Well, here I am in the middle of another foreclosure. I personally have never had a home that was foreclosed on, but I’ve rented about six. The investment property I currently inhabit is in the long, slow process of re-finance. Ha ha. We all know how good Chase has been at helping homeowners stay in their houses. Well, guess what happens to local slumlords? Yeah, there’s about as much mercy as the Inquisition.
So, to save myself a bit of sanity, and perhaps get into a home worth inhabiting, I’ve decided to move. Here’s the problem. So many people have lost their homes in California that I’m now competing for living space. A few years back, during the land grab, nobody wanted to rent. It was actually possible to find a home, sign a lease and move in one month. No kidding, I’ve done it every year for the past few years. Now I’m having no such luck. Back when everybody qualified for a loan, it was easy to pick and choose your locale and features when renting. Not anymore. Now there’s stiff competition for available rental space, and my magical ninja powers have no effect on my competitors. So, I decided to search early in order to avoid being rushed when the notice of sheriff’s sale appears on the door.
I’m house hunting again, and I want to point out that the California real estate market is cut-throat and strangely attuned to the taste of those who live here. I don’t think anybody else in their right mind in America would be willing to pay $2500/month for approximately 900 square feet of living space. Well, maybe in Manhattan, but that’s about it. If you’re wondering how much 900 square feet of living space is; it’s not much. Picture a house so small the cockroaches are hunchbacked and the shih-tzu can barely stretch out. You and your significant other can’t sleep in the same bed because you can’t have a bed big enough to accommodate the both of you.
You have to be careful when looking for housing in Northern California. The real estate agents speak their own language, and the ads on www.craigslist.org and other sites are in code. Don’t panic if you’re not used to this. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade, and I can translate the gibberish for you. Let’s start with location.
Real estate is all about location, location, location. Just be wary of any property advertised in Norcal that claims to be on a “sizable lot.” Anything over .000001 acre and it’s worth investigating to see if it’s a Superfund site.
“Cute,” “Quaint,” “Adorable,” and “Cozy.” This means “smaller than the roach motel” in Norcal real estate speak. The house or apartment will be small, REALLY small, as in, “I hope you want to live in the cabinet under the stairs like Harry Potter” small. If you want to rent this property, be prepared to give up a few luxuries, like a TV with a visible screen and your sofa. No kidding, the one house we rented required us to give up most of the living room furniture at the time. Couchless living: not very Martha (Stewart), but I’m sure it will catch on in some circles.
“Fixer-upper,” “Needs TLC,” “Needs work,” “Handyman’s dream,” “Willing to adjust rent for those who want to do some work.” The place is a shithole. I’m not joking about this. Chances are really good that it will collapse around you. The kitchen and/or bathroom may be non-functional and you may just fall through the floor at any moment. The roof probably leaks, and the shithead landlord wants at least one coat of paint out of you. You won’t be able to choose the paint, and it becomes obvious that the landlord has no taste in interior design whatsoever. You may as well just install a leopard print rug, disco ball and velvet Elvis while you’re at it—Klassy!
Another type of house you want to avoid is the “unique” house. Any feature described as “unique” should be avoided at all costs. Unique covers anything from bad plumbing to faulty appliances, to doors that don’t open to a bum living in the basement.
“Classic layout,” “Unique interior design,” “Victorian styling.” A drunk designed the layout. Of course it could just mean that somebody built the house in the early 1900’s and didn’t have a concept of modern architecture. The current landlord left the design alone sans remodeling because s/he wanted to capture the quaint feel of days gone by. Then again, you may just have to deal with random fuckery the landlord won’t fix because that would require him/her to pull a dollar bill out of his/her ass and deal with the actual problem.
I’m still looking. I’m avoiding all those unique properties, though. I’m also avoiding new construction, because that’s the type of house that usually ends up in foreclosure. I don’t really want to get stuck in an apartment, because there’s no telling who is going to end up above and below you. The problem with houses is that they are generally owned by private landlords, who tend to be going belly up these days. Who knows what’s going to happen. In the mean time, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for that notice. You never know when it’s going to turn up. And if worse comes to worst, I’ll try squatting in a freshly foreclosed home, just…not something that’s “quaint, unique and classic.”