What it really cost living in No Cal?

acdesignskyOctober 21, 2006

DH got a great new job and has been there about 2 months. It's a huge step up in every way except salary. In fact, he took a 10% paycut for the job. That's not an issue really, he really enjoys the challenge and we're doing fine financially. Out of nowhere, he got a call from someone he'd worked with for a position in SF. The guy is a C level executive and the job is DH's to take. So we're thinking about it and I'm researching No Cal.

Let me say, I knew it was expensive, but it's scary expensive. We're looking at at least doubling our mortgage, but we'd probably rent until the market levels out. Another option may be to telecommute and fly out 1-2X a month and stay in a hotel a few days each time. Like I said, this is just in the earliest stages. DH hasn't even gotten any firm numbers and leaving his new job would be a really hard decision.

Here's the question, how much does it really cost to live comfortably in SF for a family of 4? For us that means a decent house in a great school district, dance lessons and gymnastics for the kids, easy commute to downtown SF, plus still funding our retirement and college funds for the kids. One salary calculator said we'd need about 185K. Is that really possible?

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You don't live in San Francisco. You live elsewhere, outside the City. Oh, you CAN live in the City, but I suggest that you visit before you even follow this idea any farther. San Francisco is a real city, very dense. Your kids will be riding the city buses, like all the other kids. No parking in most areas. $185K? Yeah, maybe, considering that you'll have a larger mortgage. Most of the people who are well established have ridden the equity elevator up as it went. And the market might level out for a short time, but the prices will not go down, certainly not substantially. I'd buy, and look for a few good kick-backs and options from the sellers. But you'll be looking at ome on the Peninsula, up in Novato, out in Walnut Creek or even Pleasanton and environs.

An older 3 bd 2 ba house will cost $700K at a minimum, and you might not like the neighborhood. You can do easy commutes via BART from a lot of places. People in Marin commute by ferry.

Get yourself a good map, use Realtor.com and the various zip codes to research home prices, Get a BART map.

But it would be great fun (even outside the city), it's a life that isn't duplicated easily anywhere else I can imagine, except NY but with good weather.

There are other considerations: in the Sunset, nice homes, nice neighborhoods, lots of fog. A summer day here will be cool and foggy, maybe 60, while it will be 95 out in Concord. Are you willing to wear sweaters all year long? Some people can't deal with the fog, so they move inland.

(lived in SF, Berkeley, San Jose, Oakland before moving to Monterey in 1984.)

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 1:00PM
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PS, a couple of forum regulars live in the Bay Area, so put a post over in the main forum, and ask them to respond over here. But on the weekend (and today is absolutely gloriously beautiful), so many people are out and about and not sitting at their computers. You should get a lot more good info, tho.

I'd have trouble living anywhere else but Northern CA, it's so spectaular whether you want outside activities and scenery and weather, or cultural, dining and shopping, or the tops in higher education or just plain good people. I don't want to turn you off because of the costs involved, tho. But you need to be realistic.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 3:47PM
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Yikes, first let me apologize for my grammer in the post title. My HS English teacher is spinning in her grave!
Anyway, thank you for the reality check fairegold. The whole thing is really overwhelming. Even if we could afford to live in SF, with young kids who've grown up with big backyards and quiet cul de sacs I don't think we'd adapt very well. I looked at the areas that you mentioned and it looks like 700K is the minimum for a good sized home. We could rent for 3.5K or so, but we'd lose any tax breaks that way. It would actually be cheaper for DH to rent a studio apartment near work and fly home a couple of weekends a month than to buy a house out there (don't think that would do much for our marriage though)!
After spending the morning doing really basic research, I can't imagine they would offer the amount of money that it would take for us to move.
Thanks again!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 4:05PM
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One consideration, Angc, is that people do so much outdoor living there, that houses tend to be smaller. For example, where we are now, a 2,500 sf house is considered pretty modest. But in NorCal, 2,500 sf isn't really considered small at all. Not that I'd quibble the $700K price tag --- IME, that's pretty accurate.

I grew up out there (Pleasanton) and really miss the beautiful scenery and the perfect absolutely weather. But traffic sure ain't what it used to be...

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 6:40PM
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I looked you up and it says your zone is SW PA - Pennsylvania. So you are coming from the East Coast?

I have lived in San Jose, Sunnyvale and for the last 20 years Aptos (by Santa Cruz on the coast.) Housing is the most expensive cost. Unbelievably expensive especially in regards to where you are coming from. Or at least expensive in relation to what you get for the money.

We moved here from the Midwest 29 years ago, though I was originally from Massachusetts. It took us 3 years of not spending any money to save up to buy our first house. And we both had Masters Degrees with excellant salaries from jobs in the semiconductor industry.

I am not trying to scare you off, just preparing you for sticker shock. One thing you will save on is no big heating bills in the winter or big air conditioning bills in the summer. Other costs will be about the same.

After living out here for so long, I will never move back either to the East Coast or Midwest. I just love the weather and the fact you really can be outside and enjoy it 365 days of the year.
Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 7:38PM
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Yes, we're in PA right now and not the more expensive Eastern area either. We've lived outside of Philly and DC, so we're used to higher cost of living areas, but SF is a completely different animal. I did notice the houses were smaller and older, but that wouldn't be too bad. The idea of a 700K mortgage is difficult for me to wrap my head around.
I don't know if the weather is worth the payoff for me. I actually prefer cool weather and four seasons. I'm not an outdoors person, neither is DH. The kids, OTOH, would be in heaven.
DH has a meeting on Mon and we'll hear some numbers. We just wanted him to go into it with a clear idea of the cost of living.
I'll let you know! Thanks again.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 9:19PM
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I live in Berkeley, So I'll tell you about the East Bay first: I know that Piedmont, a small area by Oakland, is very expensive, but has good public schools and fairly close to transportation (Bart rail) or special commute busses to S.F. Farther east, Orinda and Lafayete also have excellant public schools, and are on Bart line, so you (he) won't have to drive to the city. These 3 areas are very nice, but not mansion living. Much warmer in Summer as you go East.

Rockridge, near College Ave. in Oakland is my favorite place to live, you can walk to the bart, amazing food, great neighborhoods, but not good for public schools. This boarders the Elmwood district in Berkeley, except Berkeley has better schools. Just an alive place to live. expensive, but not like Piedmont.

North Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, are all on the Bart line with fair public schools. I think North Berkeley would be a great place to settle. Don't drive, take Bart to work.

The places mentioned above are easier to get to Downtown S.F. by Bart than living in the Sunset (S.F.) and taking Muni.

Many people send their kids to private school, so you want to factor that in. Some go public in the early years and then private after grade school.

The North bay, Sausilito, Tiberon, and Mill Valley area (San Rafael, Larkspur,) have ferry boats that go into S.F. Kind of a nice commute. Driving from the North requires going over the Golden Gate Bridge, and Sausalito is the closest. Some commute by bike and its a beautiful short ride from Sausalito/Tennesee Valley. This is maybe the most beautiful area to live, but expensive,(Tiberon and Belvedere are in the 5-60 million range) I would look at Sausalito.

San Francisco: is tougher to advise on. I have friends with kids who live in the Sunset, and well there's fog. Unless you have alot o'money, you need a bit of an adventuresome streak to live in S.F. People do it. Noe Valley has better weather. Bernal Heights is small quaint, homey, but risky, probably too risky and yet I see alot of yuppies with young children living there.

South Bay:
My friends who lived in San Jose, could not wait to leave.
Burlingame, and the Pennisula might by great, my cousin lives in Palo Alto, and his place is more than 6 million. I don't know the area well enough. If you can stand fog, Pacifica might be a good place, esp if you love the ocean. Not sure of the commute, there's a Bart in Daly City.

My best advice is to pick a place where you don't have to drive to work. Driving around is o.k. for errands etc. but not to work. I grew up in western Pa. and I think you'd like it here. Like Fairgold said, housing is finally available again, but barring a major earthquake,(and we're due) its not going down.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 10:52PM
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I live in Oakland, and I think $700K for a house is really, really, really low if you want 3Br/2Ba AND a house in a neighborhood with a great public elementary school AND middle school AND high school, and certainly never in SF proper, and even hard in Oakland. I would budget closer to $850K, or maybe $825K since the market seems to be softening quite a bit. Top private non-parochial high schools run about $24-28K; middle schools are $16-18K; elementary schools are lower. Parochial schools are less.

Getting into the Financial District (downtown SF) is much easier from the East Bay than from other parts of SF. I used to go in by casual carpool, which is essentially adult hitch hiking. There are a few designated places in Oakland and probably Piedmont and Berkeley where commuters and cars line up. Commuters hop in a car so that there are at least three passengers to qualify the car for the carpool lane. Commuters are dropped off by the SF terminal. I don't know about casual carpool for the trip home; I would always take the bus.

As I understand it, in SF you aren't necessarily admitted into the public school in your neighborhood. The admission process is very complex.

IMHO, you will need to think about what you mean by *great* schools, and if *good* or *very good* will be sufficient. If you mean top test scores, you won't have many choices; if you mean great teachers your options widen a great deal. And if you opt for private schools, right now is information night time with visiting to start next month, and testing in December and January. Private school acceptances and rejections come out in March, but public schools won't necessarily be able to tell you until later.

Finally, many people move to Albany for the schools.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 3:47AM
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What can you tell me about Orinda? It's only 17 miles from the office, has schools score 10 on greatschools.net, and has a good supply of larger rental homes (some with pools) for 3K and less.
Why is it so much less expensive than other close-in areas?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 12:04PM
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I forgot to mention. Houses for sale in Orinda are a different matter entirely (1mil seems to be the entry price), but rentals seem very affordable.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 12:15PM
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Orinda and Lafayette have great public schools. A friend of mine taught for years there until she when to Head Royce, a private school. People were great, the schools were great, her only complaint was that it was too 'blond'. That is, it lacked a certain cultural diversity.

Because it's on the other side of the East bay hills, it's warmer weather. Cooler nights in the winter. One Bart stop from Rockridge. Much safer, you might forget how close you live to S.F.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 12:32PM
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Rental prices are not comparable to sale prices. Orinda is a great area. I'd take it in a heartbeat. There are more rental properties on the market just because the RE market has slowed down and more people have just decided to rent their properties instead of selling right now. But I'd get a real lease, and beware of someone who might sell the house as soon as the market turns around and becomes more active again.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 4:20PM
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I forgot to mention the tunnel. With traffic, that tunnel, and then the Bay Bridge makes the commute seem longer than 17 miles if you drive to S.F. For your situation, Orinda would be a very good choice, especially to test the water for a year. (There are no rentals in Piedmont). Consider Albany/N.Berkeley as well. By the way, the weather has been great - a true Indian Summer.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 9:15PM
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Yeah, and Go Bears!

PS, the Orinda area is also part of three towns, and most of us consider Moraga and Lafayette to be about the same as Orinda.

I'd also mention north Berkeley, but for the cultural shock you may have living in that immediate area. Fine for me and a lot of others, but a real shock to many people. We might take political issues, including recycling, to degrees unknown in the rest of the world. Alex, do you agree?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 10:07PM
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Well,um, you can certainly find lectures to go to almost any night of the week, on campus, bookstores,community and senior centers, churches such as St.Joseph the Worker, and other venues.. Everyone seems to pass thru and contribute to the intellectual life. And the cutural life of theatre and music.

This includes food intellectual life. Michael Pollan, Alice Waters and the home of Chez Panisse, the slow food movement, the fair-trade coffee movement and our Gourmet Getto. And our wonderful Farmers Markets,much of it organic, where you might run into Alice, or even Michael Parenti.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2006 at 4:16PM
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When you say "decent house," the 185k really depends on how much equity/down payment you'll be bringing into your new house purchase. Of course, the more you bring in, the larger house you can get. Otherwise, if you were buying a decent house with nothing down, then yeah, 185k is about right for San Francisco.

You can probably easily do it for a lot less than that, but you will have to live somewhat outside the city and commute. SF is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the nation. So you can plan on working there, but not living there, and commuting in. I didn't read all the other replies but I'm willing to bet that is what most others are recommending as well.

You will love California!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 2:29AM
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But let's be realistic about the weather. Yes, it's perfect most of the time. But there's a rainy season that lasts at least three or four months starting in the fall. Good for the inland crops but can get very depressing for some humans.

A lot of "poor" people do live in San Francisco, just not in big beautiful houses on a large lot. Unless they've owned their property for a very long time, they rent. San Francisco has rent control.

Nowadays, any town within an hour or so of SF is considered commutable, and the real estate prices have risen to reflect that.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 12:41PM
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Yeah, 3 or 4 months of a rainy season, but this isn't the Pacific Northwest by any means. Average rainfall is about 20" or less in most areas (exceepting Santa Cruz Mtns and Cazadero) and almost all of that is between October and April. The depressing stuff is the fog in the inland valleys, Sacramento down to Bakersfield. The rest of the rainy season in the more coastal areas is beautiful.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 1:06PM
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Another oddity in California: Property taxes under Proposition 13. After you buy your house, property taxes will rise very little, even if the value of your house rises astronomically. My mom has been in her house nearly 30 years. I think she pays something like $650 in property tax, or maybe that's her house payments. I am 100% positive her tax is under $1,000. If she were to sell her 4 BR, 2 bath (with add'l probably illegal bath) today, her house would probably go for $900K. I'm not sure what the prop. tax would be, but I'm assuming it would be over $3K; maybe $4-5K? The property tax situation gives people more of an incentive to remodel than to move.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 1:12PM
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Property tax is based at 1% of the sales price, plus other assorted assessments, which are never too much, a few hundred probably. So that $900K house would be taxed at $9000 annually, and is limited to a 2% increase annually.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 1:30PM
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Berkeley property tax= 1.2491% plus a few assesments based on square foot. I would estimate 1.3%

Here is a link that might be useful: the bad news: property tax

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 2:12PM
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Whew!!! I guess you can tell I've been in my house 18 years and haven't bothered to do the math on my property tax bill!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 2:57PM
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Here's one I found on Craigslist. You can take a vitural tour with panaramic shots of the kitchen, etc. They say you can walk to the Bart.

Here is a link that might be useful: Orinda home

    Bookmark   October 26, 2006 at 12:13AM
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You guys are so great. I never could have gotten so much information anywhere else. We're still in the "what if" stages, but I've sort of fallen in love with the idea anyway. Turns out a good friend of mine lived and worked in the SF Bay area several yrs ago. I knew she had spent some time in CA, but I assumed it was SoCal. Like all of you, she loved the area and would go back in a heartbeat.
alexr- I couldn't get your link to work. If anything does come from this, or any otheropportunities, I don't think we'd buy a house. I was amazed at the disparity between buying and renting. I saw one house for sale for over 1.1mil, but it was renting for only $2750! With property taxes and insurance we'd save over $4200 a month by renting (money we could then invest). It's the opposite here where you can buy for less than you can rent. We could rent out our house for 30% more than our mortgage payment.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2006 at 10:14AM
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Just an update, we're still researching the idea. DH is flying out in the next week or so to meet some more people. I've been talking to Realtor who helped us buy this about about the current market for selling vs renting. The amazing thing is the rent for our 350K house in PA would be more than the rent for a 1.5mil house in CA! Odd, but it could mean we could keep our house and rent it out for a year or two until we decide if CA is the right place for us. Of course, I'm putting the cart before the horse, but it seems like if the job is a good fit and the offer is right, we could do it.
The property tax issue is yet another reason why we probably couldn't afford to buy, on most any salary. We'd be hard pressed to come up with more 10% down on a million dollar plus house, so the mortgage amount, plus taxes, plus insurance is just too much.
It's a cool, windy, overcast day here and I'm loving it, so SF weather is right up my alley. Is Orinda also in the cooler part of the area?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2006 at 4:41PM
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Orinda is through the tunnel on the other side of the Oakland hills, so it is a warm enough place to have a swimming pool in summer. Since it is just on the other side, along with Moraga, when the fog finally makes it over, it hits there first. Other than last summer when we had record breaking heat, in general in Oakland-Berkeley-Piedmont, one doesn't have or really need air conditioning; fans are sufficient. SF and many parts of Marin on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, and most of the Peninsula (south of SF) stays fairly cool. You have to watch the microclimates. The fog hits the coast, then enters the Bay via the Golden Gate. Places in line with the GG get coolest first. It is pretty weird to watch the fluctuations on car thermometer as one drives around.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2006 at 7:48PM
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I lived in Sausalito and SF for many years after moving from Philadelphia. I absolutely loved it there.

SF is a delightful city but, like any city, parking and public transit can be frustrating. I would not recommend SF if you have children unless you truly love urban living. There are some good schools but generally everything below the HS level is decided by lottery. At the HS level, Lowell and SF Performing Arts HS are very good but have special admission requirements.

Marin county has some beautiful towns and has highly rated schools however it is very pricey. You would be lucky to find something adequate under $800,000 for a house Northern Marin (Fairfax & Novato) and southern Sonoma County (Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park) are more affordable although still high. These tend to be very family friendly, suburban neighborhoods with generally good schools. These areas have a warmer climate comparable to the East Bay. The downside to these areas is the very long commute although there are express buses which can take you directly to downtown SF in an hour or less.

For more information on the East Bay, you might also want to check out the Berkeley Parents Network. It's a great site that has loads of good information about schools, housing etc.

Another thing to consider on the financial side is that CA has both very high sales and state income taxes (tops out at 9.3%).

Here is a link that might be useful: Berkeley Parents Network

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 8:05PM
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"You have to watch the microclimates."

Boy, isn't THAT the truth! I've never seen any other place where a 1-5 mile difference in location can mean a totally different base climate.

The house where I grew up is on a hillside, so we had fog every morning in the summer until 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., then beautiful sunny afternoons. Just 2 miles away in the valley, they didn't have the morning fog, and the afternoons were much hotter. We didn't need A/C in the summer, but they sure did!

Same town even -- So if the weather's important to you, research that on a house by house basis.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 10:25AM
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Just happened onto this thread - was wondering what happened here? I am an East Coast transplant into the Bay Area and was curious.

Angc - you still around?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 1:21AM
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Just found this discussion and I'm also curious as to what has happened.

I've also enjoyed reading about life, housing, real estate, culture and most of all- the weather - in your area of CA. Is the fog this prevalent all up and down the CA coastline? What wonderful contributions you have all made to this topic.

And Angc - are you still in Western PA or Northern CA?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 7:28PM
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The fog is really a northern CA phenomenon. Mainly because of the colder water currents. In Southern CA (south of Big Sur/Cambria), the water currents are a lot warmer. So we have cold ocean water against the land mass. But the fog, as noted in many posts, stays pretty close to the coastline during the summer. We're about 6 miles inland and get some of that fog, altho it burns off earlier in the day than it does closer to the water. And we don't have fog every day! The fog situation is also affected by the ins and outs of the coastline. Santa Cruz is usually warmer and sunnier than Monterey, on the other side of the Monterey Bay.

But a typical summer weather pattern here is night and morning low fog along the coast, burning off by mid-morning. You can drive 20 or 30 miles inland and have hot weather. It can be 65 here and 90 up in Gilroy during the day. And it can be 65 at night and 90 during the day. But San Francisco and Monterey are usually a lot more moderate than the hot inland areas like Sacramento or Fresno. We also have mild winters, so we have no complaints at all!

I want to know what's happened, too! Angc... are you out there? Or out here?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 7:49PM
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Thanks for the explanation fairegold. For the most part it seems that the East Coast is much more moderate. I'm not an expert but I expect the topography and the tempering aspects of the Gulf Stream has a lot to do with it.


    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 6:12AM
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Yikes, sorry to leave everyone hanging. I *really* need to get to the Conversations side more often.

DH nipped the negotiations in the bud before flying out. The salary was going to be really very good (nearly 2X his current salary) but still not enough to justify the move. Also, the company was just too new and unestablished. Too big a risk to end up in SF with a huge mortgage/rent payment and then the company goes belly-up.

We're still in Western PA and really loving it, so it was the right decision.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 12:27PM
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angc, I was in a situation very similar to yours about 6 years ago. DH was offered a LOT of money to transfer to the East bay area. He also had to go out there for 8 weeks, so they brought us all out for two months to get a taste of life in the area.

Beautiful weather. Friendly people. Great grocery stores. Horrible traffic. Blackouts. Horrible traffic. Earthquakes. Horrible traffic.

I spent a lot of time with a realtor seeing what we could afford. We looked in mostly in Danville and Pleasanton, as anything else was too far of an acceptable (to us) commute. Very expensive compared to our reality.

Ultimately we ended up passing on the move. It has cost DH some opportunity in his job, but we both know we made the right choice for us and never regretted it. I understand now why some people love it there, but the expense of everything and the damn traffic really wasn't contributing to our quality of life at all.

I'm glad you are comfortable with your decision! Nicole

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 12:52PM
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Mmmmmmm... reading this thread is a good reality check. My sister lived in the Bay Area (in SF, then in Marin, then in Alameda) for 13 years, and it is my favorite city. I just love it. But I hear that doctors are considered "the working poor" in SF, so I guess DH's salary isn't going to cut it.

We lived in San Diego for 4 years, and there you have the marine layer. A fog that creeps in at night and burns off (or not, on the coast) as the day warms up. But it's nothing compared to that San Francisco fog! I remember standing on the roof of my sister's apartment building in Pacific Heights, watching it blow past in billowy clouds. It's really beautiful. Slightly less so, if you're a tourist and you're only wearing shorts and a t-shirt when it arrives. :-)


    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 10:37PM
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So it seems really unfair, that, here in Fresno, (107 today and maybe to 112 by Friday, July 6th) we still have to contend with the fog in the winter. And when it rolls into the Valley, you are in pea soup. One thing I love about Fresno, is, there is very little problem with wind. I hate wind. We used to live in South Central New Mexico, much the same hot summers, arid region, and cool but not overly cold winters like Fresno, but the March/April winds were horrific. I'd rather deal with the fog.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 1:27AM
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Hey, Red, how hot this weekend? We're heading down for a wedding in Selma, 8 PM on Saturday, outside. We have lovely Monterey Bay cool summer fog this morning, should burn off.

Nice thing about Fresno is that Red can drive over here to the Monterey Bay in 2-1/2 hours or up to the 6000 or 7000 elevation mountain lakes in an hour, all from Fresno.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 10:04AM
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Fairegold, don't tempt me to come see you. You might just find me on your doorstep, eating a banana and waiting for you to get home.
Actually, we're going camping over at San Simeon this coming week. (That's on California's Central Coast, North of Morro Bay and south of Monterey Bay for those of you Easterners) We hit the beach at Cayucus, do the farmer's market at San Luis Obispo, and shop a little in Cambria. We've been in the 100's this week, but only high 90's today. Feels like fall.

How was the outdoor wedding? Wish I had caught your post earlier, I could have driven over and wedding crashed.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 2:37AM
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The wedding was lovely. We got down there Friday noon, and it wasn't too hot a day, not like the day before. But Friday night was lovely and Saturday wasn't bad at all. Weather was really perfect. We were lucky on that score! Have fun camping!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 10:04AM
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