Having lived in Oakland for a while, I was pretty hesitant to move out. Lake Merritt is amazing, and the vibe had everything I wanted. It was vibrant, filled with things to do, and almost everything I needed was walking distance. Bars, restaurants, movie theaters - and there’s just something about having a beautiful lake right to you that I found super captivating. I was just generally happy there.
But Ahana’s commute to Palo Alto from Oakland everyday was undeniably brutal.
So we moved down to San Mateo, to the City South complex. For a rental unit, our setup was pretty great. We were a 10 minute bike ride from Caltrain, but more importantly a ten second walk to the Marina Plaza grocery store, which Ahana loved. The buildings were newly retrofitted in 2014, so everything looked brand new. The pool was amazing, but in typical fashion, we had a grand total of one pool party. And more recently, they just retrofitted the entire place to have fiber internet!
But I felt it was too much suburbia. We weren’t really close to downtown San Mateo, where we spent most of our weekends, and we also weren’t close enough to Caltrain. We had the idea of buying a new place for sometime, but it was really just a question of when and what criteria we really cared about.
Ultimately, I’m somewhat of an urbanist. I think suburban sprawl isn’t good, and it’s not a lifestyle I enjoy. So living close to downtown and close to my means of major transit (Caltrain in this case) was the largest priority.
As corollaries to this urbanist axiom, I definitely did not want a yard. Yardwork is either expensive, time consuming, or both. I grew up in a house with a fairly large yard and the amount of time we had to spend maintaining it (and having it wilt despite our best efforts) was just not something I ever wanted to get involved with. Ultimately though, in cities the proper substitute for yards are parks. With economies of scale to invest in large parks, they can obviously be far better than any yard. Fortunately, downtown San Mateo has many parks.
Given these criteria, we ruled out single family homes entirely. We wanted either a condo or a townhome that would be close to Caltrain. Given some of the townhome prices, it was a tough sell. My previous place in Oakland was sold for less than a quarter of a nice townhome in San Mateo (granted it was just a one bedroom), but spending that much for a townhouse when the conventional California wisdom was that single family homes would always be better was tough.
In the end, a couple factors swayed our decision.
First, we absolutely fell in love with San Mateo. Every weekend we’d spend in downtown San Mateo was a blast, and we soon started finding more excuses to be there. A great movie theater with a wonderful restaurant scene, and everything was walking distance. Our favorite bakery, hair cutter, tailor, and dry cleaning were all walkable. Even my favorite dessert place was there. And the park was gorgeous.
Second, this place was literally a 30 second walk to caltrain. So convenient, and it meant on weekends we didn’t have to drive anywhere. If we wanted to visit my parents, we could just Caltrain down to Sunnyvale and have them pick us up from the station. Or Caltrain to Redwood City downtown or Burlingame - both downtown areas we also like, but are conveniently connected via Caltrain. And since we’re so close to the station, we don’t have to worry about long commutes after getting off the train. Leaning into the car-free lifestyle really helped, and the overall quality of life was vastly improved.
Third was the rentability of the place. While we certainly plan on sticking around for the next 5-7 years, it’s tough to say if we’ll stay for longer than 10 years. We don’t quite know how many kids we’re going to have - definitely more than 1, definitely less than 5. But it’ll be hard to say until we have our first, and maybe our second. We don’t know how much space we’ll need, and as the kids grow up, we haven’t really paid attention to how good the schools are here. A place this close to downtown is imminently rentable, and in fact the owner had rented our place out for the six years prior to our purchasing it.
Given that I’m already renting out my place in Oakland, this seemed like a great insurance card in case we, for whatever reason, didn’t end up liking our place.
Not to say there weren’t any hiccups! Ahana’s legal first name is actually
XXX, because when moving to Canada the Indian government flubbed her name, and moved her actual name
Ahana to the family name section, leaving her without a first name. And in Canada, they use
XXX if the last name or first name is not present, whereas in the US they use FNU for first name unknown and LNU for last name unknown. This caused her to be flagged in basically every single financial system - to the point where - despite her SSN being the same - Transunion and Equifax couldn’t even find her! Experian had two different entries for her, and she had to call them to try and get this rectified into a single account.
Naturally, this meant she coudln’t get on any loan docs, and since I hadn’t been renting out my Oakland place for over a year (it wasn’t on my 2018 tax returns, for example), they wouldn’t count my rental income either! Hilariously, the seller actually had a previous buyer backout at the last minute and was engaged in a lawsuit to try and get the good faith deposit of 3% back, but of course that meant the seller coudln’t actually sell the unit while the lawsuit went on. So while trying to persuade the seller to just give up the lawsuit (we had matched the previous buyer’s offer) and get our finances in order, this name thing really spooked the seller.
So we essentially lied and said her name was Ahana Sivaskandan with the plan of, at the very end, issuing a disclosure that Ahana Sivaskandan is actually XXX Ahana - in the hopes that by that point, it wouldn’t matter. Of course, after I had waived all my contingencies and put in my good faith deposit, it turned out the banker doing the pre qualification hadn’t really done their homework and perhaps I wouldn’t get the loan after all (due to the name and rental income issues).
That was one of the most stressful three days of my life.
:) The possibility that we’d just lose the 3% without any recourse was insane, and I was cursing myself for lifting the contingency in the first place. Listening to a banker who just wants the sale to go through and who promised me that everything would be okay even if I lifted the contingency before the loan fully came through… Huge mistakes.
Anyways, lessons were learned, and that sort of situation is never happening again. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely loved the place and basically jumped on it as soon as it came back up on the market. But next time, no realtors, no mortgage brokers, nothing. We take it slow, and if that means we’re not qualified to buy a house for another four years while we sort out this name issue and get some years of rental income on our books, then so be it. (Ahana also didn’t have enough credit cards for a sufficient period of time, but that played a rather minor role in the whole saga compared to the other two issues.)
After a lot of drama and elevated cortisol levels, we’ve settled in to our new place and are absolutely loving life.
Moving three places in 10 months, buying a house, and getting a dog. This year has been intense!