66 Questions to Ask When Buying a House – Redfin

As a first-time homebuyer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed even before you begin your homebuying journey. After all, this is a new process for you and, simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. First off, there are no silly questions you can ask during any stage of the homebuying process. So always feel free to ask a question, no matter how trivial you think it might be. You owe it to yourself – and your family – to find out everything you can about a home, especially since it will most likely be the largest investment you’ll ever make. To help you get started, we’ve created a list of 66 questions to ask when buying a house, broken down into each stage of the homebuying process to help keep you informed.

11 questions to ask before you go house hunting

As you well know, buying a house is a significant investment. Before you start house hunting, think through your goals for homeownership. Why do you want to buy a house? 

  1. Do you want to earn equity and build wealth by owning a house? 
  2. Do you expect you might need more space for a future family? 
  3. Do you have a pet or see one in your future and you want a backyard? 
  4. Do you want to live in a quiet, established area or somewhere more lively? 
  5. Do you enjoy yard work, gardening? How much backyard space do you require?
  6. Have you considered the local schools and neighborhoods? 
  7. Have you looked at crime rates around the neighborhoods you’re interested in? 
  8. Is it essential for you to live close to your work? Or, is a commute ok? 
  9. Have you narrowed down a range of purchase prices you can afford?
  10. How much money do you need for a downpayment? 
  11. Are you pre-approved for a mortgage

When you’re wrapped up in the excitement of house hunting, you may forget which questions to ask when buying a house.. If you are a pet owner looking at condos, you’ll have to be sure the homeowners’ association allows pets. Or, let’s say you want to live in a popular downtown neighborhood, but plan to have children in a few years – will this neighborhood still suit your needs? It’s always worth giving some thought to the type of home and area to help focus your search. 

Also, be aware that being approved for a home loan saves time for everyone by ensuring that you, as the buyer, can actually afford the home and be able to follow through an offer. 

7 questions to ask when you interview agents

Contacting the agent listed on the for-sale sign of a house you’re interested in may not be the best way to protect your interest as a buyer. When you work with your own agent, that agent’s job is to represent your interests. They help research the house, find answers to all of your questions, and serve as your professional intermediary for communicating with the seller’s agent and homeowner.

Naturally, you will want to choose a great real estate agent that you are comfortable with and feel like they have your best interests in mind. Most real estate experts recommend that you interview at least three agents identified by recommendations from friends and family who have bought or sold a house recently. Here are some questions to ask potential agents to see if they are the right agent for you.

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent? 
  2. What kind of experience do you have in this specific market area?
  3. Do you usually work with buyers or sellers? 
  4. How do you usually communicate with clients? What should I expect for response time? 
  5. How will you help me search for homes? 
  6. What days and times are you typically available for showings? 
  7. How will you ensure transparency about any issues you see with a house? 

When you set your expectations for communication, home tours, and other information you count on your agent to provide, you have a good chance to establish a productive relationship from the start – which will help you through your homebuying journey.

stylish living room

stylish living room

37 questions to ask when touring homes

This is an extensive list, and not every question applies to every situation. For example, if your goal is to purchase a single-family home, questions relating to condominiums don’t apply. However, this list of questions to ask when touring a house should give you an excellent start in making well-informed decisions when buying your first home. 

  1. What’s the reason for the sale? How long have the sellers lived there?
  2. How long has the house been on the market? 
  3. What is the neighborhood like?
  4. When was the house built? 
  5. What are the property taxes?
  6. Are there any upcoming condo or homeowners association fees?
  7. What are the average utility costs? 
  8. Have there been any major repairs to the property? If so, do you know if they provided a warranty?
  9. Are there any boundary disputes with neighbors?
  10. Are there any shared driveways or communal spaces?
  11. Are there any public rights of way passing through – or near – the property? 
  12. How old are the major appliances and systems?
  13. Are the appliances included in the sale?
  14. What is the sales history of this house, and how would it affect my offer?
  15. Is there enough storage space? Room to grow? 
  16. Is there any evidence of water problems? Can you see damp drywall, basement floors, or open leaks? Can you smell mildew? Or is there a smell of fresh paint that might be intended to cover up a water issue?
  17. Are the walls structurally sound? Look for cracks and look for evidence of cracks covered over by wallpaper that doesn’t look right or paint applied over filler.
  18. Is the chimney in good condition?
  19. Are the windows sound? Will any of the glazing need to be replaced?
  20. Do the ground floor windows have working latches to lock the windows? 
  21. Is the attic insulated? If so, when was the insulation installed?
  22. Is there any soundproofing in the house? (Try viewing the home at different times to hear road noise or neighbors.)
  23. Are there working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms?
  24. Is there adequate cell phone reception indoors? How’s the broadband service in the area?
  25. What type of system is used to heat and cool the house? 
  26. Ask to see the circuit box – does the wiring look up to date?
  27. How is the condition of electrical outlets and switches? (You can bring something to plug into try outlets.) 
  28. Do all of the lights work? If not, why not?
  29. Does the property have any lead pipes? Do you see any issues with pipes in need of repair?
  30. What kind of drainage system does the property have? Is it on the city sewer, or is there a septic tank? 
  31. Is there any asbestos in the property, or has there ever been an asbestos survey completed?
  32. What kind of roof does the property have? When was it last replaced, and what is its current condition? 
  33. Do you see any gutter leaks? Are the gutters cleaned out, or do they need work? 
  34. Are there any trees growing within 15 feet of the property? Can you discern if roots are likely to be a problem? 
  35. Which way does the yard face, and is there any part of the yard that doesn’t receive sunlight throughout the day? 
  36. Would the real estate agent buy this house? If not, why not?
  37. What’s the lowest price you think we could offer for this house and still close the transaction?

You can ask these questions when buying a house – and others as applicable – to understand your likely overall costs to own this home. When you understand all of your costs, you’ll confidently be able to make an offer you can afford

open concept new kitchen

open concept new kitchen

11 questions to ask when making an offer and closing on a home

Real estate agents make offers on homes every day. Their job is to help you make the best offer while protecting you against potential risks with the transaction. 

  1. How does the offer work? Do we communicate with the seller or seller’s agent? 
  2. What contingencies do you recommend including in the offer? 
  3. How much earnest money should we put in the offer? 
  4. When do we need to provide earnest money? 
  5. When should we expect to hear back from the seller? 
  6. If we receive a counter-offer, when do we need to reply? 
  7. How can we sign the paperwork? Digital? In-person? 
  8. If the offer is accepted, what are the next steps? 
  9. How far out is the potential closing date from an accepted offer? 
  10. What are our next steps once the offer is accepted?
  11. What do we do at closing? 

Your real estate agent wants to make the home buying transaction as smooth as possible. If they do not provide this information upfront, be sure to ask. 

You should prepare a list of your own questions to ask when buying a house. It can include any given here, or others that represent your own interests and concerns. Answers to these questions will ease your mind and help you understand what you can expect during each stage of the homebuying process. Completing your research is perfectly acceptable, but don’t skip asking questions of your mortgage broker, real estate agent, and title company. When you gather enough information, you can make the best decision buying your first home. 

Source: redfin.com

What Do HOA Fees Cover: Homeowners Association Expenses Explained

What is an HOA?

Are you confused about the meaning of an HOA? HOA is short for a homeowners association. Lots of people ask real estate agents how an HOA works and what purpose does it serve. Once they understand the purpose of a homeowners association they ask what the HOA fees cover.

An HOA is a group or organization in a neighborhood that makes and enforces rules and regulations for homes or condos for the benefit of its owners.

Buyers who purchase within an HOA become members and must pay association dues, known as HOA fees.

Before buying into an HOA, it is vital to understand the rules and regulations. You may find that some of the rules are not what you’ve been accustomed to. In fact, if the rules and regulations are overbearing, you could find yourself in the position of not wanting to live within the neighborhood.

On the other hand, you may love the thought of having guidance and uniformity. Some of the biggest advantages of living in an HOA are preserving and upkeep of the homeowners association’s homes and neighborhood.

One of the most common questions home buyers have is what do the HOA fees cover? Let’s take a deep dive into what you need to know about homeowners association expenses.

HOA Fees
How Do HOA Fees Work?

What Are HOA Fees?

Homeowners association fees are paid to maintain the common areas and shared spaces in your home and neighborhood. Being part of a homeowners association makes it a lot simpler to live in than having a home where you are responsible for all the maintenance.

So, if you have an expensive emergency in your house, you have to find the money to fix it. Where in the HOA, expenses are shared amongst everyone in the community.

An elected committee governs the HOA fees in your neighborhood. All of the expenses should be approved by those who reside within the community.

In larger HOAs, there is often a paid office team organizing contractors and paying bills. Other HOAs can be staffed by using outside contractors. Sometimes this can be a problem when work is not completed satisfactorily.

HOA costs depend on the neighborhood and type of project. It is not uncommon for HOA fees to range anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to $1000 in some luxurious settings.

Homeowners association fees are influenced heavily by what kind of perks are offered for living within the community. For example, neighborhoods that offer community pools, gyms, and tennis courts, naturally would cost more to maintain and operate.

However, a lower-cost townhouse without a pool, gym, or other amenities could be far less expensive. Costs can be as low as $100 per month in some locations around the country.

HOA expenses in a high-end city center may include concierge, spa, and gym, making them much more expensive to live in. You could potentially see fees as high as $3-$4 thousand per month. Think of the rich and famous.

How Are HOA Expenses Distributed?

If you live in an HOA within a condo or townhome complex, you may have underground parking, with a car space allocated to every apartment in the building. Part of the maintenance with this living style is security, as we all feel safer in a secure building.

Rubbish collection is another cost, as rubbish has to be taken down to the basement and removed from the building. Companies are often hired to fill this role.

The pool must be maintained, the ground manicured, plants pruned, and the gym equipment is cleaned. While these perks are probably the reasons you bought in, the cost can be a bit high for some retirees. Perks such as these are often standard in retirement communities. It is often a significant reason seniors downsize into a neighborhood that has an HOA.

Do Homeowners HOA Fees Go Up?

Of course, everything rises with inflation, and there will always be new projects or remedial work to be carried out on the homes and neighborhood.

Some HOAs schedule increments annually, so if you are preparing a five-year budget, you may want to factor in the cost. Doing so will be helpful to work out what your expenses will be projected at in the future.

It will be vital before buying to take a look at the homeowners association bylaws, rules, and regs, along with the latest financial state. You should make sure to have a contingency for document review in your offer.

What If You Can’t Pay The HOA Fees?

You can be fined or taken to court, and a lien could be placed on your property. It can also be embarrassing not to pay because, in committee meetings, they often have nonpaying homes as agenda items and discuss strategies to recover the funds.

HOA expenses are very much worth paying, as in most cases, you do get your money’s worth. Because there is power in numbers, you often get better value for money with more people paying to get the best deal for your HOA.

Before you move into a condo, townhouse, or home, check how your HOA fees will be apportioned, and make sure no special assessments are pending.

Special assessments would mean that you will have to come up with an extra lump sum to fix an unexpected expense. Nobody likes financial surprises, so it is essential to research any significant expenditures on the horizon.

How Do I Choose The Right HOA Neighborhood?

Form a working relationship with a high-profile local agent. Once they know what you are looking for, they will help you to find your perfect HOA.

The best buyer’s agents will know most communities in the town or area. Real Estate agents have their ears to the ground and often hear positive or negative things about a particular neighborhood and the accompanying homeowners association.

Moving into an HOA is a terrific idea when it is a well-oiled machine. Living within a homeowners association can make your life more simple, especially from a maintenance standpoint. If you’re the kind of person, who travels a lot, it really makes a lot of sense.

First-time home buyers who do business travel could find living in an HOA to be the perfect situation.

Final Thoughts on HOAs

In the area you are planning to live in, there hopefully will be a wide range of suitable HOAs to choose from. As long as you pick an HOA neighborhood that does not have strange bylaws or overbearing rules, you’ll probably enjoy the living situation.

The key is doing the proper due diligence. Without that, you could make a bad mistake that you’ll regret. Take the time and do the proper research. Hopefully, you have found this guide to HOAs to be useful. You should now know a bit more about what HOA fees cover.

Source: realtybiznews.com

Berkeley considers ending single-family zoning by December 2022

Berkeley is considering ending single-family zoning by December 2022 in an effort to right the wrongs of the past and address the region’s housing crisis, city leaders say.

The City Council will vote on a symbolic resolution that calls for an end to single-family zoning in the city. But the controversial proposal has already upset some residents who’ve expressed concern that the change could ruin their neighborhoods.

Berkeley is the latest city looking at opening up these exclusive neighborhoods to more housing as the region struggles with exorbitant rents and home prices and increasing homelessness. Sacramento recently took a big step in allowing fourplexes in these neighborhoods and one San Francisco politician is pushing a similar plan.

Berkeley may also allow fourplexes in city neighborhoods. Next month, the council will consider that proposal, which will likely spark pushback from tenants groups fearful it could fuel displacement if more protections aren’t included.

For Berkeley, which has historically been anti-development, the moves are the latest shift as the city slowly embraces more density, including plans to add housing around the North Berkeley and Ashby stations.

Councilwoman Lori Droste, who is introducing the resolution, said she’s trying to undo the legacy of racism that created single-family neighborhoods, which cover 50% of the city.

In 1916, single-family zoning was born in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood, forbidding the construction of anything other than one home on each lot. At the time, an ordinance stated that its intent was to protect “the home against the intrusion of the less desirable and floating renter class.”

“I live in the Elmwood area where it is sort of the birthplace of single-family zoning,” Droste said. “I thought it was incumbent upon me as representing this neighborhood to say that I want to change something that I think is detrimental to the community.”

Dean Metzger, the founder of the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, a collective of nearly 40 neighborhoods, said he wants the opportunity to give more input before the city changes any zoning laws. He said he worries that if a developer builds a multistory building next to a single-family home, it could obstruct views, block solar panels and clog available parking.

Metzger said it’s hard to specify what kind of design would be most appropriate for Berkeley’s single-family neighborhoods. He said he wants developers to be required to seek input from neighbors before building.

“They’ve labeled us anti-growth; it’s really not true,” he said. “We are trying to find ways to accommodate the development and make our neighborhoods livable. (The council) just wants to build whatever they want to build.”

After a year of racial reckoning, the same criticism of law enforcement practices should be applied to housing policies, said Councilman Terry Taplin, one of the authors of the resolution.

“This is really a historical moment for us in Berkeley because now the racial justice reckoning really has come home,” Taplin said.

As the state grapples with a housing crisis, many housing advocates say city leaders have to undo decades’ worth of anti-density housing policies. They say Berkeley’s efforts are a necessary step in addressing the region’s crisis even if it takes time. If the resolution passes, it will take years before the city sees a change in its housing stock.

“It will take time,” said Grover Wehman-Brown, a spokesperson for East Bay Housing Organizations, which represents nonprofit builders. “It’s many, many decades and centuries in the making. Building housing takes time, especially in areas like ours where there are not just wide open lots that you can drive large equipment up to and start digging to build one house.”

David Garcia, the policy director at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, said the proposal was a “big deal.”

“It wasn’t that long ago when Berkeley wasn’t considered the most forward-thinking on housing,” he said.

But he added that it’s crucial these policies don’t jeopardize existing housing. Outreach to residents is key, he said.

“It’s important to be thoughtful about these decisions because they cannot be easily reversed,” Garcia said. “Creating such a significant change of land use in such a large part of the city is going to involve a lot of planning and critical thinking on how to ensure the best policy outcome. You’re going to want to make sure the policy itself does result in the kind of housing city leadership wants to see.”

Eliminating single-family zoning is changing a status quo that has long favored wealthy, white property owners, and opposition can often stall change, said Jassmin Poyaoan, the director of the Community Economic Justice Clinic at East Bay Community Law Center.

She said local, state and federal officials have to focus on shifting a culture and mind-set around housing policies that focuses on “housing is a human right.” She emphasized that policy changes must focus on creating housing for very low-income residents, protecting rent-controlled units and fortifying tenant protections. This includes Berkeley’s future efforts to allow fourplexes.

But change is coming. Recently, the Berkeley council approved rezoning the Adeline Street corridor and even added an extra floor of height to what builders could do there. The plan allows 1,450 new housing units, about half for low-income families in an area that was once a thriving Black, working-class community, but has become increasingly white as the high cost of housing has driven out many families. Officials are now trying to undo that.

“I think it’s really easy to look at racism and injustice in other cities and other places, but it takes a lot more courage, introspection and vulnerability to look at the mistakes that we’ve made in these areas,” Taplin said. “We have to really take an honest look at our shortcomings and be open to changes that might make us uncomfortable.”

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: SarRavani

Source: nationalmortgagenews.com

What Is Redlining?

Homeownership is a major goal for many people. Not only is a house the biggest purchase many will ever make, but owning a home is a way to build and transfer wealth.

While nearly 75% of non-Hispanic white Americans were homeowners in 2020, the homeownership rate was almost 60% for Asian Americans and just over 49% for Hispanic Americans, according to the Census Bureau. Black Americans were the least likely of all minority groups to own a house, at just over 44% in 2020.

Why the stark disparity? The answer, in part, is redlining, a discriminatory housing policy that made it difficult for Black, immigrant and poor families to buy homes for several decades. While redlining was banned more than 50 years ago, its negative effects are still felt today.

Redlining definition

Redlining is a term that describes the denial of mortgage financing to otherwise creditworthy borrowers because of their race or where they want to live.

The term was coined by sociologist John McKnight in the 1960s. It refers to areas marked in red on maps where banks would not lend money, but the discriminatory practice began much earlier.

In the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, the federal government created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration to stabilize the housing industry.

The HOLC was designed to provide low-interest, emergency loans to homeowners in danger of foreclosure, while the FHA replaced high-interest loans of the early 20th century with longer-term, government-insured mortgages at lower interest rates.

To guide lending decisions, the HOLC instituted color-coded “residential security” maps. These maps separated areas the HOLC considered safe for lending from areas that should be avoided. Although the HOLC said the maps would help lenders assess risk and property values, racial biases were clearly at play.

Neighborhoods that were predominantly white were usually colored in green or blue and considered the least risky. It was easier to get home loans in these areas.

Areas with a high number of Black, Jewish and Asian families, which often had older homes or were closer to industrial areas, were typically shaded in red and labeled “hazardous.” Almost no lender would provide mortgages in these areas.

Areas that bordered Black neighborhoods were colored yellow and were also rarely approved for loans.

Effects of redlining

The grading of neighborhoods based on perceived credit risk restricted the ability of Blacks and other minority groups to get affordable loans or even to rent in certain areas.

Exclusion from government lending programs

The FHA, as well as private banks and insurers, used the HOLC’s redlining practices to guide their underwriting decisions.

As a result, it was almost impossible for nonwhite Americans to gain access to the affordable loans offered by agencies like the FHA and Veterans Administration — programs supposedly intended to expand homeownership.

In fact, nonwhite people received just 2% of the $120 billion in housing financed by government agencies between 1934 and 1962, historian George Lipsitz notes in his book “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.”

Racially restrictive covenants

Racially restrictive covenants are agreements, often included in a property deed, that prevent property owners from selling or leasing to certain racial groups.

These covenants reinforced redlining by prohibiting Blacks and other groups from buying or occupying property in various cities throughout the country.

Although the GI Bill promised low-cost home loans to veterans of World War II, lending discrimination and racially restrictive covenants meant Black soldiers couldn’t buy homes in developing suburbs, for example.

Racially restrictive covenants remain in some real estate deeds, though a 1948 Supreme Court ruling says they aren’t enforceable.

Even so, decades later, Black and Hispanic Vietnam War veterans and their families encountered similar racial discrimination when trying to buy and rent homes in certain areas.

Is redlining illegal?

Angered by the inability of Vietnam War veterans of color to obtain housing, groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People pressured the government to pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

As part of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act made it illegal for mortgage lenders and landlords to discriminate against someone for their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Redlining maps may no longer be in use, but more than 50 years after the law was passed, housing discrimination still exists, says Andre M. Perry, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Paired testing studies using equally qualified home seekers of different races have found that some real estate agents discriminate against people of color by not showing them properties in white neighborhoods or showing them fewer homes in general.

Perry also says research he published in 2018 shows homes in Black majority areas are undervalued by $48,000 on average, resulting in $156 billion in cumulative losses.

“Just because a law changed, it doesn’t mean the practices and procedures that still may devalue homes in Black neighborhoods, aren’t still there,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s the reduction of wealth that is the most harmful aspect of redlining.”

How redlining reinforced the racial wealth gap

The racial wealth gap is a term that describes the difference between the median wealth of whites compared with other groups. The median and mean net worth of Black families are less than 15% that of white families, according to Federal Reserve 2019 data.

The disparity exists today because Blacks were locked out of homeownership by redlining and were unable to build generational wealth, says Nikitra Bailey, an executive vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending.

“This persistent gap in homeownership opportunities between white families and families of color literally is rooted in the fact white families got a head start,” Bailey adds.

In fact, the homeownership divide between Blacks and whites is back to where it was in 1890, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance. And the gap is even larger than it was in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was enacted.

Sheryl Pardo, a spokesperson for the nonprofit research organization Urban Institute, stresses that national, state and local policies are needed to address the homeownership and racial wealth inequities redlining has left behind.

The Urban Institute’s proposals include zoning laws to improve access to affordable housing, counseling before and after purchasing a home to prepare borrowers for the costs of homeownership, the expansion of down payment assistance programs and the development of financial products for homeowners to repair, maintain and improve their homes.

“Homeownership is still the most significant wealth-building tool in this country,” Pardo says. “If you want the Black community to make up that distance, homeownership has to be a key piece of it. It’s almost like you need a shock-and-awe response. It’s not going to happen by tweaking one little lever.”

Source: nerdwallet.com

Your Complete Midtown, Atlanta Neighborhood Guide

Right where I-75 and I-85 connect (hence the “Downtown Connector” name), you’ll find the Atlanta neighborhood of Midtown.

As a business center and many amenities, Midtown remains one of the most coveted areas in Atlanta. Its tree-lined streets, multi-unit small buildings, street-facing retail, green spaces (perfect for a dog!) and walkability are hard to beat.

Midtown is also a hub for the arts, fine dining, late-night bars and the city’s LGBTQIA community. As a newcomer, it is often challenging to get to know the neighborhood and make sure it’s a good fit before you move. Get to know Midtown below.

Where is Midtown in Atlanta?

Nestled between Buckhead to the north and downtown Atlanta to the south, Midtown borders the connector’s east side. Midtown is one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city, thanks to its endless amenities.

The iconic Peachtree Street cuts through half of the neighborhood and follows a semi-grid pattern. All streets are numbered consecutively, with 10th street being a hub for most attractions. Midtown ZIP codes are 30308 and 30309.

map of midtown atlanta

Source: Rent.com

Midtown’s main demographic skews younger, including young families, Georgia Tech students and business professionals. The neighborhood is home to several museums, several Fortune 500 companies like Turner Broadcasting and plenty of ways to reduce your commutes via bike and public transportation.

  • Studio average rent: $1,519
  • One-bedroom average rent: $2,205
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $3,542

Living in Midtown

Living in Midtown is living in the heart of the city. In Atlanta, nightlife, the arts scene and dining all congregate in this 1.2-mile area. From festivals like Music Midtown to cultural events like the Dogwood Festival, you can easily immerse yourself in the neighborhood’s culture. Keep reading to get to know this neighborhood a bit more.

Demographics

Midtown is home to young families, business professionals and students heavily involved in their community — 79 percent have a strong sense of community. According to a report from the Midtown Alliance, two in three residents are millennials or Gen-Xers. The neighborhood has seen five times the population growth compared to the city of Atlanta as a whole.

Transportation

With four MARTA stops available to its residents and ample bike lanes, Midtown residents truly have an array of options to leave their car at home. The neighborhood street grid encourages walking. The Atlanta BeltLine connects to more than five miles of bike lanes as well across the neighborhood.

midtown atlanta ga

Economy

Midtown has over 20 million square feet of office space, with 96% of it being less than a six-minute walk from a MARTA stop. That kind of convenience is rare in Atlanta. Thanks to its proximity to Georgia Tech and its emerging talent, world-class startup incubators and accelerators live within the neighborhood.

Technology Square, a project sponsored by Georgia Tech, has nurtured innovation, research and venture funds within Midtown. Companies like Fortune 500 NCR Corporation are one of many that have moved their headquarters into the area.

Outdoor recreation

With more than 300 acres of green space between Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and nearby smaller parks, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy Atlanta’s mild weather. You can also hop onto the BeltLine right on 10th Street to explore beyond Midtown, as the trail connects all 45 neighborhoods in the city of Atlanta.

Entertainment

From jazz nights at the Woodruff Arts Center and exhibitions at the High Museum of Art to plays at the 14th Street Playhouse and concerts at the Fox Theatre, there’s no lack of entertainment in Midtown. You can also find late-night entertainment at bars along Peachtree and 10th Street. On average, you can see more than 3,000 cultural events in Midtown.

Education

Top-ranked institutions like Georgia Tech and SCAD Atlanta have bred talent within Midtown. Corporate innovation centers like Coca-Cola’s and co-working spaces with workshops for entrepreneurs have helped keep Midtown the hub for all things tech in Atlanta.

atlanta botanical garden midtown

10 things to do in Midtown

Thanks to its great walkability, Midtown feels like a real city neighborhood with many attractions that even locals enjoy. Thanks to Atlanta’s mild weather, you can enjoy the neighborhood mostly year-round. But it’s lovely during spring when the dogwoods bloom and in the fall as the tree-lined streets turn from yellow to orange.

Here are 10 out of the many things you can do in Midtown.

1. Alliance Theatre

In the heart of Midtown, you’ll find the Woodruff Arts Center complex and the core of the arts district. Catch a show at the Alliance Theatre, whether it’s the classic A Christmas Carol or one of their new shows that feature emerging Broadway stars.

2. Laughing Skull Lounge

Comedy and improv scene is alive and well in Atlanta. You can get a few laughs at the Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown, a small, less than 75-seat venue inside burger joint, The Vortex.

3. Atlanta BeltLine Eastside trail

The Atlanta BeltLine has several sections, and the Eastside Trail, the first one to debut, comes right through Midtown. You can hop on the trail at Monroe Drive and 10th Street by foot or on your bike. The trail will connect you to other attractions in Old Fourth Ward, like Ponce City Market.

4. The High Museum of Art

Pay a visit (or better yet, become a member) of the Southeast’s leading museum, the High Museum of Art. Part of the Woodruff Arts Center complex, the museum holds more than 15,000 works of art in its permanent collection. Plus ongoing new, visiting exhibitions, like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors.

5. Coffee at Café Intermezzo

For the past 40 years, Café Intermezzo has remained an afternoon beacon for long conversations and delicious cakes in Atlanta. At its Midtown outpost, you can quickly walk over after a long day at the office or on the weekends to enjoy a hot latte and a slice of one of their exquisite desserts.

6. Piedmont Park

One of Atlanta’s main green spaces, Piedmont Park transforms into a concert venue, festival site or just an excellent place to have a picnic depending on the time of year. Right in the middle of the city, the park is an incredible amenity to have nearby with a dog park, a community pool and, of course, plenty of walking trails to unwind at the end of the day.

7. Atlanta Botanical Garden

Attached to the back of Piedmont Park, the 30-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden changes from season to season. From lighting shows during the holidays to large, blooming sculptures during the spring, it’s worth visiting throughout the year.

8. Fox Theatre

The Moorish architecture of the Fox Theatre will take your breath away before you even go in through its doors. The historic landmark now functions as a venue for concerts, plays and musicals. You can also take a ghost tour of the facilities in the fall to learn more about the theatre.

9. Center of Puppetry Arts

Did you know that Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog cut the ribbon on the Center of Puppetry Arts’ opening day? It is one of the only puppet museums in the world. While this family-friendly attraction offers exhibitions and workshops for children, it hosts after-hours adult-only events that are just as fun.

10. Orpheus Brewery

Atlanta has more breweries than you can count on two hands, all with their niche and personality. Orpheus Brewery, right next to Piedmont Park, hires local artists to illustrate their sour beers’ cans. Head to their beer garden tasting room with a beautiful view of the park.

Finding an apartment in Midtown

With a vibrant arts scene and walkability, Midtown is hard to beat. One of the many neighborhoods around town that are lucky to have access to MARTA trains and buses, plus the Atlanta BeltLine and a high walk score, is easy to get around within the neighborhood.

Get from work to your Midtown apartment by skipping traffic. On the weekends, enjoy the outdoors at Piedmont Park or ride your bike on one of its many bike lanes.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. We pulled our data in February 2021, and it goes back for one year. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

Depleted savings, ruined credit: What happens when all the rent comes due?

Millions of Americans unable to pay their rent during the pandemic face a snowballing financial burden that threatens to deplete their savings, ruin their credit and drive them from their homes.

A patchwork of government action is protecting many of the most financially strapped tenants for now. But it could take these renters — especially low-income ones — years to recover, even as the rest of the economy begins to rebound.

“Even if they say we can pay [missed rent] back in two or three years — that’s money we don’t have,” said Kelly Wise, a 32-year-old resident of L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood. After losing jobs selling merchandise at concerts and cutting fabric for Hollywood sets, she is more than $10,000 behind on rent.

Debt threatens to hit renters in several ways. Some have kept up with their rent payments but have turned to credit cards and high-interest loans. Others owe mounting bills directly to landlords that must be paid back when eviction moratoriums expire, opening the possibility — if the debt goes unpaid — for evictions and court orders for back rent. That could erode credit scores and lead to wage garnishments and more.

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“We are setting up millions of people for long-term harm and a cycle of economic and housing instability,” said Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Assn.’s COVID-19 Task Force Committee on eviction.

Renters across the nation are dipping into 401(k)s, taking on higher-interest debt, and scrambling for risky, essential-worker jobs to pay the rent. Research from Moody’s Analytics and the Urban Institute estimates 9.4 million U.S. renter households owed an average of $5,586 in back rent, utilities and related late fees as of January, for a total burden of $52.6 billion.

Other estimates show a smaller but still significant amount of rent debt. The full scope of the problem isn’t clear because the situation is fluid, and estimates so far are based on surveys and models, rather than hard data.

“[Bad] debt affects your credit score, and credit scores affect everything in your life,” said Yuval Yossefy, a manager at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, a nonprofit law firm.

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Federal, state and local officials are grappling with how best to help people stay afloat — including keeping them housed — amid job losses, slashed incomes and pervasive disease. A second year of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought little reprieve, with new variants of the coronavirus threatening to accelerate the virus’ spread and cause longer disruptions to the economy and everyday life.

States are planning to get federal aid funds, which have begun to flow, into the hands of landlords to reduce the debt load on tenants. California, where median rent is 50% higher than in the nation at large, has passed what state leaders characterize as the strongest statewide measures to address the crisis, providing a potential model for how states could distribute rent funds.

The California measures, approved by the Legislature last week, extend a statewide moratorium on evictions for people with pandemic hardships through June. Significantly, they bar landlords from using rent debt accrued between March 2020 and June of this year to deny future housing — a nod to fears that unpaid rent may affect people’s housing for years to come.

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And to protect the most vulnerable, they establish a program that uses federal stimulus money to encourage landlords to forgive debt accrued by low-income tenants over the span of a year: April 2020 to March of this year.

Whether California landlords opt in, exactly how the program will be implemented, and if it will make a significant difference for those most in debt are still open questions. Nonprofit groups that work with low-income renters say the measures could be hard to enforce and, in terms of altogether forgiving some debt, rely precariously on optional landlord participation.

Eviction and debt can make it difficult to find new housing, take out loans, get some types of jobs or budget for necessities like food. In California, where rent was unaffordable for most tenants to begin with, the debt pile-on compounds a long-brewing problem.

Illustration: a man and a woman weighed down by balls and chains representing their debt.

Eviction and debt can make it difficult to find new housing, take out loans and get some types of jobs.

(Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times)

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“A family that makes less than $30,000 a year, they are going to be on the verge of homelessness for the next 10 to 15 years because of this huge debt,” said Ana Grande, associate executive director of the nonprofit Bresee Foundation in Los Angeles, which provides assistance to low-income families.

Making matters worse: Studies show those with debt are least likely to afford it — even if they regain their old incomes. Compared with all L.A. County renters, households that earned less than $25,000 in 2019 were more than twice as likely as all renters to not pay their rent during the pandemic, according to a joint USC-UCLA survey. Households that earned between $25,000 and $50,000 were the second most common group to report not paying.

Nonpayment was also highest among Latino and Black Americans who, compared with white Americans, have been hit harder by the health and economic effects of the virus. They are also less likely to have family who can lend financial help given the country’s long-running racial wealth gap.

An eviction ‘changes the trajectory of a life’

Across the country, a series of problems can unfurl from a single eviction.

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Some landlords refuse to take tenants with an eviction on their record, while those who do are likely to charge more, fail to keep up their properties and have units located in dangerous neighborhoods, according to housing attorneys and other experts.

Studies have found people who are evicted are more likely to experience depression and to die of any cause. People move far from their support networks, or miss work while trying to find new housing and lose their jobs. Kids fall behind at school.

“An eviction is not a single event in a person’s life,” Benfer said. “It actually changes the trajectory of a life, because it has such catastrophic implications for fiscal and mental health.”

In a pandemic, experts say an eviction is particularly dangerous, leading a person to double up with friends and family in crowded housing situations that accelerate the virus’ spread.

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Absent an eviction on a person’s record, debt and poor credit scores can impede the ability to find housing, often leaving people to live in lower-quality conditions, said Ariel Nelson, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Poor credit scores also limit the ability to take out car, home and other loans at reasonable interest rates, putting homeownership further out of reach.

Past-due debts on a credit report may lead some employers to turn down a candidate for jobs that involve handling money, such as a bank teller or a cashier at a restaurant, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

If debts continue to go unpaid, creditors can garnish wages, though restrictions exist on how much disposable income creditors can take.

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To preempt this, people might dip into savings or cut back on food. They may take out the only loans available to them: sky-high-interest products that critics say are nearly impossible to pay back.

Some tenants have already headed down the debt spiral. The USC-UCLA study found 8.5% of surveyed tenants paid some rent with a credit card in July, compared with 3% normally. Nearly 8% used a payday or other emergency loan.

An out-of-work graduate student in Lakewood told The Times she requested and got a budget increase for her student loan to pay rent, adding to her total student loan load. A laid-off worker in the concert industry said they used a 401(k) loan. Some people interviewed said they had already dipped into their savings.

Lamonte Goode, a 44-year-old dancer, says he may tap his savings to begin paying the roughly $10,000 in back rent he owes. With COVID-19 restrictions halting TV shows and theater performances, Goode said he hadn’t found steady work since March and was looking for a job outside his field to pay bills. Unemployment hasn’t been enough to cover expenses, including the $1,800-a-month rent on his one-bedroom in West Hollywood, he said.

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Asked if he thought he would be able to repay the debt, Goode said he didn’t know and that he was trying hard to come up with the money. He also raised the question: Should the burden fall on him? “I am not the reason COVID is happening. Yet I still have to pay the debt for something I am not in control over.”

“The fact that someone lost their job and couldn’t keep up on rent is a very unique and extreme circumstance and does not and should not have a bearing on their creditworthiness for this next almost-decade,” said Nisha Kashyap, a staff attorney at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, citing how long bad debts typically stay on a credit report.

“This is a global pandemic that came out of nowhere.”

Sid Lakireddy of the California Rental Housing Assn., which represents landlords in the state, says he believes fears of mass evictions and long-term harm to credit are overblown. Most landlords would rather work with their tenants on repayment plans than fight in court over an eviction or debt, he said, particularly since vacancies have risen in many cities. “The last thing we want is to put a good tenant out on the street.”

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The federal government and state and local officials say they are trying to help both tenants and small landlords, who are also struggling.

Then-President Trump signed a bipartisan stimulus bill in December that approved $25 billion in rent and utility relief funds nationwide. President Biden extended the national eviction moratorium for people with pandemic hardships until the end of March, though critics say that ban is weak.

The new California law is stronger and contains provisions to reduce the likelihood that pandemic debt will have wide ripple effects.

Under the law, landlords cannot sell or assign any rent debt accrued during the pandemic until July 2021.

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Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said the law goes even further for low-income tenants with pandemic hardships: It forever bars landlords from selling rent debt accrued through June.

That would prevent a primary way credit scores could take a hit, since it’s usually debt collectors rather than landlords who report to the credit bureaus, said Nelson, the attorney. Heimerich said the law also included several incentives for landlords to participate in the rent relief program for low-income tenants, and that making it mandatory would have been legally impractical.

Still, critics of the law say it relies too much on tenants knowing their rights and having the means to exercise them, putting the least-resourced in a weak position to benefit.

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Some tenants have already been evicted, said Stephano Medina, an attorney with the Eviction Defense Network, during a recent news conference held online by tenant advocates on their concerns about the law. Moratoriums don’t stop landlords from filing cases, and tenants sometimes don’t realize they need to show up in court to defend themselves, Medina said.

One part of the law that is likely to be particularly hard to enforce is a clause that prohibits landlords from denying housing based on rent debt accrued during the pandemic, said Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an organizing group that advocates for low-income households. Prospective landlords often screen tenant candidates through their former landlords, allowing them to learn of debts they aren’t supposed to base decisions on.

It’s also unclear how many landlords will participate in the state’s rent relief program, which will pay landlords 80% of what they are owed if they forgive the remaining 20%. Lakireddy said that’s a good deal, and many landlords are likely to accept it.

California’s rent-control laws may complicate the landlord’s decision, said Tina Rosales, a lobbyist with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Under state law, landlords can charge as much as they can get for a rent-controlled unit once it becomes vacant. So it could be more lucrative to pursue an eventual eviction and not forgive debts if a tenant is paying significantly below market rates.

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“It has the potential for landlords to pick and choose which tenants they will participate in the program with,” Rosales said, potentially affecting the most vulnerable.

Another outstanding question is how far California’s rental relief funds will go, given the range of estimates of how much rent people owe. Some tenants, for example, might miss out on debt forgiveness — not because their landlord won’t participate but because the pool of money runs out.

For many who can’t work from home, the cost of staying housed becomes a choice between incurring debt or accepting the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job.

One family’s hard choices

The Buenos, a family of five in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, were like many of the country’s hardworking households. Fernando prepped fish for a sushi chain. His wife, Maribel, cooked at a downtown L.A. brunch spot.

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Maria, 23, the eldest of three sisters, worked at a big-box retailer and helped out with the family bills. She set a goal to own her own home by 30.

The Buenos are now scattered. A promotion sent Maria’s father to New Jersey before the pandemic, but his hours were soon cut as lockdowns were put in place. Her mother lost her job and moved across the country with her youngest daughter to join Fernando.

At home in Koreatown, the bills fell on Maria, who stayed behind with her 18-year-old sister, Pamela. Their parents send money, but even coupled with Maria’s $20-an-hour wage, it’s not enough to cover the $2,500 in monthly rent. She exhausted her $3,000 in savings and is still $15,000 behind on rent.

Maria worries about how she’ll protect her younger sister and keep both of them from becoming homeless.

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James Engel, a principal with the company that manages Bueno’s building, said the company planned to work with residents on multiyear repayment plans when rent protections expire, rather than pursue evictions and collections. He wouldn’t comment on individual tenants’ cases.

Maria says she doesn’t want to risk having the debt over her head and is looking for a second job during the pandemic.

The possibility of getting sick is a sacrifice she’s willing to make.

Source: latimes.com

Cheaper rent in San Francisco? For some Oakland tenants, the city across the Bay is more affordable now

Even on a foggy San Francisco morning, the view from Scott Simmons’ 25th-floor apartment stretches from downtown to Golden Gate Park. The home of the 42-year-old tech worker is also spacious for a one-bedroom, featuring hardwood floors, new appliances and granite countertops.

A year ago, when he was sharing a two-bedroom place with his brother, Simmons couldn’t have imagined living in an apartment like this one. But last fall, when Simmons heard about big rent declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, he discovered he could get way more for his money in the heart of San Francisco than in the neighborhood where he was doubling up in Oakland.

“It’s bananas,” Simmons said. “I never thought I was going to be someone who was going to have a nice view. It’s a luxury.”

Since March, when government stay-at-home orders began emptying downtowns of workers and shoppers, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco has dropped nearly 30%, the largest decrease in the country. The tech capital has hundreds of thousands of employees well positioned to work remotely, and they have. Outside the city.

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The pandemic’s toll on San Francisco has created a scenario long unthinkable in the Bay Area. For some renters — mostly middle- and upper-income earners — it’s now more affordable to live in the famously expensive city than in its bluer-collar neighbor, Oakland.

Scott Simmons at his one bedroom apartment balcony overlooking City Hall and other buildings in San Francisco

Scott Simmons, a manager of information technology security, at his one-bedroom high-rise apartment at Fox Plaza in San Francisco. Simmons moved in November from Oakland to the high-rise, where he pays $2,800 per month in rent. City Hall is seen in the background.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

“If you would have told 15-year-old me that 15, 16 years down the road that Oakland was going to become more expensive it would have been literally shocking,” said Amar Saini, 32, an Oakland native who moved into a 12-story apartment building near the Bay Bridge this month to save money. “I just don’t believe it.”

San Francisco, even as rents decrease, remains the nation’s costliest big city. A one-bedroom apartment still typically rents for almost $2,000 a month, putting it far out of reach for many residents. But the steep drop in prices has surprised real estate watchers for both its depth and scale. Even landlords in tony neighborhoods like Pacific Heights and Russian Hill, who once were charging $4,000 a month for one-bedroom apartments, are lowering their prices and offering incentives like months of free rent to get tenants in the door.

The rent declines are a direct result of the pandemic. More than half the city’s employees are able to work remotely, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, and tech firms like Twitter and Salesforce — the city’s largest private employer with more than 9,000 workers — have said employees can stay away from the office even after the pandemic ends.

Additionally, the pandemic has closed restaurants, bars and museums, while putting a premium on locales that offer people more space to work or their kids to attend school virtually. For San Francisco, a dense city that long has had some of the nation’s highest rents, all the changes have taken away many of the amenities that make city life vibrant. Data from the U.S. Postal Service show that 56,000 more people requested address changes out of San Francisco in 2020 than those moving in.

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“Every man, woman and their dog is saying there’s no point living in downtown San Francisco if you’re not going into work,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who is studying remote work during the pandemic.

California Street in downtown San Francisco with buildings and cars but no cable cars on its tracks.

The San Francisco cable car system is not operating along California Street downtown, shown in February.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

The stillness of once-bustling San Francisco neighborhoods can be jarring. In Union Square on a recent weekday, a handful of masked pedestrians and homeless residents roamed silently amid hotel lobbies, restaurants and luxury stores largely empty of customers. Closed businesses along Market Street, one of the city’s main commercial boulevards, were boarded up with plywood. Shops that remained open had signs displaying reduced hours.

A year ago, only about 1% of the units managed by members of the San Francisco Apartment Assn., the city’s largest landlord group, were vacant, said Janan New, its executive director. Now, she said, nearly a quarter are empty.

At a new, upscale apartment building across from Twitter’s headquarters on Market Street, the sales office is offering up to three months of free rent. If that’s not enough incentive, new arrivals can also get a year of free cable and internet, several personal training and massage sessions or have the landlord donate $1,000 to a local charity on the tenant’s behalf.

Such efforts to attract middle- and upper-income residents reflect the pandemic’s uneven economic impact. White-collar employees who are able to work from home have been far less affected than lower-income workers in service and hospitality industries.

Maria Marin and her family sit on a bed.

Maria Marin, 35, and husband Francisco Rodriguez, with daughters Vanessa Rodriguez, 9, Tiffany Rodriguez, 11, and Keily Rodriguez, 30 months, at an apartment they share with extended family near San Francisco’s Portero Hill neighborhood in February.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Maria Marin and her husband, Francisco Rodriguez, were once able to crowd into a one-bedroom apartment near Bayview with their three young daughters. But after the pandemic hit, Marin lost her job as a housecleaner, and then her husband got COVID-19 and lost his warehouse job.

Unable to pay the $2,000 monthly rent, the family moved in with Marin’s mother near Potrero Hill. Ten people now share the three-bedroom home while Marin and her husband seek employment.

“In my situation, it’s not true that the rent is down,” said Marin, 35. “They ask you to make two or three times the rent to qualify for an apartment. And when you don’t have it, they hang up the phone.”

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Rents have decreased in Oakland as well with the average one-bedroom now going for $1,625, according to Apartment List. But the 18% gap between Oakland and San Francisco prices is the narrowest since the real estate firm began tracking rents in 2017.

Before his move, Simmons enjoyed living in Oakland’s Uptown, a walkable community not far from the Fox Theater, and first looked for a new place around there.

But he found nicer apartments in San Francisco, and living there meant he could ditch his car. Simmons signed a lease for $2,800 a month in a 29-story building also across the street from Twitter. The landlord gave him $2,000 in debit cards as a bonus.

“I like walking places. I like meeting people. I like the busyness,” Simmons said. “This is the life I want.”

Soon after last spring’s stay-at-home orders went into effect, Armand Domalewski and his girlfriend decided to leave their roommates and look for an apartment together. They searched around Oakland’s Lake Merritt in the hopes of living near open space.

“Then we looked in San Francisco,” said Domalewski, 31, a data analyst. “Not only were the prices lower than I ever expected, they kept getting lower.”

The couple found a bright, second-floor apartment on a narrow, red brick street near Duboce Triangle for just under $3,000. “I walked in and said, ‘There’s a dishwasher, my God,’” he said.

A few months into their lease, another tenant in their building moved out and they got a call from their landlord. Domalewski feared the worst.

“You’re so conditioned to think, ‘Oh, my God, am I getting evicted?’” he said. “And then she was like, ‘I’m unilaterally lowering your rent.’ And we’re like, ‘This is crazy.’”

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Rents have even become affordable for recent college graduates.

Sarah Abdeshahian sits on the window sill of her apartment.

Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, at her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood in February.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A few months after graduating from UC Berkeley, Sarah Abdeshahian got a job as an organizer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco. She was astounded to be able to find her own one-bedroom apartment near the top of Nob Hill for $1,900 a month, a price that had been reduced by $400.

“The idea of an entire apartment to myself is an insane luxury to me,” said Abdeshahian, 22. “I thought of San Francisco as a place where only wealthy tech people could live, not someone working at a nonprofit just out of college.”

Even though rents have plummeted, they could bounce back. Tenants with long memories plan ahead.

Simmons said he could have moved into a newer apartment complex for the same money.

But he opted for an older building. It came with rent control.

Source: latimes.com

How to Decide Where to Live If You Work Remotely From Home

When you no longer need to physically report to work, it detaches where you live from where you work. Suddenly you can live anywhere in the world, rather than being restricted to a single city.

It’s an incredibly freeing feeling. But it also leaves remote workers, freelancers, and other digital nomads with an overwhelming abundance of options. How do you choose a place to live when you can live anywhere on the planet?

As you review the following checklist, sort it by your priorities. For some, living near their parents or children is nonnegotiable. Others feel perfectly happy living in another state or even another country.

Most of all, look to design your perfect life starting from the ground up, in the most literal sense.

Choosing a Country & State

It never occurs to most Americans that they might enjoy living in another country. Most never even move to another state; North American Moving Services reports that 72% of Americans live in or near the town where they grew up.

Yet as an expat myself, I can tell you firsthand how many advantages you can find living in another country. I’ve also lived in multiple U.S. states, some of which I liked far more than my home state.

Consider the following as you choose a country and state to live in, and don’t get caught up in the details of “how” when you first consider places to live. Focus on the “why” first, and when you’ve chosen a country or state based on your ideal lifestyle, you can then figure out the “how.”

Time Zone

As an international school counselor, my wife gets job offers all the time in Asia and the Middle East. But my business is located in the U.S., and I refuse to do any more 3am conference calls.

Just because you can work remotely doesn’t mean you can necessarily set your own hours. And even when you can set your own hours, you still have to communicate and collaborate with others. That could mean coworkers and supervisors, or it could mean partners, suppliers, or clients. Sometimes you need to hop on a phone call with people in real time, and if they work in a time zone on the opposite side of the world, that means working inconvenient hours.

Know your work, and set your own limits on time zones.

Proximity to Family

If you can’t stand the idea of living more than an hour away from your family members, you have a clear radius you must live within. It makes your decision easier, if more limited.

But if you have a little more leeway, such as a living “within a few hours from family, it frees you up to explore travel by air and rail rather than just road travel.

For example, if you want to be able to reach your family within three hours, that gives you 150 to 200 miles of driving radius but over a thousand miles of flying radius. You can then start looking at cities with cheap direct flight routes (more on that shortly), rather than simply drawing a circle around the town where your family lives and shackling yourself to it.

Tax Policies

Different countries tax in vastly different ways. As a remote worker, you have the luxury of choosing a low-tax country or state.

My wife and I spent four years living in the United Arab Emirates, where they don’t charge income tax at all. That saved us tens of thousands of dollars in taxes every year, allowing us to save and invest that money to build wealth faster.

Even within the U.S., some states charge vastly higher taxes than others. Look at total tax burden, combining income tax, property taxes, and sales and excise taxes to compare states and countries, and start with these states with the lowest tax burden.

The difference can easily amount to thousands of dollars a year — a sum that can dramatically change your quality of life and wealth over time.

Connectivity & Communication Infrastructure

Becoming a digital nomad requires a strong digital Wi-Fi connection. In today’s world, most cities around the globe offer reliable, fast Internet connectivity. But smaller towns in developing countries may not meet your needs.

Ask around among residents, especially knowledge workers and expats, before moving to a smaller city in a developing country. If the connectivity and communication infrastructure can’t meet your needs, look elsewhere.

Climate

Not everyone wants to spend half the year bundled up in coats and scarves to weather the frozen tundra. I certainly don’t.

Consider climate as you choose a country and state to live in. Whether you enjoy having four distinct seasons or would just as soon hike and swim all year round, find a place where you actually enjoy the weather most of the year.


Choosing a City

Many countries and even states are sprawling, with an enormous diversity of big cities, small towns, and everything in between.

As you consider the best cities for remote workers, keep the following factors in mind to choose the right fit.

Airport Routes

Not all airports are created equal. Depending on your penchant for travel, you may want easy access to a major international airport with hundreds of flight routes.

Smaller regional airports often only offer a few routes to nearby hubs. It adds hours to each trip, and usually costs more to boot.

If proximity to family matters to you, then air routes can play a major role in where you feel comfortable living. You can cross a thousand miles in two hours of direct flight time, or you can waste 10 hours on multiple flight legs, layovers, and driving gaps.

Natural Amenities

There’s an old trope that all people fall into one of two camps: seaside people or mountain people. Whether you buy into it or not, the fact remains that you can’t have every natural amenity you want, so you have to choose based on your priorities.

Few cities sit nestled between tropical beaches and mountains with pristine skiing. You can find cities with beautiful shorelines and beaches, cities up in the mountains near great hiking and skiing, cities near wine country, and everything in between, but it’s hard to find cities with everything. Prioritize what you want because it’s hard to get it all.

The few cities with easy access to many natural amenities — such as San Francisco and Santa Barbara — tend to come with outrageously high living expenses.

Cost of Living

The median home in San Francisco ($1,405,199) costs nearly 20 times the price of a median home in Cleveland ($73,686), according to Zillow. Twenty times!

Put another way, you could buy your own home in Cleveland plus 19 rental properties, all generating passive income, for the same price you’d spend on only your residence in San Francisco. The rental income from those 19 properties would likely cover your living expenses, allowing you to reach your financial goals faster.

Cost of living matters. It doesn’t just mean the difference between affording a three-bedroom and a four-bedroom house — it often means the difference between becoming wealthy and living a middle-class lifestyle. Between being able to pay for your kids’ college education or not. Between retiring at 45 and retiring at 70. Between an acceptable quality of life and a great one.

If you can earn a New York City salary without paying New York City rents, find somewhere fun and affordable to laugh all the way to the bank.

Keep in mind that cost of living doesn’t just include lower housing costs. Low cost of living can include low food and grocery costs, cheap restaurants and nightlife, low utility costs, affordable health care, and other discounts that help you save money across the board.

As a final thought, take a second look at living overseas. Start with these countries where you can live a luxurious lifestyle for $2,000 a month.

Cultural Amenities & Local Culture

For many people, the local culture matters, both in terms of amenities and the people themselves.

That could mean access to museums, sports teams, art galleries, and performing arts. Most smaller towns only offer these cultural amenities sparsely, although exceptions certainly exist. Larger cities tend to offer more of these amenities, though they still vary greatly.

Beyond amenities, most people also prefer to surround themselves with those culturally similar to them — politically, socioeconomically, and linguistically. If this kind of similarity is important to you, consider moving somewhere where you feel you’d fit right in and where the local values reflect your own.


Choosing a Neighborhood

As someone who hails from Baltimore, I can assure you that different neighborhoods within a city can feel like completely different cities. So choose your neighborhood with care.

Safety

When you can live anywhere, there’s no reason to live somewhere unsafe.

People feel comfortable with what they know, but you don’t have to play that game anymore. Choose a city and neighborhood with extremely low crime rates. With the world at your fingertips, you have infinite options.

And bear in mind that your impressions of a place might not match the reality. I still laugh when I think of my friends’ and family’s reactions when I told them I was moving to Abu Dhabi: “What?! Is it safe?!” Not only is it one of the safest cities in the world, but I was moving there from one of the most dangerous of the U.S. cities. Yet my family in Baltimore couldn’t wrap their heads around that notion.

Try NeighborhoodScout or AreaVibes to research any city’s, zip code’s, or neighborhood’s crime statistics.

Quality of Public Schools

In some cities and neighborhoods, the public schools are so bad that middle-class parents are forced to budget the money to send their children to private schools. It severely restricts their budget and savings rate.

Again, when you can telecommute, you don’t have to play by those rules anymore. You can pick a school district with outstanding public schools and actually cash in on those tax dollars you have to pay regardless.

Alternatively, you could home-school your children. But that requires far more effort and time on your part, both in educating them and in making sure they get plenty of social interaction with other kids.

Try GreatSchools.org to look up school quality measures for any given district.

Walkability

When my wife and I lived in the U.S., we each had a car, as many Americans do. Then we moved overseas, and our home sat in a somewhat walkable neighborhood. We shared one car there, which worked out well.

The next time we moved, we intentionally chose a city and neighborhood that was extremely walkable. It lay within walking distance of my wife’s work, a coworking space for me to work from, and dozens of restaurants, bars, retail stores, and other amenities. We no longer own a car at all, and I don’t miss it in the slightest.

When you can walk, bike, or Uber everywhere, it forces you to be more active. Physical activity aside, living without a car also saves you a phenomenal amount of money. The average American spends $9,282 per car every single year, according to AAA, between maintenance, repairs, gas, parking, insurance, and car payments.

Public Transportation

Similarly, an extensive public transportation system can also help you ditch your car while still letting you reach every amenity you need.

A city with excellent public transportation can reduce your transportation costs and save money far faster.


Choosing a Home

Found the perfect corner of the world to live in?

With the hard part behind you, you can focus on the easier business of finding a hospitable home.

Before even deciding whether to rent or buy a home, start by deciding how long you plan to live there. When you buy a home, you take an initial loss based on the closing costs, both those incurred to buy the home and the second round of closing costs you owe when selling it. It takes time to recover these expenses by building equity.

If you don’t know how long you plan to stay or plan on just a year or two, renting is definitely your best option. Beyond two years, sometimes it makes sense to buy. You have to calculate the costs both ways. Be sure to include all ownership costs, including maintenance, repairs, insurance, property taxes, and both rounds of closing costs. Far too many people just assume they should buy without actually running these numbers.

Bear in mind your changing needs in the years to come. For example, if you plan to have a family, you may need another bedroom or two soon. You may want to rent rather than buy if your needs may change shortly.

Many telecommuters prefer to work from home rather than from a coworking space or coffee shop. You can avoid distractions and boost productivity by choosing a home with a dedicated home office, rather than working from the sofa or dining room table.

Whether you have children or not, many people love having their own outdoor space. It proved a consistent trend during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suburban and rural areas saw a spike in demand as people clambered for outdoor space to call their own.

When you move to a new city, rent for a few months or a year before buying. It takes time to get to know a new city, and giving yourself the luxury of time helps you discover exactly what you want for the long term before you commit.


Visit Before Moving

Word to the wise: Don’t uproot yourself and move across the country or world without visiting your destination first.

It’s all too easy to fall in love with the idea of a place. But your vision of a city and the reality of living there will inevitably clash, so take the time to discover those differences firsthand before you move.

A long weekend spent visiting is better than nothing. A week gives you a better sense, and a month better still.

Walk the streets, talk to the locals, test the Internet speed. Get a sense of the local culture, eat the local food, attend the kind of social and cultural events you would if you lived there. You may find you love it just like you imagined — or you might discover it’s nothing like you envisioned.


Final Word

No one says you have to stay in the first place you move.

Remote work offers endless possibilities and lets you live anywhere in the world. I’ve lived in six U.S. states and five countries, some of which I enjoyed far more than others.

As you design your perfect life, bear in mind it will always be a work in progress. You don’t have to get it exactly right the first time around, and even if you do, your needs and wants will continue to evolve.

Stretch yourself and your comfort zone as you explore ideas for the ideal place to live. Otherwise, you’ll limit yourself to what you already know and remain one of the 72% of Americans who live where they grew up rather than choosing a home that fits the life they truly want.

Source: moneycrashers.com