Moving House

23 thoughts on “Moving House”

  1. On a historical scale, it’s fascinating how cities rise and fall. Will San Francisco maintain importance over millennia, like a London or Beijing?

    Or will it have a brief golden age and then forever fade into a picturesque yet dishelved 2nd class status, more like a Lisbon or… Buffalo?

    The latter fate certainly seems more likely for one trick pony metros like SF is becoming.

    1. SF might become a latter day Venice. It’s pretty here. The weather is nice. Parts of the city have good bones. And there’s that odd mystique of its past eras of Gold Rush, Summer of Love, and now Tech. Will Houston persevere after its heyday? Orlando? Phoenix? Time will tell…

      1. I live in Houston. It could go downhill fast if there is a major economic problem or when some technological change comes online in the near future. Politically it is probably headed in a Chicago or San Francisco direction, which is a mixed bag for quality of life in my opinion.

        Beaumont or Galveston is what Houston might become one day. If you haven’t, you should visit Beaumont and Galveston , big time towns for a brief moment, as you know, but are now very far from their heyday. They have lots of pretty innards for people like me to gawk at and for you to take nice pictures of.

        That said Houston is full of amazing people from all over the place (like a turn of the century Chicago maybe) and the Energy business isn’t going to go away ever (oil & gas will recede at some point, but the energy business won’t). So Houston may persevere for awhile. There are a fair few folks here trying to downsize it, but Houston is what it is and what San Francisco is not… lots of land.

        1. Many people suggest that Texas is the new California. The underlying premise is that California’s politics is destroying a once glorious place into a man-made disaster. I look at Texas and see a place that is simply the adolescent version of California that will eventually mature into what California is now – middle aged and creaky.

          Texas won’t ever run out of flat land to develop. But it might just run out of water. And before it runs out of water it might hit a financial wall and not be able to maintain all its Texas sized attenuated infrastructure. Time will tell.

          1. Yes, this is my personal worry. It’s a popular perspective these days… the Californising of Texas. I hope to live to see if this happens or not. It certainly looks like it will play out this way.

            I lived in Lubbock as a teenager and places like Midland/Odessa, Lubbock, and Amarillo will probably go the way of Tucumcari, New Mexico (not ever a city really, but has lost half of its populations since the 50s/60s – and is part ghost town now) once the oil and water are done up. The San Antonio-Austin-DFW corridor will probably have some water issues as well. Houston, however, will still be trying to figure out what to do with all the water it gets.

          2. In 1999, the city prepaid $100 million to the Lower Colorado River Authority to guarantee water to Austin from the river through at least 2050. The authority manages a 600-mile stretch of the Colorado River in Texas and the Highland Lakes by Austin.

            I feel reasonably confident that there’ll be water in this particular patch of Texas. But then again, we’re less road-crazy than any other Texas city, which probably helps.

            1. I like Grady Gammage’s conversation about water as it relates to his home town of Phoenix. Phoenix has always had a water problem so it has worked hard to create viable solutions including deep underground storage to last a decade or more if supply becomes constrained. But if Phoenix is to continue to grow as it has it will need to make choices.

              Does it eliminate all its farming activity in order to supply water to new suburban style homes and businesses? Does it agressively restrict urban water consumption? (Farms, lawns, and tree cover keep the region significantly cooler so less green space means more energy consumption to run more air conditioning.)

              Does it employ more technology to re-re-re-use the same water? Keep in mind, Phoenix currently re-uses its treated sewerage to cool the Palo Verde nuclear plant out in the desert wasteland where no natural water supply exists. What could go wrong?

              Or does Phoenix restrict new growth in order to keep water use in balance with supply? Lots of moving parts there… including the cost of housing in a constrained market.

  2. Holy moly that is some staging! It seems so wasteful to make a place look so beautiful only to have all that just taken out again. I know staging furniture is often dysfunctional with too-small beds and such but still, wow.

    4 stories with stairs? Ouch. When I was looking at places I quickly decided more than two stories was a no-go unless it’s a huge mansion. Some places were ridiculous – less than 1000 sq. ft. over three floors; it seemed like half the house was the stairwell. I much prefer 3-flats or 6-flats to narrow townhomes – but condos don’t do as well in the appreciation game, and that’s what it’s all about.

    The problem isn’t your friend, it’s systemic. If enough construction were allowed, replacements could be built for the people now looking for a place because your friend is occupying a large house and holding another empty. (Without chronic supply restrictions it also wouldn’t make sense for her to hold on to it for “the right time to sell”.) In this case rent control is adding to the pathology and I’m glad that initiative failed.

  3. “Presented this way, the story is truly fascinating.”
    More than fascinating: it’s instructive. Johnny’s posts depict with simple clarity how it’s done to those who might never grasp the message otherwise. There are so many people who can’t envision a path forward, can’t see that there are things they can do in their everyday lives that will add up over time into an improved life for themselves. We all wear the ruby slippers, but not everyone taps their heels together to go places.

  4. This story is actually very ordinary during most time periods and in most parts of the country. People’s careers and wealth advances over time. Two income families can afford more than singles. It would be completely ordinary for two mid-career teachers, nurses, or librarians to move into an equivalent house by their late 30s in Des Moines, or Waco or Rochester or any of thousands of middle American cities across the country.

    That it takes tremendous initiative, skill and no small amount of luck and timing to make it happen in San Francisco is more a statement about San Francisco than anything else. I have a good friend who is a 40-something single HS teacher in Cedar Rapids with two adopted kids who recently bought a similar sized and equally nice house on the basis of nothing more than 20 years of teaching and living frugally. No one even blinks an eye. This is his street:

    1. It would be completely ordinary for two mid-career teachers, nurses, or librarians to move into an equivalent house by their late 30s in Des Moines, or Waco or Rochester or any of thousands of middle American cities across the country.
      Teachers live in desirable neighborhoods with not one but two houses in Waco and Des Moines or other middle class cities? No. They actually don’t. Doctors, lawyers, and business owners yes.

      1. Location is a critical factor. If you have a solid professional income (doctor, lawyer, engineer) you can usually afford to buy a comfortable home in most parts of the country – give or take student loan debt burdens, etc. If you’re working three part time, minimum wage, no benefit gigs it might be easier to scrape by in DeMoines or Waco, but is your life radically better? My larger point is that the value of work has been eroded by intentional federal policy to create new winners and losers. The winners naturally concentrate in preferred locations and bid up the price of property.

        1. ‘value of work intentionally eroded’: that could be a mini-blog in itself.

          Don’t forget much of the ‘new economics’ has been aided and abetted by a very biased, if not corrupt, judiciary.

  5. You write about these things in a concrete and personal way that also reveals so many interrelated aspects of something as simple as one woman’s succession of places to live. Presented this way, the story is truly fascinating. It reminds me of Katharine Greider’s book The Archaeology of Home — did you happen to read that? It was about her family’s experience with their dwelling place: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side. I’d like to read your book on this broad subject set in the SF Bay Area.

  6. A friend of mine’s father has a house in the City. He recently moved into very expensive senior housing. The house sits empty, except for once a week when he takes his laundry home to wash it and let the cleaning lady in. My friend works in SF and lives in the burbs. She stays at her childhood home when it’s convenient, perhaps once a month. They are scared shitless of becoming landlords in SF, so the house sits mostly empty. What a complete shame. It was a great family home for her growing up, and now it’s just a hulking, tax-protected shell. I am sure there enough more people like them to constrict an already tight housing market.

    Back to your friend – I did something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. Started small, had roommates, did my own improvements over time, paid cash for them, and gradually got bigger. I never made more than $100k/year – probably not even half that on average – yet owning California Real Estate ultimately made me a millionaire. Your friend did what I did – we took small, calculated risks and worked our asses off. Good for her. Somehow, I still feel like I just got lucky.

    1. It also helps a lot that you live in a place where lots of people want to live, and with incomes that make it possible to bid up property prices. The education + hard work story can happen almost anywhere in the US, but the “real estate riches” part is limited to a few places.

      1. This goes back to my comment on institutional structures like tax and trade policy. In 1950 the value of a home was the same in Cleveland as San Francisco.

  7. It’s funny how similar the story of the neighborhood is to the story of my neighborhood in Springfield, Mass.. Our house is not only similar in style but it has gone through the same cycle of uses as well. Liz and I are the weird white middle class types living in the neighborhood with “Blacks and Puerto Ricans” though, since our neighborhood hasn’t experienced a boom since, well, the 19th Century!

    There’s a weird symmetry as well in the way this family has “risen” to be able to afford this place, (and it looks awesome), meanwhile we look to others to be living in an area that’s “beneath us”. In the end we’re all living in places which want at a price we can pay.

    I don’t begrudge them their wealth, I never put myself out there to succeed or fail on such a grand scale and so I don’t expect that kind of return. I hope my humble strategy of owning a home that has proven flexible in the past in terms of uses and which I was able to acquire on the cheap will provide some shelter, literally and figuratively, from the storms which lie ahead.

    1. I actually thought of you as I wrote this post. Your house and neighborhood in Springfield, Mass are extremely similar. But as you noted, the economic destiny of each town is a bit different.

      You and I both see real estate as first and foremost an object that keeps you warm and dry rather than a financial vehicle. All sorts of unpleasant things can go wrong and I suspect you’ll do just fine in Springfield. It’s a sturdy place. And life there is good even in its under-appreciated condition.

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