Monday, April 20, 2015

Week Four: Renting in Sonoma County

I had to laugh a bit when I saw this article in a recent issue of the local ARGUS COURIER newspaper.

"Housing Crisis Squeezes Petaluma Residents"

No joke!  You are in a bad situation if you are looking to rent OR if you are looking to buy. There is just no inventory. I broke down and started looking into apartment living this past week.  One bedrooms at the Azure Apartment Homes begin at $2020 a month with three bedrooms going as high as $3480.  At the Park Central townhomes next to Azure, they have a waiting list with one bedrooms starting at $2000 a month and two bedrooms going as high as $3226.  Insane!

We are starting to get a feel for the rentals market although we are constantly surprised by how high rents are.  About 1-2 houses pop up each day.  Houses on the west side go for higher rent.  For example, there is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house that is 1300 sq ft going for $2700 per month. Another house that looks like it is on the east side is 3 bedroom, 2 bath and 2200 sq ft and is renting for $2900.  More house but not much higher rent than the west side location.

If you are looking in the $1700-$1900, be prepared for 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartments or older townhomes with no amenities. MAYBE a house.  A tiny one. None have much in the way of outdoor space or storage.  When you hit $2500, you can get a three bedroom with a bit of outdoor space and garage.  Often very dated interiors. There isn't much in between.   We had hoped to spend no more than $2300. 

So, do you go for the cheaper option knowing you will be cramped and miserable without any decent outdoor space and will probably have to pay for a storage unit?  Or do you stretch your budget to the breaking point trying to find a place your family will be comfortable in?

We found a property that would definitely be a stretch for us but we like the neighborhood and it has a lovely backyard.  I submitted an application on Wednesday and we attended the open house on Thursday.  I did everything I could think of to give us an edge and I left feeling confident that we had a shot at the house.  I was definitely in better spirits over the weekend. Today, I saw that they are doing another open house on the property tomorrow.  I don't feel they would do this if they felt they had a good applicant.  I really thought this was going to be the break we were looking for.

With only a month to go, we are faced with some tough decisions.  There was only one house we could see over the weekend.  It was small and overpriced but I was willing to consider it. My husband was not.  So, we don't really have any options right now unless something pops up during the week.  I am starting to feel like we should take a less desirable approach.  There is a small 2 bedroom 1 bath duplex near my church.  No yard.  No garage.  Very little living space. But it would be LESS than we can afford.  It might be worth trying to tough it out there for a year and put our stuff in storage.  This is assuming we could even GET the property.  I am feeling like I would rather go small and be uncomfortable for awhile rather than spend a bunch of money for something that we didn't even really like. I think we'll attend the open house tomorrow.  

Time is running out.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Week Three: Renting in Sonoma County

A realtor friend connected us recently with a homeowner whose rental was about to go back on the market.  Everything about it was perfect.  Great location near my son's school.  3 bedroom, 2 bath.  Small yard with planter boxes.  Garage with attached studio.  Porch and fireplace.  About 1700 sq ft.  And the owners were going to put the rent at $2200 which is at the high end of what we can afford but doable. It was going to be a step up for us and that would have changed everything.  We were so excited.  We had an appointment to go view it on Saturday and I had my "elevator speech" ready to go.

At 9:45am on Saturday, I headed over to the venue for the fundraiser that I was chairing that night in order to start decorating. On my way over, the owner called and said they had decided to sell instead of rent.  I couldn't contain my emotion.  I sat in front of the venue for about 10 minutes crying.  I saw the volunteers gathering and knew I had to pull myself together and focus on the fundraiser for the rest of the day. I had foolishly let myself get carried away with hope and daydreams.

There is a slim chance that there is a backup option available but there are already two applications pending.  It is smaller than our current home with no yard to speak of. It is also attached to another home.  Plus, it would be $400 more than we are currently paying. So disheartening to think of paying so much more for so much less.

I went through my morning ritual of checking the local property management companies and Craigslist.  Here is what I found:

3 bedroom, 2.5 bath home for $2700
4 bedroom, 3 bath home for $4750
4 bedroom, 3.5 bath home for $5495
5 bedroom, 3 bath home for $3900
3 bedroom, 2 bath home for $2700

Our absolute upper limit is $2300.

We spent the weekend starting to fill the POD that was delivered on Friday. It feels strange to pack with no idea where you are going to land.  When we moved into our current home almost four years ago, we downsized and got rid of a lot of stuff.  I know we will be downsizing again.  I can deal with that.  It is just hard to think that we will be paying so much more.  I'm definitely getting discouraged.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Week Two: Renting in Sonoma County

We are starting week two of our search for a new rental home.

Here is what we are hoping for:

2 or more bedrooms
A bit of yard for gardening and play
A garage or storage space

Here is what I would LOVE to have in addition:
A fireplace
A porch
The possibility to adopt a cat

We don't need anything fancy.  Gary does a lot of work from home so a third bedroom for an office would be lovely.

Here is what we currently have:
4 bedrooms, 2 baths
1400 sq ft
Fenced in yard
Attached 2 car garage
$1900 a month

The fourth bedroom meant that Noodle and I had a workroom where we could create together. It was lovely.

Last week, I called about a small rental home on the west side of town. It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath that was a little less than 900 sq ft. It had already rented. At $2100 a month.

This one came up today:
It is a very sweet 2 bedroom, 2 bath home.  A little over 1200 sq ft with garage.  My heart leapt.  Until I saw the rent.

$3000 a month with a $4500 deposit.

My family is not poor. Although we struggle, we have two working adults in the family and we are fine. We both have good jobs. However, even for us it would be difficult to come up with first month's rent AND an almost $5000 deposit.  Yet, this is what we are faced with.  Even if we could figure out how to find the money to rent this place AND beat out the other dozens of applicants, how would we ever afford $3000 a month?  And we would be downsizing yet again.

Then, I think about families who aren't as fortunate as we are.  How can THEY afford to live here? They can't.  Our homeless population is growing every day.

Here is another one:

This little 2 bedroom, 1 bath home is going for $2450 a month.  About 1000 sq ft. No garage.   $3200 deposit.

Over the weekend, I drove by another two bedroom, 1 bath house that was about 900 sq ft going for $2450 a month.

Many people have asked us why we don't buy.  First of all, we would be buying at the top of the market.  Houses for sale are just as bad right now with multiple offers and houses selling for $20,000 to $30,000 over asking.  Also, we don't have a good down payment right now. We are working on paying down debt and improving our credit.  The time isn't right for us to buy. I wish it was.  It would solve a lot of problems.

I am trying to push down fear and anxiety and put one foot in front of the other.  There is still time.  While we continue our search, we are dismantling our home of almost four years and packing boxes.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Renting in Sonoma County: A Personal Story

(Image Source)

Back in October of 2011, we were scrambling to find a new rental home.  We felt so lucky to stumble upon the little house we live in.  It is a modest four bedroom, two bath 1400 sq ft home.  It is $1900 a month and we loved that it had a big fenced in front yard and an attached garage.  The yard has been wonderful for Noodle and the neighbors are great. The four bedrooms meant that my husband could have an office and Noodle and I could have a workroom.  We downsized a lot when we moved in but it has been a great place to live and we hoped to live there for many years.  We have worked hard to take care of this house and improve the yard. I planted daffodils and we pulled up all the ivy that was choking the backyard.  On Sunday, we weeded and prepared the beds for Spring. I even built Noodle what I hoped would be a fun living teepee for Summer.

On Monday, I came home from work to a 60 day notice on our front door. Without any explanation, our landlord has asked us to leave.  We have been excellent tenants and have never been late a single time with the rent in the almost four years we have been there.  Our only thought is that the owners want to sell it.  We are devastated.

We are facing some difficult obstacles:

1) This could not come at a worse time.  I am chairing the school fundraiser on April 11 and Noodle and I both have birthdays in May. I am turning 40 this year and had hoped to go to Disneyland. Now, it appears I get to celebrate my birthday (and Noodle's) by moving.

2) The rental market is awful where we live. There is no inventory and tremendous competition for what few houses are available. My realtor friend told me that 25-50 applications are going in on each rental.

3)The few houses that are available are currently for rent for unbelievable amounts.  One 2 bedroom, 1 bath house that I had hoped to view just rented for $2100 a month. It is around 1000 sq ft.

4) We have a personal obstacle.  When my husband lost his job several years ago, we struggled to get by.  We had to resort to credit cards to make it through.  We have been paying off the debt but our credit took a hit.  There is no deliquency. Just high debt-to-credit ratio. This makes us less competitive as renters.

5) You all know my much-beloved feline companion died last month.  This has been hard for all of us.  We had hoped to surprise Noodle with a kitten for his birthday. Almost all of the current rentals do not allow pets.

Cost of living in Northern California is unbelievable.  Families are getting pushed out as few can afford to live here anymore.  We have 60 days to find a new home.  I am going to share my journey here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Story of Toulouse

Back in 2001, I had just turned 26 and had been through a rough breakup. I owned a three-story townhouse and it felt very lonely and big.  Katrina had just occurred and I heard in the news that many Katrina animals had been evacuated to Denver. They were right down the street from my house at the Denver Dumb Friends League.  Even though I had always been more of a cat person, I decided I needed to adopt one of the Katrina dogs from Texas.  I went several days in a row to look at dogs and each day the dog I was most interested in got adopted right out from under me.  On the third day, I decided to look at cats as well.  As I walked by the wall of cats, I saw one tuxedo cat that looked completely at home and comfortable.  I have always had a weakness for tuxies and black cats. I asked to spend some time with "Slippers" and loved how comfortable and confident he seemed.  I adopted him immediately.

I renamed him Toulouse because Slippers seemed a bit undignified. Toulouse had lived with an elderly lady the first three years of his life.  When she moved into a nursing home, Toulouse had to be taken to the Dumb Friends League.  He adapted to his new life and name right away. He never answered to Slippers but he would always answer to Toulouse.

Toulouse did have some naughty kitty tendencies at first such as using my furniture as a scratching pad.  The vet suggested Soft Paws and he wore those for years. I used colored ones so I could tell when they fell off. Everyone always asked me why I painted my cat's nails.  I would never do such a thing!

Toulouse was an indoor only cat and loved spending time looking out the window and luxuriating by the fireplace.  I would often light fires just for him.

He got me through my wild years in Denver and was there when I met my husband Gary. 

When Gary visited me during a blizzard, we opened the back door and let Toulouse explore a little bit. He came right back inside.

Like many cats, he wanted to be right in the middle of whatever I was doing. I think he is yawning in this photo but I think he looks like he is smiling or laughing.

He was not excited when Noodlebug came along and pretty much ignored him the first few years. Toulouse was never much of a lap cat but, for some reason, he spent a lot of time purring on my belly when I was pregnant.

Towards the end of his life, he liked Noodlebug more and would sometimes sit on him.  That made me happy.  This is one of my favorite videos of all time that was taken when Noodle was about 1.5 years old.

I was so blessed to have Toulouse for 14 wonderful years.  He really wasn't himself anymore over the last year.  Gary and I did everything we could to save him and make him more comfortable but I couldn't watch my beloved kitty suffer anymore. We said goodbye yesterday.  My constant companion of 14 years is gone and I don't know what I will do without him.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Happy Friday!

Funny cats on Friday.You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Accountability Rings

We have been struggling in our little family with discipline and yelling. My husband has been failing in the patience department and I find myself struggling there as well. And not just with my son. Intellectually, I know that yelling accomplishes nothing. It isn't going to get my son or anyone else to do what I want. It is just such a hard habit to break and such an easy and comfortable pattern to fall into. 

I have gone back to reading some of my favorite parenting books including POSITIVE DISCIPLINE and I have been trying meditation classes at our local Buddhist center.  Anything to break me of this negative pattern I have fallen into!

Then, I came across this article.  The article talks about how a mom is using a set of rings to stop yelling. All five rings start on her right hand. When she has a setback such as yelling, she moves a ring to her left hand.  I liked this idea of a physical reminder to keep me accountable. 

Like the woman in the article, I am using this set of rings from Stella and Dot.  They are pretty affordable at $39 and I like how simple looking they are.

My sweet girlfriend knew I wanted to do this and she bought these for me.  I am so lucky to have such supportive friends!

I am not perfect. Far from it. But I am willing to do the work to get better. I want to be a better mom, a better wife, a better daughter, a better friend. I am hoping this is one step in that process.  I will let you know how it goes!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day with "A Room with a View"

One of my all-time favorite movies is "A Room with a View."  I credit (or blame) this film for shaping my romantic sensibilities.  I first saw it as a young teenager and was convinced I was going to go to Italy and meet my very own George Emerson. 

I headed to Europe at the tender age of 17 and did not find George Emerson. I didn't find him when I returned a year later either. Although my friend and I did enjoy re-enacting many of the scenes from the movie. It took me a long time to find my own George Emerson.  I was 29 when I finally found him.  We honeymooned in Italy and spent one night at the Hotel Degli Orafi where we had a room overlooking the Arno. I can't wait to go back in a few years with my son.  Quite unintentionally, I am raising him just like Cecil Vyse wanted to raise his own children:

“Do you know, mother, I shall have our children educated just like Lucy. Bring them up among honest country folks for freshness, send them to Italy for subtlety, and then—not till then—let them come to London."

 This Valentine's Day, I am going to make my husband watch the movie with me again. And I created this little image because I think it sums up our relationships quite nicely. Because great romances don't stand the test of time without a sense of humor.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valentine's Day

Noodlebug and I used the long rainy weekend to work on valentines. We used the rocket valentine from FAMILY FUN magazine as our inspiration.

We got about six sheets of glitter scrapbook paper from Joann's along with some fat Valentine's Day straws. I believe I got those at Target.  We already had a bunch of regular straws on hand for crafting.  Using the template from FAMILY FUN, we glued our rockets together. The fat straws needed to be cut in half to get the proper length so you get two rocket valentines from each straw. We closed one end of the fat straws with tape and then used tape to secure the rocket to the straw.  I didn't trust glue to hold it together.  We then stuck a colored straw inside the fat straw and we now Valentine rockets that can shoot to the moon!  I was worried that the inner straws would get easily lost so we made another trip to Michael's for some cellophane treat bags. I whipped up a quick bag topper in WORD and we stapled the bag shut. This will also (hopefully) prevent the 1st graders from getting out the rockets during class and shooting them about the room!

I have also thought of Valentine's Day as a day to celebrate lover rather than lovers.  I not only give little treats to my husband and son but I give them to my friends as well.  I used this tutorial and printable as inspiration this year. 

(Image borrowed from and owned by Tatertots and Jello)
I found some burlap pouches in Target's discount bins that had a heart image on them. I filled them with nice chocolates and attached the wonderful printable.  It is a small gesture but I hope it will be a nice reminder to my friends of how much I love and appreciate them!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Recovering and Bruno Mars

I was in a car accident in early November that more or less derailed my life.  Still trying to recover as I negotiate the twists and turns of insurance. My son and husband had to do all the holiday decorating this year.  I feel frustrated that I cannot do the things I normally do and I'm struggling to find my holiday spirit. We'll get there.

In the meantime, my son has been fixated on Bruno Mars' new video with Mark Ronson. Have you heard "Uptown Funk" yet?

My son is a big fan of Bruno Mars and loves this video.  In the Spring, his school holds a Famous Person day where you are supposed to dress up as a famous person. He wanted to go as Bruno Mars last year but I sent him as John Lennon instead.  He asked again after seeing this video.

Just for fun, I grabbed my old pink GAP blazer and one of my husband's hats.  I dropped by Target on the way home from work and bought a cheap chain necklace and some cheap sunglasses.  We really need a white fedora and a black bandana but it's a start!