Date #36 – House Hunting . . .
After 18 months of dating we want to move in together but finding a home we both love looks tricky
JASON: Nicole and I had been friends for a number of years before we started dating a year and a half ago, meaning a lot of stuff that might come up in the house hunting date we already knew about each other. For instance I’ve lived in New York my whole life, except for a brief stint in the midwest for college, and wanted to stay here. When deciding where to live in the future, a California girl like Nicole would have been open to moving out of the tri-state area or back to the west coast. But being good friends first meant that she already knew I wanted to stay in the NYC metro area and we’d agreed on that count.
That still left many details to work out. Plus, we’re planning on moving in together in a few months, so this date made a lot of sense for us. I think we had inklings about some of the things we each were looking for in an apartment, but it turns out that deciding where to live or what kind of place you want to live in has less to do with home layouts or designs and more to do with big picture ideas of what people want out of their relationship.
We were talking about whether a place in the city should have a backyard or not, with Nicole pro, while I like to think of nearby city parks as part of our backyard. More questions from this: Would this environment be safe for kids? (We had already had the kids conversation a while ago, but a date like this obviously leads there.) Long-term should we be thinking about the suburbs? I think of the city as being safer for kids; in my mind, having teenagers behind the wheel is way more dangerous. Nicole thinks of the suburbs as safer.
City vs. suburbs lead to a nice discussion about owning vs. renting and money in general, always a fraught but good conversation for a couple to have. Nicole grew up in a rented duplex, and sees owning as a hassle. I grew up in a suburban house my parents owned but am largely indifferent. And the daunting cost of buying a place in the city might made this decision for us before we could even really weigh our options.
We then fired up the ol’ search engine and found some places that we liked and felt like we could move into in the coming year, and also more long-term options where we could imagine someday starting a family. There are still some things to decide but this date was a great way to get important questions out there and for us to realize that a bit of debate is good way to get on, and stay on, the same page.
NICOLE: Jason and I were friends for a long time before we started dating, so I felt like we got a lot of the general compatibility discussions out of the way—we already had an idea of how the other person dealt with adversity, knew what the other person feels about weighty questions like marriage and kids, had years of friendship as a great foundation for trust, and so on—but one topic we’d never really delved into was money. More specifically, our priorities about how to spend it on where we live. We’ve both lived in our respective apartments for ages too; it wasn’t anything either of us had to think about in a while so the topic just hadn’t really come up.
The timing couldn’t have been better for this date. We’d recently decided we were ready to move in together, so it was high time we sat down and talked about what each of us could afford, what was important to us, and where we saw ourselves living for the next year, five years, 10 years, and beyond.
The date started off well enough: We’re both on the same page on finding an investment that was big enough to grow our family, with kids in the longer-term picture. So at least two bedrooms. And for now we still want to be near the city, though our future destination is up for discussion. (You know, the eternal suburbs v. city debate when kids are in the picture.)
I have no interest in the inherent hassles in owning a house and Jason is largely indifferent at this point, so we agreed that we’d look at everything, including apartments. As for other features, the place has to have a sizable and defined kitchen (Jason is a talented and prolific cook), laundry in-building (I’m a little obsessive about keeping clothes clean) and room for my little garden (window boxes will do). And we both acknowledge that it’s important to us to be near green space.
With all these qualifications in mind, we headed over to New York Magazine’s infamous livability calculator, and that’s where we ran into trouble. Giving preference to housing affordability, being close to public transportation, safety, housing quality, and green space, we ended up with a top recommendation of Tribeca, one of New York’s toniest—and most exorbitantly expensive—neighborhoods. And the list didn’t get much more attainable from there.
So we threw that out and turned to Zillow to see what was available in our chosen neighborhood of Astoria, Queens: namely, lots of million dollar-plus homes and a few cramped co-op apartments in the $400,000-$600,000 range. Not quite the affordable oasis we were hoping for. After a minor meltdown about never being able to afford a home, we consoled ourselves that for now splitting the rent on a one bedroom would be much more doable—and maybe we’d be able to upgrade one day if we were diligent in saving. While it was nice to see we’re on the same page about where we see ourselves, we’re more aware than ever that we have some work left to do to get there.