This week I’ll be packing up the last few boxes and getting on a plane for a 5-week stay with my parents. I don’t want to be moving again, but here we are and I’m trying not to focus on how long it took me to unpack and move in to our current place (it was four, long, pregnant months).
Moving across the country is hard, especially into an area like this one where houses are only listed a few weeks before they are available, open houses have multiple potential renters applying for the same place, and prices make everyone but a seasoned New York City (or Sydney or London or Hong Kong) resident want to weep. Our top priorities were finding a place with three bedrooms not too far from That Husband’s office that would work within our budget. I quickly realized that Menlo Park and most of Palo Alto were out and emailed back and forth with a lot of different people to try to understand the different areas of the Peninsula. We were put in contact with a realtor who started emailing me about a place in East Palo Alto, but I had been told numerous times that East Palo Alto was not somewhere we wanted to be. She was persistent though, even created a video that gave us a tour of the house and showed the street we would be living on. The house had four bedrooms, was much nicer than anything I thought would be possible for our budget, located right next to a small park, and came with frequent reassurances from her that the area was gentrifying due to the rise of companies like Facebook and Google. We knew the school district was not one we wanted to send our children to public school in, but we figured we would be moving before that point anyway.
This is how we ended up in East Palo Alto. It was actually really difficult to get a house in this area, which we didn’t expect for an area that had the highest homicide rate in the country in 1992. We filled out all of our paperwork in one day, with TH scrambling to get everything done while living in Washington as I worked on my homework in the BYU library in Provo. We found out that we were competing against a husband-and-wife Stanford-doctor power-couple and upped the asking price for monthly rent in order to get the house. We had been looking for several months by this point, and were starting to feel a little worried that we wouldn’t find anything we liked.
I think if we were 10 years in the future, this would be a great area to live in, but it still needs some time. We live in a small grouping of beautiful homes, but the area around us is not as nice. The playground equipment is frequently covered in profane language and drawings. At night we have fireworks going off, cars driving by playing extremely loud and aggressive music, and screaming matches using every obscenity I’ve ever heard (and some I haven’t). The breaking point though, was the day we woke up and found the following spray-painted on the sidewalk right in front of our garage.
We had been kicking around the idea of moving, but this graffiti sealed the deal for us. I created some alerts on Craigslist and Zillow and started attending open houses on the weekends, grateful that we were house hunting in-person this time. Demand for rentals is so high that landlords often don’t take the time to include pictures, or anything beyond the most basic information, and so going to see them is essential. We decided to look in the Fremont area because the housing prices are a little bit lower and also because we had learned over time that proximity to TH’s office isn’t as important to us with his Monday-Thursday travels. The schools in the Fremont area are some of the best in Northern California and we were able to enroll T1 in a stellar preschool (of a quality that we could never afford in the Palo Alto area) with the option of putting him in a fantastic elementary school if we stay that long.
I was really drawn to the Ardenwood area and as soon as I walked in the door at one open house I knew that we wanted to live there. I was the second person to write down my information on the list of open house attendees, wrote him a check for both of our background checks, and went home with an application intending to fill it out that day. Within 5 hours we had emailed him TH’s application and asked him for a digital copy for me so I could fill one out as well. The open house was on Saturday and I got mine to him on Monday (I wasn’t as stressed about mine, with no income I’m not an appealing candidate), and we emailed multiple times offering up extra information that would prove us to be appealing candidates, even offering more money than he had asked for in his listing. When he wrote back a few days later telling us that he had given the house to someone else we were confused and frustrated, as we hoped he would offer us the chance to outbid the other person. We asked what we could have done differently in order to secure the house, and he told us that he went with the first qualifying person to hand in an application and that we weren’t that person.
The Ardenhood home fiasco taught us a lesson, and from then on we were much better prepared when an appealing house was listed. We would email the landlord before the open house asking for a digital copy of the renters application so we could fill it out ahead of time, made sure to take our checkbook to every showing, and did our best to be the first people that toured the property. The house we ended up getting is only ours because we showed up 10 minutes early and left him with a deposit and proof of TH’s income before we filled out an application. He had assured us that the house would be our as long as we passed the credit check, but we had been spooked by our last experience and sent him photos of our current home in an effort to show that we would be tenants who would take care of his place and invest in making it look nice. I felt a huge wave of relief as soon as I had a lease sitting in my inbox with his signature on it because it meant that everything was official, and won’t have to move again for at least another year.
We have to be out of our East Palo Alto place mid-June, and our Fremont place isn’t available until the beginning of July, which is why I’m headed up to live with my parents for 5 weeks. TH will bounce around a bit, something he can easily do with his travel schedule. When I get back the movers will have moved all of our boxes and belongings into a 4-bedroom (we were looking for 3, but I’m happy with 4!) single-story house with air-conditioning, hardwood floors throughout, and grass in the backyard with an outdoor sink for barbecues. The day after we fly back to California T1 will start at a new preschool that is everything we’ve been hoping to find for him. Moving is painful, but I have a feeling that this is going to be a place I want to stay in for a really long time.
I’m curious and would like to hear what other people have learned as they’ve moved around. How did your expectations change over time? What did you prioritize differently each time you looked for housing? I hope this post has been helpful for those looking to move to the Palo Alto area. Finding (and paying for) a place here is brutal, but you’ll love living in this area. If we’re lucky, we’ll never have to leave.