Why We Are Moving Again In Less Than A Year

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.

photo (2)If you dare, google that phrase and let Urban Dictionary teach you what it means (I don’t think they’re trying to ask either of us to a Sadie Hawkins dance)

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.


23 thoughts on “Why We Are Moving Again In Less Than A Year

  1. Ugh, I am packing boxes right now too. This will be the first move for my children, and it’s only across the county, but it’s still very stressful on all of us. We are caretaking the house we’re currently in as it forecloses, and the timeline has been confusing, contradictory, and the homeowners haven’t been diligent about getting us information about what is going on. As it stands now, I think we’re going to end up getting the house packed and then I’m taking the kids to be with my mother for a few weeks, and then we’ll be moving sometime in August? We still don’t even know where we’re going yet, so that has been difficult.

    As far as our priorities, we decided than rather than prioritize being close to my husband’s grad school (major city, 40 minutes from our current place) we’d rather move to the town where we go to church (small town, 30 minutes from our current place). It doesn’t cut down his commute at all, but all of my and the kid’s social life is in that church, so I’ve found myself making 3 or 4 round trips per week in my not exactly fuel efficient minivan and still feeling like we’re missing out on so much. Plus, my husband is ABD now, so he’ll be going into the school less and hopefully teaching more at a local state college instead.

    I’m glad your process is mostly over!

  2. Moving differs a lot by location is mainly what I’ve learned. We’re moving (again, big third move) this weekend to a place with few residences large enough for our family of five so we had to act quickly, but we got something that should work for us for at least a couple years. Our past experiences gave us some insight to what we wanted in terms of location and space, though we had to choose one or the other in this case. I’ve moved enough that I dread packing boxes even though I’m good at it and I dread settling in even more, even though I love to be settled, just because of the effort involved (with three young children who can’t help). I dislike feeling new and like everyone knows each other except for me. This time I hope I can convince myself to be more proactive in meeting people in my neighborhood and LDS ward quickly. It’s a hurdle, moving. It’s a good time to go through our stuff and get rid of things we no longer use or need, however! Decluttering never comes at a better time than moving!

    Jenna Reply:

    That is another thing I’m tired of – being new. Not only do I want to have time to hang out with friends (that time right now is devoted to packing, and in July/August will be devoted to unpacking) but I want to have close friends who live in my neighborhood. I have promised myself that in our new place I’m going to figure out who our neighbors are and befriend them.

  3. Wow, you’re right the process is brutal! We are looking to move ourselves because the street where we live is lovely, but borders a bad area, and all the local primary schools are in the bad area.
    The downside is that we are home-owners and we’ve got the whole process of selling our house coming up. Mind you, after reading your post, I don’t know which I’d rather go through – renting or buying!
    Good luck for the move and can’t wait to see your new house x

  4. Sounds like our house hunt (in the area you used to live in). Finding a house under $200k was brutal–we ended up with a very nice foreclosure that we love, but man, buying a bank-owned home SUCKED.

    Although, I’m glad we aren’t buying this year. It’s even worse. Every home under $250 has multiple offers on it the first day. Hot time to buy in this area right now.

  5. The hubs and I completed our 3rd Army move 6 months ago (and we’ve been married less than 3 years). These are totally random, but have to do with my new-found, make-it-work moving lifestyle:

    1. While we get a housing allowance in the military, we look for houses (if at all possible) about $300 under that so we have a cushion that almost always covers utilities 100%. Additionally, we’re currently making ourselves an extra house payment that we are investing each month to (hopefully) pay cash for a home when he retires for the Army. Even if we don’t do that, we like the idea of at least having the option (and/or having a super small mortgage). We don’t intend to buy until we’re staying put.
    2. I have a notebook where I make notes about each house we live in and the things I like and hate about each. I also take pics of said items on the list so I can remember how great it was, or have a pic to remind me of how much I hated that particular thing.
    3. In the same notebook, I have measurements of all our furniture (or anything I would need to make allowances for). I always carry a purse-sized tape measure and check out the rooms each time we go to a showing (or get a floor plan from the realtor…we rented our current house sight unseen!).
    4. I also have a list of all our belongings over $100, as well as a pic of each saved on an external hard drive. When the Army moves us, we get full replacement value for anything that is lost or broken beyond repair; however, I have to be able to prove it. (It sounds like a monumental project, but once you do it the first time, updating is a cinch.) This also includes a list of CDs/DVDs, dishes, china, crystal, flatware, or anything where the collection would be highly valued, even if the individual pieces are not.
    5. I make a hybrid moving schedule from various moving websites (including military ones). This keeps me on track with to-do lists up to a few months out from each move.
    6. I have a plastic tote where I keep things we always need towards the end: bolts for moving the washer, misc. basic tools, SEVERAL ziplocs in all sizes, a couple of large trash bags, sharpies, paper towels, paper plates, plastic cutlery, and a small bottle of white vinegar (it can clean almost any surface and is not a “chemical” that the movers can’t move should this tote need to go with them).
    7. Pack silverware in ziplocs so you don’t have to wash them when you get there. (Knives in one bag, spoons in one, etc.)
    8. I follow the movers when they are dis-assembling anything with screws and ask for all of them. I put them in a ziploc that gets labeled and stays with me. Same thing with remotes, etc.

    Again…totally random. I love getting any moving tip, no matter how small, so maybe someone can benefit from one of these. 🙂

    MrsW Reply:

    These are awesome tips! the imaginary like button has been pressed.

    Kate Reply:

    Ah, I wish I could pin this! Going to email it to myself now. Seriously the bestowing tips I’ve ever read, and we move often. Thanks!
    Jenna, was interesting to read about your journey leading you to the new house. Good luck with the move!

  6. Gosh, what an ordeal! Glad you got the place, though. Although it’s not the same, I moved from my neighborhood which I initially loved into my parent’s house for the same reason as yours – better school district, virtually no crime, and generally safer for my son. The peace of mind is worth all the stress of moving!

  7. Dies your neighborhood have an HOA? Ours does, and although renters don’t have voting rights, their voices are heard and there is great socializing – our HOA has a moms group, a singles group, an over 50 group, even a running group and a cycling group. Also, meetup.com

  8. Both me and my husband have moved around a lot in our lives. In that the house becomes less important, the people and being together are most important. I have invested in things, decoration and furniture only to have to give it up some time soon after. Now I no longer care that much about things… I am just happy to be with him. No matter how small, we make it work. It’s kind of nice to have been reminded that stuff is just stuff. It can be replaced, it is not important. Of course that is easy to say… for now it is just him and me. Maybe if there would be children we’d be more picky. But still… being together is most important.

  9. Happy Moving! I hope it goes smoothly for you (and at least T1 and T2 get to spend time with grandparents!).

  10. Having done one international move in the last six months, I have no idea how you have done it so many times, I would have been a mess three moves in. I know you make the best of things in life but I admire your resilience in picking up and starting again. Some readers might not be familiar with the Bay Area but moving from Palo Alto to Fremont is kind of like moving to a whole different city so socially it is a big deal!

    As for East Palo Alto, your little corner of it looks lovely in photos but I would be moving, too. We’ve accidentally ended up there twice on trips to Ikea and while we have never been bothered by going to areas with similar socio-economic issues in Australia we were kind of freaked out that when we asked for help at the gas station, the guy there refused to get out of his bulletproof box, drug deals were happening right next to us and that every person except was visibly packing heat at 9pm at night. I don’t blame you for wanting to be out of there if you have the resources to do so.

    As you know, we came from Sydney, so to us a 1200sq apartment for $3300 (with a pool! and a gym! and an internal laundry!) is a bargain and feels utterly palatial to us as we were in 700sq for $3k in Sydney…with a falling off wall. Good times! Even so, it was frustrating to have to pay two months rent plus a deposit plus our first month’s rent in one hit in order to get cleared because B didn’t have a social yet. If I have any advice for dual US citizens who might move here unexpectedly (say, at 10 days notice like us…) GET A SOCIAL NOW! That’s my big international move lesson. B didn’t have one as he hasn’t lived in the US since he was 2 and it was such a trial paying double for a crap rental car than we now are for a brand new luxury car (B’s likes a nice car…). So, that’s me adding some international move advice to the mix.

    Enjoy your break with your family 🙂

  11. Hi Jenna,

    I have never commented before, but have been reading your blogs since your Weddingbee days. I just wanted to say hello and welcome! I live in the so bay, but grew up in Fremont near the Ardenwood area. I still visit my parents’ home often. I think you will like it in Fremont. There are parks you can take T1 and T2 to since you will be near elementary schools. You should also visit Lake Elizabeth.

    Best wishes for the move!

  12. wow – what a different world it is out there in California. I have never heard of such a process for renting. We live in the Pittsburgh area and the first apartment I looked at I said I’d take and then slowly got him my application and deposits, etc. Even with the two houses we have purchased since then, we had some tough negotiations, but never had multiple offers on the table or anything like that. Such a different real estate market!
    Best of luck with the packing and unpacking – it’s exhausting. But I am also neurotic and had to have almost everything unpacked by the end of the weekend when we moved into our new house in January. ha ha
    And enjoy the (5) weeks with your family!

  13. So glad you posted about this! We move to Seattle in less than a month and have been pouring over rental sites and craigslist. We live in the DC area now and have never had problems finding places. The concept of open houses for rentals is completely foreign and it’s very frustrating trying to find something from afar and not receiving any word back from landlords, because there are plenty of tenants available. Proof of income/employment, letters of recommendation, great credit – doesn’t matter. Add to that a dog… it has been difficult.

    I pretty much figured I would have to wait until we are there in person to attend showing and find something. I am so happy you posted about this, because it seems like what we are up against as well and gives some great tips on how we can better handle it.

    Also – anyone have/know of a place for rent in Seattle??? 😉

    Angela Reply:


    The best thing I can say for Seattle, make sure you know where the job is before deciding on a place. While traffic is bad in DC it is worse in Seattle, simply because we have a lot fewer roads. I travel about 2000 miles a month, so yeah I know all the “shortcuts” but I still would never live in Kirkland/Bellevue/Redmond unless I actually was working in one of those cities. For example, my mom today had to drive 8 miles from her office in Bellevue to home, took 45 minutes. Her normal commute 40 miles south of Seattle takes her 45 minutes. Crazy!

    Also we have rush hour from 6am to noon, then it starts again about 2-8. Because of our crazy seasons (sun is setting around 8:45 now) but goes down by 4pm in the winter, we change our work schedules with the seasons.

    Let me know the areas you are looking in and I can try to help guide you in a good direction.

  14. I’ve moved every 1-2 years since 2000, so completely sympathize with the tired of moving thing. Since my daughter was born, we’ve moved twice (she is 2) and it’s definitely more complicated with children: I can’t imagine doing it with two! You are Superwoman.

    Things I’ve learned from moving: 1. having stuff is highly overrated. Mostly it’s just a hassle, especially big, heavy stuff. I only buy furniture at Ikea or thrift stores now (among other things, nice furniture is heavier). 2. Location is everything when selecting a place (though what a good location means will vary on the person). 3. Throw out as much as you can before moving (and after unpacking too, for that matter: see number 1). 4. Hiring movers is always worth the money, if you can afford it. 4. Unpack as quickly as you can, before you lose momentum. It will help you feel more settled.

    Your new home sounds lovely!

  15. I found your main blog through PinterestFail (both sites are entertaining and engaging!). I hope your move to Fremont goes smoothly! As an East Bay native, I can attest to the centrality of the city’s location and the number of young families with children. It’s also a very diverse city. Best of luck with packing and moving :]

  16. I just moved cross-country from Buffalo, NY to San Francisco, CA and read all the horror stories about how tough it was to find a place in SF. Since I was determined to live in the city, in an actual one bedroom (not a studio), in a neighborhood that was both walkable and had parking, I figured I needed to be uber-extra prepared because that was kind of a tall order.

    So, I put together a 60+ page document that included absolutely everything a prospective landlord would want from me: table of contents, proof of employment, pay stubs, copy of my driver’s license, personal & professional references, housing history, professional resume, credit score, credit report…literally everything I could possibly think of that someone would want to know about me. The whole thing was available in print and electronic formats. I looked at two places, got both of them and picked. I’m pretty sure that the exercise of looking like the most uptight, put together person in the whole world was the reason I found a place – and had the whole unpleasant experience done in 48 hours.

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