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Friday, June 5, 2015

Existential Housing Crisis

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she had, "determined there is no discernible difference between being a first-time home buyer and having an existential crisis." I think she just about hit the nail on the head with that one. I wish her luck in her quest, but can offer no satisfactory response to her 21st century housing crisis. And yet, I muse on.

There is no practical way that I am ready to buy a house. I can barely keep the living conditions in my apartment under control. What with work and children and laundry and four trips to urgent care in the month of May alone, I am already well beyond my zone of proximal development. Yet I dream of owning my own home. When houses in my neighborhood go up for sale, I drive past them slowly, longingly, dreaming of the lives of the people who live there and imagining myself opening the front door to visitors, walking my older son to school, and choosing my own native-inspired, drought-resistant landscaping. Then I drive home, walk up two flights of stairs, look up the price on Zillow, and try not to cry myself to sleep.

I want a living arrangement with four bedrooms, three baths, at least 1,600 square feet, and in an area that shortens my husband's commute while allowing my sons to attend public schools ranked either nine or ten on This basically means I need to find $160,000 for a 20% down-payment on a $800,000 house. No problem, right? (I sure hope this blogger-thing works out.)

What kills me about this whole thing is not simply the mind-boggling cost of housing in Orange County, California, but rather the actual income required to purchase these living containers. According to Zillow's Mortgage Calculator, I would need to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $160,000 a year for a house at in this price range to "fit comfortably within [my] budget." Clearly there is something wrong here.

My husband and I are both college educated, and I have a master's degree. He is an engineer; I am a teacher. We make more money than the vast majority of people on the entire planet, but we cannot even throw a stone at $160,000 a year. Who are these people who can buy these houses, and how are there enough of them to keep the price of housing so high? Is there some prestigious university pouring doctors and successful business people directly into the center of Irvine?

(UCI is ranked 42nd in the nation, and according to U.S. News and World Report's collage ranking and reviews, "The research institution specializes in areas such as cancer and neuroscience studies in conjunction with the highly ranked UC Irvine Medical Center. Graduate programs are highly regarded at UC Irvine, too, with specialty offerings at the Paul Merage School of Business.")

But I digress. The unforgiving cost of the homes I want to buy and the significant societal problems associated with having the highest ranking schools in the heart of ridiculously wealthy suburban enclaves is besides the point. So, back to the questions at hand: Why all this  palpable desire for something I do not, under any circumstances, need in order to live a reasonable life? Why am I so dissatisfied with my lovely apartment? And why does it seem  as though I have failed as a human being because I do not own my own, personal, quadrilateral of land upon the completion of my third decade of life? Why have I worked so hard to complete so much school and become an expert at my craft only to long for something that remains beyond my reach?

According to Wikipedia (which, if you are one of my students, you are NEVER allowed to use as an academic source):  An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether their life has any meaning, purpose, or value.

Sounds like buying a house to me.


  1. You KNOW the answer, don't you? Move to Missouri! ;) A house such as you described could be had for between $150,000 and $200,000 here in Columbia. That's only... let's see... $30-40K for a downpayment. That's a realistic 5-year goal. I think. I'll let you know when *I* accomplish that.

    1. Good schools? Engineering jobs? Amazing UU church?

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