Often, when I’m chatting with a friend who lives somewhere else in the US (and by “chatting,” I mean, “using Messages to send IMs back and forth”), I’ll open Zillow or Trulia and check out what houses in their area are like. This is my version of multitasking.
(You know multitasking doesn’t really exist, right? When someone says they multitask, what I hear is, “I do several things at once, all of them badly and none of them with my full attention.” The single best thing our schools should be teaching kids these days is how to do one thing at a time.)
Anyhow, I plug in various combinations of numbers, to see how much $X would buy me in other areas of the country.
Let me say again: dayum.
I don’t even understand the housing prices I see in Idaho or Texas or North Carolina. Are these for…complete houses? Are they all in war zones? Are housing prices in the San Francisco Bay Area really that out of whack?
Yes. Yes, they really, really are.
The median house price in my town is seven figures and we’re not living in mansions. Very few people around here are. What you buy in the San Francisco Bay Area is a tiny plot of land and they throw a house in for free. We spent money on a remodel that we will never get back, because we know we’re in this house until we move somewhere else for good, and we might as well enjoy the house while we’re in it.
My son told me one of his teachers has to get up at five-thirty every morning to get to school by eight. That’s not atypical: most of the teachers I’ve talked to drive between twenty and forty miles each day, each way. None of them get paid enough to live anywhere near where they work.
A friend of mine, who grew up in San Francisco and who lives there with her husband and kids, said that a house around the corner from hers went on the market. The house is both smaller and in more need of renovation than hers, and the asking price was four million dollars. She said she finally asked herself why she was fighting so hard to stay in San Francisco when she could get that kind of cash-out money.
The kind of pricing between the haves and the have-nots is unsustainable.
And yet: it’s not ending any time soon. It’s only going to get worse.
There are huge upsides to living in the Bay Area. The tech industry is here (and my husband likes working in it very much, thanks), the weather is amazing, the scenery is breathtaking, and everyone you meet is intelligent and highly educated. Also, Hawaii is relatively close.
But the traffic is out of control — a friend of mine lives eight miles from his job at Google and it’s several times faster for him to bike to work than to drive — and the drought isn’t ending any time soon. And everyone is on the make. I really did hear a guy at the table next to mine tell an interviewee, “Our plan is to get acquired.” (Which makes you wonder what they’re telling customers…actually, no, no, it doesn’t.)
I’ve thought about trying to come up with a story depicting the growing divide in this area. I’m trying to decide whether I can cover anything beyond what The Great Gatsby already did.