off, but without a surplus $150k in my back pocket, buying the house we were renting was practically impossible.
When we had moved to Berkeley from San Francisco, fleeing sky-rocketing rent costs, we evaluated Berkeley, Emeryville, El Cerrito and Richmond. For the purposes of home-ownership, none would satisfy our wants within our means.
San Francisco appears to be the epicenter of absurd housing costs, from which inflated costs radiate outward from the penninsula in nearly every direction.
The half-life of this inflation decays the further from the penninsula you drive. Looking north towards areas like Petaluma, Napa, Santa Rosa, and Healdsburg showed promise in price and potential. Sonoma county in particular became particularly interesting to us. Between numerous family events, including our own wedding, we grew fond of the eclectic mix of rural farmlands which run into hoity-toity wineries which reside adjacent to moderately dense suburban towns.
After three months of painful searching, a stack of legal documents unlike any I had seen and an eye-watering down payment: we had purchased our first home in Santa Rosa.
The most exciting part about finally owning a house is: if you don’t like it, you can change it (you are of course financing any screw-ups or do-overs).
In the short 2-3 months since we moved in, we’ve already made substantial changes, primarily with elbow grease, which I’m quite pleased with:
- Bifurcated the single gas line/valve in the laundry room into two separate lines and valves to accomodate the gas water heater and new gas dryer
- Removed over 2 Ford truckloads of rock from the “backyard”
- Separated roughly 20 5-gallon buckets of said rock from the remainder of the soil to lay the “foundation” for a foot path
- Removed 5 cement fencepost foundations from the yard.
- Built 3 6’x3’ garden boxes, using reclaimed fence posts as the supports
- Placed 1 cubic foot of mulch, and 1 cubic foot of soil for grass.
- Installed 150 sq. ft. of drought resistent grass from a local vendor
- Planted blueberry bushes, sunflowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, spinach, swiss chard and carrots in the garden
- Cut down two trees
- Dug a trench in the front yard to bury a plastic pipe to carry water from the gutter away from the house
- Re-roofed the porch, shortening it to provide more sunlight by removing corrugated fiberglass panels and reusing the existing corrugated tin.
- Repainted at least 1/3 of the house
- Replaced 70’s era toilets with new high-efficiency dual flush toilets
We also brought in some craftsmen to:
- Install an entirely new outdoor electric panel replacing the two previous, daisy-chained together, panels manufactured by now defunct companies.
- Removed incorrectly installed outdoor electrical outlets
- Replaced lightly degraded (wood rot) flooring and laid new flooring in the bathrooms
We’re not yet done sprucing up the place, but we’ve reached a milestone whereby I’d gladly invite people over.
Most of the people in the bay area are renters, something at all uncommon for the middle class here. It’s a situation which allows many a great deal of flexibility but for me renting was an uncomfortable condition of transience. Having grown up in a military household, I have lived in 15-20 different houses/apartments; always on the move.
Purchasing a home is not only a long-term committment financially, but mentally. Stepping off the merry-go-round of leases, we are now rooted firmly in the soil of Sonoma county and the city of Santa Rosa.
In years past I had given local politics a passing interest, always voting but never engaging. Feeling like an “outsider”, I didn’t participate in community events, or anything of the likes. Now residing up the street from a city councilman, in a neighborhood of concerned and locally active neighbors, I have the sense that it is only a matter of time before I more actively participate in the shaping of my community.
I don’t know what else our future in Sonoma county holds for us but so long as we make the mortgage payments, and California has water, we’re here for a while.