House Hunting


I spent all day on Sunday driving around Menlo Park and Palo Alto looking at places to rent. I think that's the area I want to live in, so I've narrowed it down to those cities (which is actually one big sprawl surrounding Stanford University). It's a good thing I've narrowed, I was driving around for eight hours straight today just in that area alone.

As I wrote about a little in my last post, I had my laptop riding shotgun connected via Bluetooth to my 6630 for Internet connectivity, and a USB GPS receiver strung up to the top of my car (it has a magnetic base) to keep my bearings. I was using Craig's List to find places, and Yahoo Maps (which are conveniently linked to at the bottom of the listings) to find my way around. This worked out pretty well, as I was able to open up three or four listings in tabs, see their spots on the map, route out a way to get to them.

By the way, just to note: I bought a Rand-McNally StreetFinder GPS kit for $80 a while ago so as to not buy Microsoft's Streets & Trips and I'm REALLY regretting the decision. It's such a piece of shit. Both the device and the software. If you ever see it on sale, don't buy it. In fact, don't buy anything from Rand-McNally ever again. The maps on the drive are normally wrong, and many times won't refresh and the dot that follows where you are doesn't draw a line it just doesn't re-draw itself... which means half the time you look down and just see a bunch of random red dots (no way to figure out the last of those dots which is you) on a blank page. Amazingly bad software package. They should get a prize for incompetence.

Sorry, I digress.

So as I've written about before, I want a house, not an apartment. I'm sick of apartment living and want my own chunk of space somewhere where I don't have to listen to my neighbors coughing or walking, etc. And I want a little yard where I can put up a basketball hoop for those times I just want to go out and work out a little and not have to trek a mile or so to the local park. Mostly, as I've explained before, I can't wait to get out of The City (though I love it so for its beauty and culture) because I want to experience a real Summer again. No matter how nice it is in San Francisco, it's always still a little chilly and I'm one of those people who is always cold anyways. Add this to the horrendous commute, and I'm out of here.

I actually scoped out the *entire* Bay Area when I came back from Spain in October 2003. I looked in Marin, and the East Bay (all the way out to Concord), the City, the Peninsula and the South Bay and decided pretty much that I liked the Peninsula best. I actually came *really* close to renting a house in Palo Alto in 2003 before deciding on the place I'm living in now (which is great, and in a great location). It's a good thing I didn't as I ended up working in Emeryville, which would've been hell to drive. But now that fate has landed me a job at Yahoo, I finally have a solid reason for moving where I've been wanting to live anyways. Kismet!

Silicon Valley houses come in all shapes and sizes, and none of them are really anything like the houses I grew up in Back East. I saw two and three bedroom places today, some *tiny* bungalo-style cottages, and others *huge* places with massive back yards and garages. All priced from $1800 to $2500 a month. Check them out for yourself: Palo Alto and Menlo Park. There's actually a surprising number of places available - back during the boom getting the place to live was the hard part.

So first thoughts are the rental prices. They're up there. Now since I'm already paying $1800 a month for my two bedroom plus parking here in the City, some of the places seem like a bargin, basically the same price and I've got a whole house! But if I compare with places in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Mountain View or San Jose - I'm paying literally a $800-$1000 premium to live near Stanford. If the eventual goal is to get a little house of my own some day, it seems crazy to pay those prices for a house I'll never own. But then again, I really don't want to live in some suburban sprawl with no personality, parks or walking areas either. University Avenue and that little downtown area of Palo Alto really is a nice center to be near, none of the other places I've seen in the area (so far) really have that. Am I wrong? Is there somewhere else I should look?

Speaking of eventually buying a house, I am amazed at some of the homes down there. Where do people get the money for those places?!? I mean some are completely new, incredibly big and gorgeous houses on picture perfect streets worth easily 2 or 3 million dollars. I mean, that's soooo far out of my reach. I'm not willing to move to Kansas in order just to buy a house (I never really understand those people who do that sort of thing, actually) so these types of places just blow my mind. It's depressing actually, to realize how far behind I am financially.

The other thing from driving around down there was the noise from the highways. Man! There's this gorgeous place on Greer Road off the Oregon Expressway. It was huge, and was (I think) and Eichler style home with AMAZING light inside. I was able to walk all the way around, and basically the entire back set of walls are all glass, so it's like your living room extends from your garden. Really, really incredible (the pics don't do it justice). But the noise! I was there on a Sunday afternoon yet the highway noise was incredible. That constant drone in the background... it would drive me insane. That whole area down there. I saw two or three places along that stretch near the 101 and they all were just surrounded by a loud rushing noise from the highway. My place here in the depth of the City is dead-quiet compared to that. What a shame to have an incredible house like that ruined by its proximity to an ever growing freeway system.

So anyways, I found a few places I liked and will probably go back down there tomorrow and do some more exploring (it's a holiday at Y!). It's really a massive effort - trying to figure out where you'll be the most comfortable over the next few years. Is the place close to parks? Shopping? Schools? What's the area like? Lots of traffic? Easy to get in and out of? Is the rent too high? Etc. etc.


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