We now own a house in Pittsburgh

… but are not moving there for about 5 years.

it us

Why buy a house?

1. Why should we buy a house?

We want space for two kids, eventually, in a place where we can walk/bike to work and 90% of other things we need, in a place where we have some roots. The “roots” thing narrows it down quite a lot: it basically means Pittsburgh, Cleveland, SF, or maybe Seattle or Miami. The “walkable” thing rules out Cleveland and Miami. Our Seattle roots are tenuous, and it puts us even farther away from most of our family - plus it’s like SF but with worse weather.

Two kids plus us means probably a 3 bedroom apartment. 2br could maybe work, but I kinda believe in kids' right to a place where they can shut the door and be alone, even if it’s a small such place.

Renting a 3br gets difficult and expensive - what, (hand waving) $6 or 7k/month in SF? Even if you can find such a place, you often get above the rent vs. buy threshold. (This calculator has been my gold standard.)

Also, if it’s close in price, owning means you don’t have to deal with landlords, which is nice. So, for example, you can own a garage and put something besides a car in it. (This is a true restriction that has happened to us.)

2. Why should everyone buy a house?

I’m not sure everyone should. Particularly, if you don’t want a family, and you’re in a pricey place like SF, you might just be better off renting forever. Do the rent vs. buy calculations.

It *might* be a good investment. I’m not as sure of this as past generations. For example, how could housing prices in the Bay continue to go up? At some point, all the interesting excited young rich people just decide, f this, we’re out. (Ahem.) Monaco’s pretty to visit, but probably actually wouldn’t be fun to live there.

That said, we could just wait for 5 years and then buy a house when we want to move. But we are sort of guessing the market will continue to skyrocket like it always does, so better to buy sooner than later.

You shouldn’t have to speculate in order to live, with your family, in a decent walkable community! Housing should not be an investment; it should be a place to live. Notice that almost every big city in the US has a housing crisis? This is because people buy an investment, then they have incentives to keep it valuable and therefore scarce. F that. More on this later.

Why Pittsburgh?

1. Why should anyone buy in Pittsburgh?

To own a 3br place in (a walkable area of) SF would be probably $1.5 million. Oakland would work; then we’re looking at $1 million. Seattle, maybe $700k? I dunno, hand wavey numbers, it might not be that bad. But still, even after working in lucrative jobs and saving money for a while, we’d be in debt for approximately forever.

In Pittsburgh, $200k. This frees up so much of our life: we are making big bucks at corporate places now, but we don’t have to do that forever, if we basically don’t pay rent.

And I’m still bullish on Pittsburgh. Growing tech scene and affordability blah blah, but like, I feel a kind of bottom-up grassroots energy there that I don’t feel in SF. I know people who:
- went from barista-ing to big-successful-coffeeshop-owning pretty quickly
- started a monthly pierogi dinner to fund the opening of a now-nationally-renowned restaurant
- created, produced, performed in, done tech for top-notch interactive theater shows
- started the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival that has hosted folks like W. Kamau Bell and Aubrey Plaza
- started technology companies, sometimes fabulously successfully
- started a pizza truck that became a pizza restaurant
- run a beloved community bike shop for decades
- campaigned and passed legislation legalizing ADUs/granny flats in Garfield
- run a worker-owned construction guild

In SF, who do I know who’ve started things? We’re all just tryin' to scrape a few (hundred thousand) dollars off The Man. Can’t blame us, but it’s less exciting.

Now, selection bias, right? These are the people I’ve known through most of my 20s, so of course they’re the people I know who’ve done amazing grassroots things. I’ve met some amazing SFers who are living the kind of life I want to lead, but I’ve also met lots of people shooting for the moon and missing badly.

Also about Pittsburgh:
- it’s reasonably well protected from natural disasters. We’re not just waiting for “the big one” like SF or Seattle.
- it’s not gonna sink into the ocean in 20 years (sorry Miami)
- the hills are beautiful
- you can get a ferret
- it’s possible to effect some meaningful political change, as it’s not just all Dems
- speaking of which, my local representative is a friend of a friend and a Democratic Socialists of America member
- It’s definitely in Appalachia, not the East Coast or the Midwest. Colonized by angry Scots-Irish, not Puritans. This has upsides and downsides: I like the “individual liberty” angle, but I don’t like the fact that they may not recognize we’ve all got to get along (and ideally would be close together). Plus, IMO, the more thinking, the better, which might make me a “lowland aristocrat.” So, mixed bag - but it’s a unique energy, and different than you’d get even a couple hours north. Plus, as someone who’s spent plenty of time there, I might have a bit of cred with which to help make it better. Listen to the current Adventure Zone for the kind of story you might set there.

2. Why should we in particular buy in Pittsburgh?

I mean, the above, plus roots. Plus we can live in scenic wonderful Bloomfield! With all its crummy bars, badly named vape shops, and awful Little Italy Days!

Seriously, I love this neighborhood, because you can get a sweet row house without a lawn, be 10 minutes biking to so many cool places, and live with the few weirdos who can still afford the East End. Come visit and I’ll take you to Constellation Coffee, Apteka, Kraynick’s bike shop, White Whale or the Big Idea (depending on your interests), Lou’s Little Corner Bar or Brillobox (same), and Clothes Minded, and then you’ll want to live here too.

Wait, are we The Man now?

Maybe. Have we always been? Yeah, that too.
I have mixed feelings about becoming a homeowner and a landlord! Especially having seen the devastation that homeowners and landlords have committed in SF. I mean, like everything, it’s not landlords that are bad inherently, it’s asshole landlords. Plus, it’s not homeowners are bad, it’s nimby homeowners. Basically, I pledge to always support new housing (especially affordable housing!) in Pittsburgh, to support tenants' rights, and to be a good landlord. When it comes time to sell, I want to get out of this house exactly the money that we put into it, plus inflation.

(ugh yes this contradicts the above point about investment. Let me walk this narrow-but-I-think-consistent line: I will be happy if we get out what we put in, plus inflation. I will not flagellate myself if we get more. I will not make any decisions that will hurt other people, including those who don’t live here yet, because of “property values.")

How?

The “normal” way, really. Just started talking to a realtor. I don’t have many tips here, but it went kind of like this:
- Look at houses online. (skip the “blue dots” on zillow, those are like auctions and stuff, for risk takers and experts only.)
- Get pre-approved for mortgage, if you’re doing a mortgage. (for Pittsburgh houses, if you’re a Rich San Franciscan and have saved for a while, you might be able to pay cash!)
- Ask realtor to line up some house tours. If you are far away and your parents are in town, maybe they can do some house touring for you. (true story: we saw the house in person for the first time on closing day. this is maybe crazy but yolooooo)
- Ideally, get a contractor to go through to figure out what work you need to do and how much it will cost. This is difficult; I think mostly they don’t want to go through a house that you “might” buy, it’s just a waste of time.
- Make an offer. In Pittsburgh you don’t need to worry about 14 people offering on day 1. (In SF you do.) You have to sign scary papers to do this. Now you’re technically locked in to buy it, though you can walk after the home inspection if there’s anything wrong, and there’s always something wrong.
- They accept your offer; this begins the “contingency period.” During this time you will need to have an inspector do a formal inspection.
- Also have your contractor give you estimates. If they know you’ve made an offer, they are more willing to do this.
- Work with bank to figure out mortgage.
- After your inspector and your contractor get back to you, you can offer less money on the house. “We will need to fix X and Y to make the house livable, and we didn’t know that before we made the offer, so give us $10k off the price we agreed on.” Or you can walk away. There will probably be negotiating.
- hem and haw a lot, and then sign a bunch of papers that you mostly understand at a Closing meeting!

Where?

Not gonna say the address because public blog, but it’s in Bloomfield. For more details, let’s just say Soulja Boy would be right at home.

Oh yeah btw want to rent it?

Like, if you’re a friend, or a friend of a friend, it’d be awesome to rent you a room (… or more?). We’re trying to keep it pretty friendly. And we will be v good landlords.


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