Housing. I can't write about life in Silicon Valley without broaching the topic of housing. I've been preoccupied with housing ever since we received 60-Day Notice on the house we've rented for three years; it's going to be listed for sale.
We've loved this house and we're sad to leave. This time of transition has caused me to reflect on what exactly makes a house a home: the people! My family of five, we are the home in the house, and we'll make another house our home yet again. But this isn't easy work; it's plain exhausting! Setting up house, figuring out what goes where, establishing new systems (come in this door, leave your shoes and backpacks here, etc.)—I'm not looking forward to any of that.
As a renter in this aggressive housing market, I have lots of tactics for staying one step ahead and finding deals. Yes, you can find housing deals in Silicon Valley. The secret? One word: RELATIONSHIP.
First, I sleep with one eye open on the rental market.
I have a favorite part of Silicon Valley, the neighborhood I've lived in for 12 of the past 16 years, and over time I've come to know which homes are rentals and who owns them. When interesting houses come up for rent, I'll often tour them and meet the owner. I pursue properties listed by the owner: owners will often sacrifice rent in order to get a high quality tenant who treats the property like it's their own (not likely with property managers.) When the time comes to find new housing, I contact rental owners to see if they might need a new tenant. Remember, some homes have been owned for decades, since the 50's in certain cases, and they pay hardly anything for the home. Google the address of an older home that's been in the same family forever and marvel at their property taxes—thanks to Proposition 13, the home value gets reassessed only with change in ownership or major improvements.
Second, wherever I live, I always get to know my neighbors.
This makes daily life much more fun, and it always helps when we need to find housing. People help people they've come to care about and respect. Some very interesting housing opportunities have come my way through neighbors. The most interesting one was when a neighbor married a woman who had children in another Bay Area school system. He rented to us for 4 years at a below market rate because he wanted tenants who were friends and would treat the house well. Once his step-kids finished high school, they moved back into his house. Who would've ever thought that would happen?! It will enrich your life to know your neighbors, and it just might bring unthinkable housing opportunities your way. If an elderly neighbor moves into a nursing home or passes away, the family might consider renting the house; what might feel like a daunting endeavor suddenly becomes easy if they already know you.
Third, I look for houses that have been available for awhile—they are opportunities for negotiation.
I offer less than what they are asking, and in the same breath tell them they'll never find better tenants (which is true.) Tenants who get a deal aren't entitled tenants, they are appreciative tenants. In fact, I was recently at a dinner with a man who owns rental properties. He rents his properties 20% below market value so that his tenants feel like owners and stay a long time. Smart landlord.
Once there was a large, beautiful home available in my neighborhood. It sat on the market for over six months with a big For Lease sign out front; the price tag was too high. I watched and watched. Finally, I decided it was worth a try—they might prefer some money over no money. I took a tour, met the property manager, and then referred my friends who were house hunting. They were able to lock in a great deal. Previously, they had been renting two spaces: one for their business, one for living. With this new rental's square footage, they were able to consolidate the two under one roof.
Fourth, I pray and ask God to make the next step very clear.
The Bible tells me God has a detailed plan for my life, and I believe it. I don't want to make a rash decision just for the sake of having a plan, and then come to regret it. I also pray for the housing market to cool off already, because I do hope to own one day.
I'm eager to see where my family lands next, and I hope it's for a long, long time. Cheers to living the good life (on less) in this fast, expensive, and wonderful land of Silicon Valley!