Tag

California

If You Come To San Francisco

There is no way I could go back and tell you about all of the things we’ve done while exploring our new home. Instead I’ll share a random assortment of photographs. Click play on some Scott McKenzie and let’s do this.

The beach at Christmas time.

Looking towards the bay from the top of the hills.

The Google.

Our new home.

Looking back at the city from Treasure Island.

The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University.

The Palace of Fine Arts on a lovely evening.

Looking out into the Bay from tourist-central.

The famous Haight-Ashbury legs at the Piedmont Boutique.

Our new home – the view from the Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park.

And she needs no introduction. I love this photo – the bridge looks its best in the fog.

Death and Taxes?

I’ve already told you about the ridiculous housing market here in the Bay Area – about how my rent is 5x my mortgage and how my Arkansas house would be worth 12x more if it was in the neighborhood surrounding our apartment building. That isn’t real news, of course. You know those things before you move here.

Today, let’s talk about that other thing people “know” about California . . . the high taxes! I’m not trying to start a big political discussion here or even discuss whether or not any individual tax rate is warranted. Frankly, I don’t really care what you think about taxes; I just want to talk about the actual impact this has outside of all the theory. If you feel some kind of moral outrage when paying taxes, this post really isn’t for you.

First! The basics:
-Are California’s taxes among the highest in the United States? Overall, yes.
-Does this make any difference to me on a daily basis? No, not really.

Next! Some caveats:
-I don’t own real estate in the state of California, so I don’t have the same tax burden I did in Arkansas.
-My salary tripled when I moved here, so my comparisons are a bit apples to oranges. But it is interesting to compare what I expected based on all of the California-bashing to what I actually pay.

Do I feel the tax burden when I get paid? No.
I was fairly disappointed when I saw the net of my first check here. When I actually looked at the breakdown however, I realized that most wasn’t going to state taxes. In fact, the state taxes are fairly in proportion to what I was paying in Arkansas considering the salary increase. Where I’m really taking a hit is with federal taxes and an increase in retirement contributions to make up for some lost time when I was in my early 20s.

Let’s use my family as an example. We are talking about effective tax rate here (not marginal).
In California – we fall at 7.4% for state and 20.6% federal. In Arkansas – we averaged 4.8% state and 13.3% federal. When we are talking about money out of my pocket, our family income more than doubled and our taxes tripled – at both the state and federal level. Obviously you feel this difference when you are looking back over a year or more, but from paycheck to paycheck the increase is minimal. If you are paying attention and optimizing your finances, you can minimize it even more.

We consider this increase negligible for our day-to-day life, but important for lifetime financial planning.

Do I feel the tax burden when I’m at the grocery store? Yes.
The combined sales tax (state, county, city) for where I do my grocery shopping is 8.75%. For where we do the rest of our shopping (clothes, household goods, fun) it is 9%. In Arkansas, it was 6.5% where we did grocery shopping and 8.5% where we did everything else. So yes, higher across the board. Interestingly, the county and city tax rates were actually higher in Arkansas. Also interestingly, we shop for groceries in both Arkansas and California in a different city from where we do everything else. Just a fun tidbit.

I think it is pretty clear that we do feel that additional 2.25% in taxes on groceries. Mix that with the overall increase in the price of goods and it has made a big change in our monthly budget. Outside of the grocery store? Not so much.

Do I feel the tax burden when I’m renewing my car registration? Yes.
Oh my goodness did I hear some horror stories about how much it was going to cost to register my car. They were – across the board – highly exaggerated. But that isn’t to say we haven’t felt a significant increase here. It cost me $30 (that includes decal fee and online payment fee) per car in Arkansas. It costs $250 for my car and $300 for the van here in California.

The actual registration in California is $46. The rest is a whole host of various state and county fees. I’m not going to try to breakdown where our money actually went, but the DMV says this is the general breakdown:

Local government (cities/counties) 40.7%
California Highway Patrol 25.7%
DMV 13.9%
State highways (Caltrans) 13.0%
Air Resources Board 1.7%
Other state agencies 4.3%
State General Fund 0.7%

Do I feel the tax burden when I file my taxes? Eh.
On one hand, I didn’t have any surprised the first time I filed California taxes. We didn’t owe and we got a small refund, but nothing that would make me think I need to reevaluate how much money we’re loaning the government. On the other hand, this is where you see the full-year total and feel the difference of the higher tax rate. On yet the other hand (that is #3, if you are counting), what we get for our tax money here in California is all kinds of amazing. It is much easier to stomach the amount leaving your pockets if you feel like you are actually benefiting. Just to toss one more hand in there, our tax burden is offset a bit by the little man’s disability, medical costs, and services. So filing is a mixed bag, I guess.

So, that is the actually breakdown – massively simplified, of course – of what it is like to live out here in tax-land. The view from the ground, not from the political office. My takeaway? If you are opposed to a lot of the things that the government does out here in California? You probably wouldn’t be happy with your bill. If you are opposed to paying taxes in general? You probably aren’t ever happy. If you are anybody else? You probably will just adjust your budget and move on.

By Land Or By Sea?

The husband and I aren’t exactly flush with vacation time right now after both starting new jobs in the last year. And actually, I’m not really accruing that quickly since I started at the bottom of the federal scale. A big vacation was out of the question this summer and so was our planned 15th anniversary vow renewal Vegas trip [first I typed vowel renewal and giggled to myself for a few minutes]. Instead, we loaded up the kids (and dog!) for a long weekend at a rented house in Sea Ranch, California.

All we wanted out of this trip was quiet, relaxation, and waves . . . and it delivered in abundance!

Sea Ranch is this picturesque planned community about 100 miles north of San Francisco. It is this fantastic little architectural marvel – all of the homes are abstract with large windows and definite 70s flair. Wikipedia tells me that this is called Third Bay Tradition that was “characterized by turning the horizontal form of the California ranch house into a vertical form.” I don’t know anything about architecture, so I’ll just show you these nice creative commons photographs to explain.

Abalone-Bay-Sea-Ranch-dusk

Sea Ranch, California is noted for its distinctive architecture LCCN2013634736

The architecture was actually what first attracted me to the location when I was searching around for a nice beach location to visit. It is right up my alley. Sea Ranch is absolutely the place I would buy a vacation home, if I was the kind of person who could afford a vacation home. I was happy to see that the house we rented had a copy of the original plans framed in the dining room. The archivist in me was happy to learn a little bit about the family who built the place in the 70s.

The second thing that attracted me to Sea Ranch was the view. Here is an unfiltered image of what we woke up to every morning. I took this from the deck – that entire side of the house was large picture windows to capitalize on the unobstructed view.

And every evening we were able to enjoy unbelievable sunsets.

We stocked the refrigerator and spent most of our time lounging in the living room. The little man got a bit bored by day three, but the rest of us had one of our best vacations. Reading, surfing the interwebs, and playing card games filled the time we managed to stay in an upright position. Bonus: a family of wild turkeys visited the house each day.

We weren’t total hermits during the trip – we did make it down to the beach one day. Absolutely beautiful and so peaceful.

Instead of driving back down Highway 1 on the way home (because frankly I wasn’t up for driving it again), we rerouted through redwoods and along the Russian River. We stopped at Russian River Vineyards for lunch (+ oh so much wine) and enjoyed a couple of hours on the patio. Marv (the tiny dog) was a huge hit and I especially loved the guitar player rocking out slow jazz versions of 90s alternative favorites. I didn’t know I needed a slow jazz version of Smells Like Teen Spirit, but my world if definitely a better place now that I know it exists.

Photo time! Asian Art Edition

A couple of weekends ago we took advantage of free admission day and visited the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Wikipedia tells me this particular museum houses one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world with over 18,000 pieces (some dating back 6,000 years). I’ve been to a lot of museums and this one was pretty typical – exactly what I expected, I mean. They had some very interesting pieces, including some unlike anything I’d seen before. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern and antiquarian works in the same gallery space.

Bonus: The wonton soup from the café was unexpectedly delicious.

Touring the Winchester Mystery House

I took the day off from work on Monday to spend some kid-free time with the husband. We ended up at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose – someplace we could never visit with the little man as it isn’t wheelchair accessible. You’ve heard of this place, I’m sure. It is the house built by Sarah Winchester and kept in constant construction for 38 years, obstinately to make amends for those killed by Winchester weapons.

The front of the house. You can’t take photographs inside.

It is a standard feature of any show about unique architecture, historic places, or ghosts. Watching shows like that put the house on my to-do list, but there are some major difference between that television house and what I saw in person.

Specifically –

1) It is a lot smaller.
2) It is less crazy.
3) It is more interesting.

You pull up to the house and it looks a little tourist-trapish. The gift shop, café, and tour-waiting area (complete with arcade shooting gallery) certainly doesn’t help. The husband and I were getting quite a laugh out of the tacky, but also wondering if we’d wasted our money. The tours aren’t exactly cheap; $36 per adult for the basic mansion tour. We had pretty much decided that we were about to walk into a space that looked like a Victorian catalog threw up all over it. You know what I’m talking about – those historic homes or attractions that are just too much. Too over the top. Too ridiculous.

I’m happy to say this was not the case when we made it inside. So let’s talk about these takeaways –

It is a lot smaller. It is a mansion, don’t get me wrong. But it is hardly a sprawling Rose Red-esque estate. An entire floor plus a 3-floor tower were lost after the 1906 earthquake, leaving a house that varies from 3 to 4 stories depending on what part you are in. The interior is large, but the constant construction left all but the front original rooms small and cozy. The grand front rooms were gorgeous and looked a bit more like what you might expect of a mansion, but were still lovely and homey. I quite liked it.

It is less crazy. One of the strangest things about the house you see on television is the weird, tiny, winding staircases located in closets and back passageways. These actually have a perfectly logical function – Sarah had severe arthritis and installed small easy-rise stairs so she could get around her home easily. With these stairs you only had to raise your foot a couple of inches, but retrofitting the new access points meant a lot of turns and narrow openings. At the beginning of the tour we went up 44 stairs with 7 turns just to make it to the second floor. The tiny stairs for the 4’10” lady didn’t occupy any more space than a traditional staircase. They were hilarious to navigate, but made perfect sense for her situation. Once you could see the entire house at once, a lot of the weird just looked like a house that had been added to haphazardly.


It is more interesting. Sarah Winchester was an extremely wealthy woman. When she started construction on her home in 1881, she had $20 million (equivalent to nearly half a billion today) with shares in the Winchester company that generated an additional $1000 a day (between $20,000-$25,000 today). She started her staff at twice the regular rate for the area, gave pay raises, fed everyone, and built houses for families on her land (single workers lived in the house). She had funds to bring in all sort of modern conveniences for both her and her workers. Including the ability to just try things out and design efficient systems inside her weird house. Sarah Winchester closed up the front rooms of the house after the 1906 earthquake, so you were able to see details about building construction and the damage the house sustained when you toured those rooms.

So yeah, it is a weird house built by a troubled woman. But there is a lot more to the story. I suggest checking it out.

Back to our visit. For the $36, we got a guided tour of 110 out of 160 rooms in the house. It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our tour guide was great! It did occasionally lean a little to the hokey side – talking about the unusual things spiritualists did, could it be haunted, you could get lost and we’d never find you, etc. – but she was very knowledgeable. She spouted off facts about the house without even having to think and the sillier side of the tour kept the two kids that were with us fully-engaged. It was a great balance between fun and facts.

Overall, I had a lot of fun and I’m really glad we went. Totally worth the tour price.

Let’s Talk Housing

I’m going to start with some stats. Yes folks, instead of just rambling on and on about how much my rent is, I actually did some research! This information comes from Trulia.com and applies to the City of San Francisco.

Median Sales Price: $1.15 million
Median Monthly Rent: $4,685
Median Household Income: $78,087
*Is it just me or does that last number not match the first two? Congratulations! You’ve just recognized one of the massive problems with the local housing market.

I live on the peninsula where it is a bit cheaper, so let’s check out similar stats for Foster City.

Median Sales Price: $1.1 million
Median Monthly Rent: $4,380
Median Household Income: $117,872

Ah, interesting. See that increase in median income? Foster City doesn’t have a Caltrain station and 95% of its residents commute by car making it much less appealing for residents dependent on public transportation (by need or by choice). Additionally, only 28% of the population is single (compared to 52% in the city), i.e. more two-income households. Foster City also boasts 70% home ownership. Is that the difference half a million in median price makes? No. This area has a booming condo/townhome industry with prices available well under a million. That’s a much more reasonable price for professional-level household incomes under $200,000. [Hello, that’s me!]

And here is a nifty chart from WolfStreet.com that gives a good picture of what has actually been happening with the housing market in San Francisco as compared to both California and the U.S. as a whole.
Wolf Street
Yikes. Am I right? According to a lot of sources out there, prices appear to at the beginning of a decline. Let’s hope that is true.

Okay, now let’s run some numbers. If you want to live in San Francisco and keep your rent/mortgage costs (minus insurance and utilities) down around a reasonable 25% of your gross, you’d need a median household income of . . . ::drumroll please::. . . $224,880. Minimum wage in the city is $13, so two adults in full-time minimum wage jobs will have an annual gross household income of . . . ::slide whistle:: . . . $54,080.

What’s the solution? Multiple jobs, cheaper apartments, unsafe areas, horrific commutes, roommates. All unsustainable when you think about the long-term market.

The first thing people me ask when confronted with the rising hiring market is “Well, doesn’t your salary increase too?” Answer: Yes, but not in proportion. Take me for example. I’m a white collar professional with a Master’s degree in a federal position. My salary tripled from low-cost-of-living-Arkansas (and is in a comfortable range for us, did my research there too), while my housing costs quintupled. We are spending around 1/3 of our income on rent alone – a number I would never have even entertained in Arkansas, but one that is considered perfectly acceptable here.

Naturally the situation isn’t quite that cut and dry. There are cost benefits associated with apartment living – no home or yard maintenance, lower utility costs, lower insurance costs – but it certainly doesn’t even out.

So, time to ponder the million dollar question – is it worth it?

4 Things I Do Not Love About Living in San Francisco

1) The Apartment Living
I haven’t gotten used to the apartment way of life yet. Honestly, it makes me feel like a college student who decorates by lining up empty liquor bottles over the kitchen cabinets. I miss my little house. All of our furniture is too big for this apartment, even though we left 1/3 of it behind. There is no place to store anything. And – get this! – there are people everywhere. They walk around living their own lives way too close to my dwelling. Yes, I’m joking around. But it is still a big adjustment. I’m used to a quiet suburb, not a complex with eight four-story buildings.

It is an adjustment and I’m just not there yet. I refuse to shell out $5000 a month to rent a house in this town though, so I better get over it.
Apartment Dino
2) The Seagulls
Or other random coastal birds that make a lot of noise. I’ve never actually seen them, so I guess I can’t blame seagulls 100%. Either way, these noisy little varmints wake me up a lot in the mornings, ruining the peaceful and cool bedroom. Birds man, big jerks. Nature and I never really have gotten along. . .

3) The Pizza
I’m looking for recommendations if you know of something better, but – so far – most of what I’ve tried has been bad. I’ve enjoyed a few slices that were fine. Nothing that met my craving for lazy Friday night gooey-cheesy pizza. It makes me want to order from Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut! In a city where you can find any type of food imaginable. . . I want to hit up a boring chain pizza place. There are plenty of delicious looking wood fire pizza joints around. That isn’t lazy Friday night pizza though.

I’m not alone in my opinion of Bay Area pizza, as demonstrated by this awesome comic I found. Click through to see the rest of her NY vs. SF series.
SF PIzza.

4) The Lack of Rain
I know I shouldn’t complain about this because winter rain is coming. But guys, I miss it. I’ve been here two months and I haven’t seen a drop! The fog helps fill my need for overcast days, but what I wouldn’t give to go to sleep listening to a rain storm. Remind me that I complained about this when we are getting a month’s worth of rain in a couple of days. Apparently when it rains, it really rains.

4 Things I Love About the San Francisco Bay Area

First impressions, really. I have only been here for two months, after all. I still have 99.6% of the area left to explore. Everyone seems to be happy and the adjustment has been a lot smoother than expected. I guess we really are all just go-with-the-flow people when it comes to where we live. I mean, I do miss my Arkansas house. But only because it is actually a house instead of an apartment, not because I’m having any sentimental attachment. I am cold and unfeeling to the core though . . . so there’s that.

In no particular order, here are four things I love about living in the Bay Area.* Stay tuned for Monday when I’ll share four things I do not love about living in the Bay Area.

1) The Weather
I don’t really feel like I need to explain this one a lot as everyone knows the weather is beautiful in San Francisco. We live on the east side of the peninsula and, although it has gotten up into the lower 80s a few days this summer, the breeze (aka natural air conditioner) comes through and cools everything back down. It can get a little hot in the house around 3-5pm on those warmer days, but almost instantly becomes ultra-pleasant again when the direct sunlight moves on. And yes, I’ve been cold at night many times.

2) The Views
Ya’ll. I’ve been a lot of beautiful places. A lot. But this one . . . this one is high up on the list. You never know when you are going to turn a corner and be blown away. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “It is so beautiful here!” Well. . . I could go out for a nice dinner, at least.

3) The Clapper
The Clapper is a nickname given to an elderly Asian man who walks around our complex for his daily exercise clapping the entire time. I actually didn’t even notice him until my husband arrived and pointed him out. And I’ve still never actually laid eyes on the guy personally. But something about his clapping makes me smile. It seems like it should be annoying, but since he is walking you only really hear it for a few moments at a time.

I don’t know why I feel strongly about having The Clapper on this list, but I suppose it is because little things like this make a place feel like home.

4) The Internet
Five times faster with no ridiculous data cap. And cheaper too. It’s a Silicon Valley perk – Comcast can’t be too much of a jerk about internet usage because Google (or something similar) would come in and save the day. We used part of the money we are now saving to get cable so I can watch RuPaul’s Drag Race in real time. What? Don’t judge me. Watch it with me. We’ll be best friends.

The little man is pretty perturbed by commercials though. He has lived most of his life without them.

Honorable Mentions: Tpumps; Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park; It’s-It Ice Cream Treats; Delicious and Plentiful Asian Food; Delicious and Plentiful Mediterranean Food; 60s-Era Architecture; The Asian Grocery Next Door

*I still haven’t figured out whether or not you capitalize that.

Complain, Complain, Complain

Okay, fair warning. This post is not going to be happy and uplifting. I’m living in an empty apartment in a place where I don’t know a soul and – damn it! – I’m cranky. Like, even more cranky than normal.

How does one makes friends as an adult? Scratch that. How does one even make acquaintances as an adult? I’ve been in this apartment for four weeks and have only ever seen two other people who live on my floor. I can’t even positively say three out of the eight apartments that I walk past numerous times a day are even occupied. Is that normal? It’s been so long since I’ve lived in an apartment . . . maybe there is some special multi-family etiquette I’m forgetting. Where are those other random 30-somethings with kids whose wicked sense of humor is hidden by the nondescript appearance? There is a nice group of grandpas who hang out at Starbucks every morning, but that really isn’t my scene (nor am I their ideal new coffee-mate).
Rachel Green Alone
Now let’s talk about the dog.

The top two things I miss from the Arkansas house are 1) the couch and 2) the dog door. The couch will join me here eventually, but I’m going to have to leave without the easy access of a dog door. My dog is tiny, so I’ll assume his bladder is too. He hasn’t had to wait to go outside in at least a year and adjusting to this new schedule is a work in progress. I get that. I’m not always fast enough for him in the morning and it is difficult to do anything after work because I’m the only one here to go home and take him out. On his end, Marv tends to operate in extremes. He either tries to refuse to go out by rolling over for belly rubs while I’m trying to put on his harness or he waits by the door every hour because he is in the middle of a marking war with another little yappie dog named Stewie.

And don’t assume that refusing to go out means he doesn’t need to go to the bathroom. 99.8% chance he is just being lazy and will try to go in the corner when you aren’t looking.

Good thing he is cute. Otherwise I might trade him for a pizza.*
Dug
And for the icing on the cake – we had to borrow money. Ouch. I really hate not having enough to provide for my family. Makes me feel about two inches tall to have to ask for that kind of help. I mean, we are grown adults who make comfortable salaries . . . there should be enough. Not when selling a home, operating two households, and moving cross-country to one of the places with the highest cost of living in the U.S. Unfortunately.

I haven’t sat down and added up exactly how much this is costing us – no, I prefer to think about this is little chunks or I’d curl up on the couch and never take the leap – but it we haven’t already hit five figures it is coming very soon. And ya’ll, I’m tapped out. When the Arkansas mortgage and the California rent came due on the same day with only one California-level paycheck under our belt . . . well, there just wasn’t going to be enough.

It certainly doesn’t help that we weren’t at all prepared for this move. It was only 10 weeks between “remember that job I applied for? I’ve got an interview” to “get in the car, we’re leaving!” I really don’t recommend that. Money is flying out of our hands left and right. It is going to take quite a few skimpy months to recover (and don’t even mention building back up the savings). I don’t expect us to be really comfortable again until 2017.
Acid Betty Money Dress
Thinking long-term however, is much more promising. I’ve made a big leap in my career and the husband is about to reside in one of the best areas for his field. Services for the little man are going to explore and we’ll be able to send the daughter wherever she wants to go for college (::cough, cough:: Berkeley ::cough::).

It is the right move, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Well, I feel better already. Let’s all have a glass of wine and watch some YouTube.

*Kidding! Geez.
**Looking for an inexpensive house in a bedroom community of Little Rock, Arkansas? Hit me up!

From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and Back Down

My brain is fried and full of new information, so we’re going to do this update bullet point-style. I promise that I’ll eventually stop titling these California posts with song lyrics. . . but for now, how could you not?!

Our new home on a beautiful day.
Our new home on a beautiful day.

-I’m back at the same Barnes and Noble I was at last Sunday. With many of the same people who were hanging around in the Starbucks last week. While I don’t have wifi at home yet, I can access an xfinity hotspot so I’m not completely cut off. It works better for my phone than the computer though. For some reason that can only be qualified as a first-world-problem, I have difficulty working on my laptop without being connected. This makes no sense.

-I bought a new air mattress, so I’m now elevated a few inches above the floor instead of waking up with most of my body on it. I’d love to be in a real bed, but I’m fairly comfy with this arrangement. And the dog seems to like it.

-I went out on Saturday and bought all of the things I had overlooked when moving out here. Like something sharper than a butter knife. I also picked up a pizza pan and a pot for making pasta. My plan to exist on sandwiches and chicken breasts bit the dust big time. I do still need to buy a coffee cup – how I made it out here without one is beyond me – but I’m being picky since it will be my only one until the boxes get here.

-Perk of living alone = my apartment is super clean. Annoyance of living alone = no one else to take the dog out.

-Speaking of a clean house, Merry Maids tackled the Arkansas house last week in prep for realtor photos on Monday (today!). The husband sent me a video and that place has never looked as clean. We basically asked for them to come in and give it their deep clean treatment and I highly recommend it if you ever need to reset your home. They cleaned things we didn’t even know existed.

-The Arkansas house will be listed on Wednesday. I’ll be so glad to get out from under that. It isn’t a huge expense (especially compared to my California residence), but it will be a big mental relief. I’d love for it to be under contract before the husband and kids move out here at the end of the summer. Cross your fingers!

-I have no clue where I am at any given moment because this place is just a whole bunch of tiny towns smushed together. For example, I’m in five different cities during my eleven-mile drive to work. Five! I’ll work it all out eventually, but for now I just map everything because the address doesn’t tell me anything about how far away if might be.

-I have photos from the drive out here I keep meaning to share. I need to do it soon or it will just have been too long. How about a teaser?

Golden Gate Bridge - foggy, but beautiful.
Golden Gate Bridge – foggy, but beautiful.

-It is going to get a little hot today (Sunday, when I’m writing this). Yes, the high is a scorching 80 degrees down by the water where I live. Ha! You bet I’m rubbing it in. Southerners just can help but rub it in when we visit or move to areas with more temperate climates.