I might be moving again, or I might not. Let me explain.
When I got engaged to J., I moved across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington, to live in his townhouse. He bought it roughly 3 years ago. Because one of the stipulations of the $8,000 housing tax credit he received states that the owner can’t move out of the residence within 3 years without having to pay it back, we naturally decided that the most reasonable thing to do was for me to move in until that time limit was up, then reevaluate our options.
Here we are a year and change later, and the 3-year period is almost up. I’ve been gunning to move back to Portland since, well, since I moved in. Vancouver is like this terrible place full of strip malls and chain restaurants, and while I don’t mind living in a Dallas-esque place if I have to, it’s certainly not why I moved to Portland, which is cool and fun and hip and lovely and livable. Not to mention, J.’s townhouse is located in a pretty shitty part of Vancouver. The little private street we live on is nice and faces a creek and some large trees, but the rest of the street that you have to traverse to get to our house…well, it’s better left unsaid. It’s the kind of neighborhood that I can’t just leave the house and talk a nice walk in, a) because it seems unsafe, and b) where the hell would I go? The gas station, the combination Chinese restaurant/drug den, or the check cashing place? Not to mention, my commute is horrendous. At my old job, I couldn’t afford parking in downtown Portland so I had to jerry-rig a combination of cars, buses and trains. On a good day it took me 40 minutes to get to or from work; on a bad day, 70 minutes one-way. Now that I’m at my new job it ranges from 20 to 50 minutes, less in the morning and more in the evening, in stop-and-go freeway traffic. It’s pretty bad. And did I mention, adding insult to injury, that because I live in Washington and work in Oregon, I have to pay both sales taxes on things I buy in WA, and (obscenely high) income taxes on the money I earn at my job?
So now we can technically sell the house, move to Portland, and get on with our lives, right? Except. The house is underwater by roughly 20%, give or take. Now, it’s not a very expensive house by Portland standards, so 20% isn’t like millions of dollars, but still. Blame it on the terrible housing market or that J. didn’t put down as much money as he should, but the point is, we couldn’t sell this house without having to shell out way too much of our own money.
So I desperately want to move back to Portland to be closer to my job and friends and, well, cool stuff. J. is applying for jobs in Portland as well, so ideally we’d both want to be in N/NE Portland to avoid the bad commute.
Unfortunately, it’s not a great time to be in the rentals market, and here we are in the position of having to find a place to rent as well as offer up his WA townhouse for rent. I never wanted to be a small-time landlord; the expense and the risks are just too great, and it’s somewhat doubtful that we could even find a decent set of tenants who can pay enough rent for us to break even while not, you know, destroying the place.
Portland, meanwhile, is headed toward a double-dip in its housing market. The rentals market is flooded with people desperate to sell their homes but who can’t get anything close to what they owe on the mortgage. And people who lost or short-sold their homes need houses to rent. And the continuing influx of hipsters need places to rent as well. So we’re up against tough competition. I managed to rent 3 really great places in Portland when I was living there, due to a magical way with the Craigslist refresh button, plus some e-mail and in-person charm. It’s more difficult now. It looks like we’ll have to give on something, whether it’s the price we’re willing to pay, the neighborhoods we’re willing to live in, or house amenities.
All this while we’re trying to pay down our student loans, save for a house down payment — who knows when/if that’ll happen, given Portland’s housing market — and save for an eventual baby (noI’mnotpregnantyet). Not to mention having to help our current roommate find a new place to live since we can’t rent the house while she’s still living here.
It’s not an ideal set of circumstances, but I’m hopeful it’ll all work out. We’re seeing a place tomorrow that has hardwood floors and a gas stove (!) (you don’t understand, that’s a big deal in Portland), so we’ll see. We’re coping with underwater real estate just like millions of other families, and we feel lucky that we can easily afford to deal with our obligations and wait out the market. But yup, this still sucks.