Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Rent Shock in Seattle...

I knew there was a lot of money flowing around the Seattle area. After all, you have Microsoft nestled here amidst many other high tech firms. But Houston, being the fourth largest city in the United States, is hardly poor. There is oil money there, tech money there, international commerce money there, and much more.

The strength of a city's economy is reflected in its rent values and the age of housing, in my opinion. In Houston, so many new houses are being constructed they cannot tear down older apartment complexes fast enough to keep the vacancy rate low enough for rental properties to remain profitable. The day I moved out of my old apartment (a little over a week ago), the new manager (the third one this year) was telling a new resident that when she had taken over there were 28 vacancies and she had reduced them to 15.

In Seattle, I have yet to drive by a new neighborhood. I'm not saying there are no housing projects. I've only covered a small fraction of city. But everywhere I go, I see old, old buildings -- many more than 60 years old, some maybe as much as 100 years old. And Seattle itself is not very old at all.

Tonight I drove out to West Seattle to inspect a private studio apartment in an older house. Someone had already rented the apartment by the time I got there (the rent was only $400 a month). I was able to look inside the house itself and noted that while the building was probably more than 50 years old, the interior had been renovated within the last five to ten years.

As I drove back to my hotel, I looked closely at the yards of the houses I passed by. They were all well-tended, neatly trimmed, carefully manicured lawns. The houses look like they were built in the 1940s and 1950s. There are many such old wood-paneled houses in the Atlanta area, for example. But the late-model cars and SUVs in the driveways and lining the street made it clear I was not in a low-income neighborhood.

While calling around the inner city today, looking for vacancies in reasonably priced apartment communities with parking, I heard prices ranging from $900 to $1500 per month. Parking costs extra, usually $125 to $150 per month, although one place quoted me $200 for reserved parking.

A lot of people ride buses and trains here. And a lot of people walk. You'd think these environmentally conscious people would be enjoying the healthy benefits of their lifestyle, but sadly I would have to say that about 1/2 of the people I see on the street smoke. Cigarettes dangle from every other bottom lip. I'm pretty allergic to tobacco and even if they don't allow smoking on the buses, I just cannot imagine what I would experience if I had to stand or sit next to a group of smokers for 15-20 minutes going to and from work.

I've found a few places that rent out studios and/or 1-bedroom apartments for less than $800 a month. Even though I have no idea of what their neighborhoods look like, I get the impression these are not very attractive facilities. The hotel I'm staying in offers long-term leases for about $600 a month -- provided you don't earn more than $30,000 per year. Let's just say I won't qualify for long-term housing here, even if I wanted to stay.

I remember going through rent shock when I moved out on my own for the very first time. And after a year of living by myself I went back to rooming with other people for a few years to keep my costs down (I was still in college). When I made the break with shared housing again, the rents had gone up -- but then, I was looking at better quality housing.

I've rented houses, apartments, and even a mobile home. That mobile home sat on top of a hill and I stayed there for 13 months while I was in college. That hill was so cold in the winter that my car's engine froze solid that December. It took a friend of mine six hours with a blow torch to thaw it out. Even so, I was without a car for four days because it took that long for anyone to come check on me.

I've given away enough furniture to fill at least four houses, maybe five. I've given away thousands of books. I've shredded and tossed out thousands of documents through the years, too. I have learned to get rid of as much as possible when I move so that moving is as painless as possible. Even so, even having no furniture to contend with, even with most of my remaining books still being in storage in Florida from my brief foray there in 2004, I had so much stuff to move this time I couldn't take most of it with me. The rest is stored in a friend's garage in Texas.

People ask me why I don't buy furniture. It's because I move so often I'm sick of getting rid of it. I move so often no one wants to help me move. I move only because I have to, or because I can no longer tolerate being where I am. I've picked some rotten roommates through the years. I've picked some rotten landlords. One landlord even went so far as to evict me and get a judgement (illegally) after I had moved out of her house, just so she could keep the $1000 deposit. I had to hire an attorney to get that mess straightened out.

Another landlord rented me his house with the promise I could stay there up to four years. He came back after two years and told me he needed his house back. And he didn't bother to return my $500 deposit despite promising to do so after inspecting the house. So I don't rent houses from private owners any more.

I may buy a house some day. I don't know. My family owns land so I've never felt much desire to buy more. I can't take it with me. I just want a place to stay, to feel comfortable, and maybe to entertain friends once in a while. I don't want to have to walk 3 blocks to get to my car. I don't want to have to find someone to buy or take my furniture when I'm ready to leave. I don't want to mow grass. And I sure don't want to have to fix someone's plumbing problems because the previous tenants didn't bother to take care of the property.

That pretty much leaves me looking for apartments. And I've learned that when you pay $400 a week for a 1-1/2 room studio, you cannot sit around waiting for a great rental unit to fall into your lap. There is a lot of money in this city, and it's chasing every house, apartment, and street corner that is habitable.

If I can find a decent place to live for less than $1200 a month, it will be nothing short of a minor miracle. The most I ever paid in rent was $1150 a month in Houston, when I lived in a fairly upscale townhouse. I'm not sure I want 2 bedrooms right now. What would I put in the 2nd room?


Blogger Scriptorius Rex said...

For cheap housing that you'd actually want to live in you pretty much have to go to Issaquah or parts beyond. Best of luck to you.

12:10 AM  

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