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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: homeymomma on August 11, 2013, 10:20:06 PM

Title: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: homeymomma on August 11, 2013, 10:20:06 PM
Hi all,

Husband and I (and our 1 year old daughter) are living for free right now saving up some moolah. Awesome, for sure. However, soon the jig will be up and we'll have to get our own place again. So, our big question up for debate right now is: second car or super high rent?

With our free house comes use of a free car, when we move we will be back down to our single car.

To live close enough to husband's work for him not to need a car of his own, rent will be over 2,000 (this, by the way, is 50% of take home pay).

We can otherwise live further away and pay closer to 1,500 or 1,600 in rent. But this will necessitate a second car - with accompanying expense of buying the car, insuring it, fueling it, and paying taxes on it.

You guessed it - we live in a super high cost of living area, with insane commutes - the burbs of Washington, DC.

Any thoughts?
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: kh on August 12, 2013, 05:30:29 AM
I just moved from NYC to New Haven, CT, so have kind of seen both ends of the spectrum here. Having just done rent that was half of my take home pay, I'll say that it's not enjoyable, especially because everything else is more expensive as well... food, transit, parking, you name it. In New Haven, my rent dropped by about $800, but everything is a 20 minute drive away from the small walkable downtown. Some thoughts...

What is your commute situation? Are you at home during the day, or is this a job-in-the-opposite-direction problem? Think about the possibility of a one-car household with a slightly longer commute, does it make any sense? Then you can get some of the benefits of both situations. I never would have considered going without a car before I lived in Manhattan, but now a combination of trains, walking, and biking gets me most everywhere I need to go on a daily basis, and we still have one car for longer trips (Zipcar also helps). If one if you can get your regular commute to public transit, a single car won't be enough to offset the rent benefits.

Long commutes are the worst, but on the other hand, so is automatically using up 80%+ of your take home on rent/food/transit. It's just tough to feel like you're making any progress.
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: smalllife on August 12, 2013, 05:32:53 AM
Have you looked at places in between?  Within walking/biking distance of the metro or on the bus line will get you a little further out of the city, lowering rent, while also allowing you to remain a one car household.  Personally my vote is for biking to the metro as most American's won't think of that option, making the rents less than those apartments withing walking distance.

Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: amicableskeptic on August 12, 2013, 06:31:26 AM
I'd recommend living on the orange line near the W&OD (best deals seam to be between East and West fall church) or the yellow line near the Mount Vernon trail (the further south the cheaper it will be but I'd try and stay in the beltway).  That way your husband can bike all the way to work when it is nice out, and on really bad days fall back on the metro (but metro can be over $10/day so a full bike in and out is really a good amount of savings).  If you're willing to live in MD you could also try Silver Spring, it's definitely cheaper and also allows metro/biking into the city.  When looking at a 2nd car don't forget to factor in the cost of parking that car at his work in the city, this can be as high as $15-20/day at some places!
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: DCUrbanMM on August 12, 2013, 08:06:56 AM
My wife and I recently moved to DC from Boston and had the same situation last fall.  In Boston, the price differential between the near suburbs and close to downtown is much bigger than in DC (Boston it is more like ~1200 a month to be 5 miles out versus 2200+ to be downtown for 1 br) so the being on the public transport/biking was the clear economic winner.  Plus a lot of the funner places for young people were outside the city.  In DC, I found that the near suburbs are often further out (5 - 10 miles) which approaches uncomfortable cycling and almost as expensive - as you said 1600 vs 2000. 

When I ran the numbers, the increased metro fares out weighed the rent differential between the places I was looking at, so I decided on living downtown. 

9 months in - I use my car approx once a week to go to groceries/target etc.  My expenses are pretty low (compared to my peers) mostly because there is so much that is free to do and so readily accessible. 

Also - I went through craiglist to find the rental.  I was able to get a 1 br english basement (approx 800 sqft with in-apt laundry, dishwasher) a block from Dupont cir metro for $1650.   There were comparable deals out there at the time if you go directly with the owner.  The process was competitive so it helps to be able to sell why you will be a good tenant.  We are steady dual income, no issues with past landlords,etc. 

Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: homeymomma on August 12, 2013, 08:47:02 AM
Thanks everybody! I guess so many people actually know the DC area I could get into more specifics -
Husband actually works in Falls Church, VA. We used to live out in Fairfax, VA, which was a haul commute-wise (66) but had doable rent. We currently live in Maryland, which has opened our eyes to the impossibility of life in the suburbs without two cars. There is zero within walking distance, and biking would be a rough everyday option considering Husband's hours and the distance to a metro station. Where we lived before, the closest metro station was a 20 minute drive. And the metro is not at all convenient on the work end for him - the stop is quite far from his work. Any time he has metroed, he's actually had to have his boss come get him, which is awkward...
He has a bike at work to get TO the station, but there are no-bike rules during commute hours so that doesn't actually work.

Like DCUrbanMM mentions, the "near suburbs" are crazy expensive, comparable to being right downtown. Falls church is unfortunately one of those very expensive suburbs - it's all single family homes which are extremely pricey, or 2000/mo shitty apartment complexes.

In the future one option we are considering is buying a place quite a bit farther out - it would be a more permanent option for us, which would be great, but would also mean like an hour+ commute EACH WAY for Husband - he says he doesn't mind but I'm not sold. It is the only financially feasible option for us in the future but very non-mustachian. I suppose we could look at condos but the last time we did that we were completely floored by the condo fees. The idea of adding a 600/mo condo fee to an already high mortgage made us blanche a little bit.

I feel like I'm having a little complainypants disease going on here, so sorry about that. We are just loving saving over 50% of our income right now, and the thought of spending that other 50% just on rent is frustrating!!
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: amicableskeptic on August 12, 2013, 09:12:41 AM
Falls church actually has some decent rents if you search around on CL for a bit.

Basement for $1200/month!
Small 3 bedroom for 1650
Bigger 3 bedroom for 1950

Downtown falls church is actually pretty walkable/bikable, much more of a city than Fairfax or some of the MD suburbatory type places.  Plus if you're near the W&OD you can get all the way to DC easily by bike (or by metro).  But there is actually some cool stuff to do around Falls Church (Westover Market, Spacebar, Sunflower, State Theatre) so you might be able to have a lot of fun walking distance from your new place. 

Once you go out past Fairfax you are really stuck with terrible commutes so I would recommend against it.  Chantilly and Leesburg might have enticingly low prices but just think what your lives will be like out there.  Forced to drive to almost anything ever, ugh.  If you do go further afield maybe check out the bus schedules on there is decent bus service in NOVA and if you live near a bus stop it could be perfect.  Also with the new Reston metro stop maybe you could potentially live out there and have your hubby either bike in on the W&OD or metro in.  In terms of no bikes on the metro during rush hour the trick is to just leave a beater bike locked up at the metro you will end up at so you can ride it the rest of the way to work.  If you want to get super fancy you can rent a weatherproof bike locker for 200/year
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: warpgirl on August 12, 2013, 02:59:58 PM
I have friends that live in Maryland in a house near the Wheaton metro stop. They only have 1 car. I have other friends in a high-rise condo building in Silver Spring. Both areas seem to have good housing options and are within biking and walking distance of groceries, entertainment, etc.

My personal preference would be to try to live closer in and avoid a second car. (Disclosure: I'm car-less on East Capitol Hill.) I think you get better quality of life without a long commute, but that's just me. Ultimately, I'd love to get away from the DMV metroplex altogether!

Good luck with the search!
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: ArtieStrongestInTheWorld on August 12, 2013, 03:51:46 PM
I have friends that live in Maryland in a house near the Wheaton metro stop. They only have 1 car.

+1.  I'd highly recommend considering Wheaton, which is where I live.  If you're not picky, you can find (relatively) affordable apartments within walking distance of Metro, the mall, and several grocery stores (Giant/Target/Costco at the mall, and the new Safeway opening next year across from the Metro station).  It's also a major stop for several commuter buses into DC.
Title: Re: Where should we live? - city vs. burbs?
Post by: olivia on August 12, 2013, 04:40:55 PM
Could he get a folding bike to ride to and then take on the Metro?  That could open up possibilities.  Or he could have 2 bikes, one for biking to the Metro by your house and one for biking to work from the Metro stop there.  2 beater bikes are cheaper than an extra car! 

Northern VA traffic is just I'm sure you know, that 1+ hour commute can turn into 2 way too easily.