It’s been almost two years since my husband and I bought our house in Normal Heights, a hip & up-and-coming neighborhood in central uptown San Diego. Lately, we’ve been trying to make a serious decision about whether or not we want to stay here, or if we should sell and buy another house elsewhere. In general we have a few complaints with our current home — the neighborhood is walkable but a bit too ‘urban’. We have homeless people rummaging through our trash can every week. A few houses down, a neighbor has had their home graffiti-ed on twice. Shady things happen at the corner store right up the block, including a few witnessed drug deals and a lot of loitering around outside. The neighborhood is mixed between single family homes and apartment complexes, meaning a decent amount of parties. People drive really fast down the street and it’s not the cleanest neighborhood by any means. We’re talking about expanding our family in the near future, and the school district here is absolutely abysmal. We don’t have a bathtub. Only having one bathroom in the main house is pretty annoying (we’d love to have two). Our loan is an FHA loan, which means we have hundreds of dollars in PMI added to our mortgage and refinancing wouldn’t lower our payment much. Our storage situation basically sucks — we have no garage.
On the flip side, we do love living in the neighborhood. We’re close to everything including restaurants, bars, shops, great coffee houses. There are two parks within walking distance. Our house has appreciated in value about 20% since we bought it in less than two years, meaning that Normal Heights is desirable and on the up-and-up. We have a big yard for the neighborhood and off-street parking. Our house is a good size for us, and we have a spare bedroom for when theoretical baby arrives. We have a rental studio in the backyard, which my best friend rents from us for a bit of income. Normal Heights is close to all the freeways and we can get anywhere pretty quickly. Luke’s work is a 20-25 minute drive most days, which is great.
If we move, we’re pretty limited with our budget if we want to do a 80% LTV conventional loan. A single-family detached home is a requirement, because we have three dogs. We’re basically limited to the following areas (I’ve omitted areas we don’t like or don’t have homes in our price range):
Within 20-30 min of Luke’s work:
La Mesa (great up-and-coming downtown area, really close to where we’re at now)
Santee (slightly far for our liking, really hit or miss on neighborhood)
Chula Vista (pretty far, small yards, lots of HOAs)
El Cajon (lots of shady areas, pretty far)
Poway (most expensive, best school district)
South Escondido (neighborhood varies quite a bit, some areas are nice and others….not so much)
Mira Mesa (our budget doesn’t buy us much in this locale)
Within 35-60 min of Luke’s work:
Oceanside (nice homes, super far away)
Most of Escondido (long drive, neighborhoods vary)
San Marcos (expensive to get into the good neighborhoods)
Vista (long drive, great homes though but pretty expensive)
Bonsall (long drive)
Valley Center (long drive, windy roads, not close to freeways)
Ramona (long drive, really annoying drive down Scripps Poway Pkwy)
We know that as long as we keep this price range, some compromises are going to have to be made. At this point, I think that as long as the home doesn’t have any structural damage and we’re lowering our monthly payment substantially and the neighborhood feels safe, we should go for it. If we’re going to pay the same per month, the home & neighborhood need to be a substantial upgrade. We’ve talked briefly about moving out of San Diego – but really the only place that appeals to us is Austin, TX, and game development jobs are diminishing there. As long as we’re staying here, we’re going to have to figure out what is most important to us. I suspect we’ll be talking a lot about this in the next couple of months, trying to figure out what is best for our family.---------------
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