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Unicorn Home

April 8, 2012

So XY and I were walking home from a party last night where I got my baby-talk on with a couple of very nice soon-to-be parents (coming up this summer). While we were walking, I started talking condos and association fees and he’s all, “Wait, I thought you wanted a single family home?” (Full disclosure: This poor man suffers through so much baby and house talk that we had to impose a rule where I’m only allowed to bring up such subjects with him four days a week. Instead of his having to put up with me talking about the same things over and over anymore, I started a blog.) A few weeks ago, I was talking with him about getting a single family home instead of a condo, since they are an option in our city and they even happen occasionally in our neighborhood (which has all the advantages of being close to the lake, El, and relatively cheap for a Chicago ‘hood). The problem? Dolla dolla bills and an emotional wife who can barely imagine putting up one more minute (some days) in our “1920’s vintage” one bedroom apartment with the stopped-up drain and the abused shared washers in our coin laundry. We currently have a decent stash saved for our down payment and due to budgeting that is letting us save $1200-$1500 a month will continue to do so for the next six to 18 months (if we haven’t found a place we love, we’re going to take a break once we hit $30 or $40 K and concentrate instead on paying down our massive student loan debt, the only debt we currently carry (besides our credit cards, whose balances get paid every month)). Condos in our neighborhood are priced very competitively, have lots of things we currently don’t enjoy (like parking spaces, extra bedrooms and in-unit laundry) while having all the features we do like (high ceilings, big rooms in charming older buildings). They also have association fees, which can run up your monthly  bills before taxes and utilities…and depending on how poorly the association is funded, and how badly the building needs maintenance, can cost you and your fellow owners a pretty penny. Oh, and speaking of those fellow owners – you share walls with them. An idea which XY HATES (even though he’s fine with it for the next 18 months: since he hates moving so much, he wants to live in a place where he really can imagine staying for-ev-er if need be).

Me? I’m not so sure I want our next home to be our “forever” home, but I do want it to be a place we can chill out for five to ten years, enjoy life with our first kid or two, and not worry too much about the cost of taxes or our mortgage (even having saved a higher down payment, the higher cost of buying a single family home in our ‘hood would mean a substantially higher mortgage…and with it, less savings and more pressure to workworkwork to pay the bills). We both feel very strongly that we’d like to stay in the same neighborhood, because it’s very likeable and comfortable. Having the lake right there is AWESOME. And as far as kids go? We need space (at least six rooms, at least three with doors, plus storage). I aspire to minimalism and would love to share some of my thoughts on “bare minimums” for babies, but XY wants an office to call his own (right now he’s in a corner of the dining room, which he dislikes). And though we may end up cosleeping for the first year, it’s probably not a long-term solution, so I want a well-ventilated room with a door to serve as a sleeping place for our little one… and to have that room ready and waiting from day one.

So: either 2 bedrooms plus den or three bedrooms, plus a dining room, living room and kitchen. An extra bathroom would be nice (though I’m drawing the line at an extra bedroom  – the less space I have to clean the better). And I’ll admit it, a little garden space to putter around in would be lovely, so that’s definitely a plus for a single family, in addition to the four walls and ceiling we’d call our own. Anyway, it’s not that hard to find, right?

Except when you add in affordability. Affordable single family homes in our current price range (at the upper limits of it, anyhow) tend to be in less desirable neighborhoods, or less desirable sections of our neighborhood (say, a twenty minute walk from the El instead of our current five). In addition to stretching our budget to pay our mortgage, we’d also be stretching our time to get from place to place. Even leisurely walks to the corner market for grocery shopping (something I’m picturing myself doing with XY and our little one in the world’s most perfect umbrella stroller) would end up as more of a hassle. We’d end up driving…and living a more suburban lifestyle than I’d care to enjoy.

I guess there’s a reason the real estate agents tout “Location, Location, Location” as the three top must-haves for every homebuyer.

So then there’s the question of moving to a more family-friendly neighborhood. But while I haven’t sussed it out all the way with XY, I’m pretty sure he’d hate this idea. Buying a home and dreaming of the family we’d become are so intimately tied together. We want to be a family that continues to enjoy things like public transit, not feeling stuck at home. We want to be a city family and have our kids enjoy more freedoms than we did growing up in the suburbs. I don’t know if I want truly “free range” kids, but I’d like to have the option to let them learn to be independent. My parents and I lived in the Paris suburbs for a year when I was ten and I still remember the delight I took in learning the Metro system and all the places it could take me. I’d love for my kids to share in that by riding and learning about our public transit system. Also,  I definitely do not want to go back to owning my own car (I sold mine before XY and I moved back to Chicago last year, and have been loving life without it). So we need to live somewhere where a two-income, one-car lifestyle makes sense.

We need to keep living in our neighborhood. But where?

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