In the past four years, we have bought three houses. Now we are shopping for number four. If there is anything we have learned in our real estate adventures, it is location is everything.
1. House #1 – West Long Beach, California
When our East Long Beach friends started buying tiny condos in the ghetto, we thought they were nuts. When we found out they were making $10K a month in equity, we bought a three-bedroom dump in an even worse neighborhood. It was a mere five minutes from Christopher’s work, but none of our neighbors spoke English. Hungry homeless people begged outside the local Safeway. The playground down the street was full of vagrants and morbidly obese three-year-olds standing around eating Cheetos. I had to pay to park at the pediatrician’s office. And while we didn’t consider the schools because Megan was only a toddler, have you seen Hillary Swank in Freedom Writers? That was the good high school in town (not the one we lived near). We had a rough six months there (I was also pregnant with Gavin), but when we sold, we got six offers in 24 hours, and were able to take a decent down payment to our next home.
2. House #2 – Maple Valley, Washington
Moving to the Seattle area, we scanned a map and landed on Maple Valley, which turned out to be a very fortuitous decision. We bought the first house we looked at. It was a gorgeous 20-minute commute to Christopher’s work. The church, the top-ranked elementary school, and a nice playground were within walking distance. The friendly neighborhood was full of kids and Mormons (obviously, all the Mormons had kids, too). Safeway delivered my groceries, and we had a milkman deliver our milk every week. Our house backed to a beautiful wooded trail that looped around a small lake. The cons? It was at least a 30-minute drive to any good restaurants, shopping, or entertainment (45 to Seattle without traffic); preschool options were limited; and it rained a lot.
3. House #3 – Charlottesville, Virginia
Although Charlottesville has been my favorite place to live so far, I would’ve definitely picked another location in town to buy (or rent, with the way this market is going). I thought a neighborhood of brand-new town homes with a playground would attract families. Not so. Our neighborhood is devoid of children. The 15-minute drive to Darden seems like a lot (we didn’t know families lived closer to school), and the 20 minute drive to church is excruciating. Not to mention our ward boundaries are bigger than Rhode Island. And my beloved Target? Forget about it. I can’t bring myself to drive those extra 10 minutes once I spend 25 minutes getting to Walmart. The pros? Megan and Gavin both love their nearby schools, the hospital and pediatrician are close, and we are just a few minutes from downtown Charlottesville and all its amenities and festivities. And Charlottesville is just a beautiful town that’s easy to get around in. There is little to no traffic (and if you think there is, remember we are coming from Los Angeles and Seattle). I would stay here forever if I could; I would just move to Forest Lakes or Redfields.
House #4 – Somewhere in Atlanta, Georgia
The traffic from suburban Atlanta into town is so congested, I am trying to keep my search within 10 miles or so of the Terminus building, where Christopher will work. The neighborhoods there in Buckhead are gorgeous but expensive, so I moved across the perimeter to Dunwoody, where I found some good options but not “the one”. So I moved west into East Cobb, and I think I found the perfect balance. The 11.6 mile commute is on the long side for Christopher, but according to Google Maps he can do it entirely on surface streets in about 28 minutes, and avoid the crowded freeways and toll roads. And here are my calculations for everything else.
2 minutes to top elementary school
5 minutes to Publix with a pharmacy
6 minutes to church
<10 minutes to several Protestant churches (for preschool)
12 minutes to East Cobb Pediatrics (although I’d like to find an practice with weekend office hours)
13 minutes to Trader Joe’s
8-15 minutes to gymnastics, dance, karate, Little League, and soccer (because eventually I have to let them do stuff–Megan has been asking for years)
15 minutes to two Targets
16 minutes to the temple
17 minutes to three large malls
20 minutes to the children’s ER
This time around, I’m going to be more than prepared when I sign on the dotted line.