California is a lovely land #706

#706 in a series of true experiences in real estate

On a springtime afternoon I sat on the patio outside my kitchen and read a welcome letter from a friend who lives in New York. Spring was on its way, he wrote, but the trees hadn’t yet leafed out. I looked up from the letter to my garden, sunlight slanting prettily across the garden beds. It was a beautiful spring day in California.

My friend Philip, his wife and 7 children, moved from the El Cerrito hills area to upstate New York about 20 years ago. They went because his wife’s family was there, and they were looking for a more peaceful and affordable, rural lifestyle. Philip went first to find a house they could buy outright with cash from their small house here. The rest of the family followed driving a car and pulling a trailer with all the belongings they would take.

It’s worked out ok. The new house wasn’t large but they had some land. They raised chickens and even had a few pigs at the start. Philip is a master carpenter who has been able to stay busy with work. Snow came and went, summer heat came and went.

Now the kids are grown and the winter is almost over for another year. Philip says they wanted to live with more definite seasons but winter is the least appealing; it’s just so cold. He’s been working graveyard shift for a couple of weeks building scaffolding on the outside of a factory building. The wind comes in off the lake and the men wear insulated coveralls over multi-layers of clothing and still they’re cold.

Two blocks from Philip’s house is a house for sale, not large, he says, about 700 square feet, but it’s only a couple of blocks from the lake. Real estate is slow. Asking price $55,000.

All of a sudden I’m interested. I was cold just thinking of the cold but this is pretty fascinating. There are houses for sale for $55,000? I hurry to the computer and easily find the very house he has written about. It’s just a little wood-sided house, not much to it, but it looks fine. Certainly as a summer cottage sort of house, maybe even year round.

I’ve never been to that part of the world, have no idea what the area looks like, who lives there other than my friends, what sort of stores are there, or what the lake is like. A lake to sail on, swim in? A lake to watch birds fly around, to fish in? I wonder if we could be happy in a little house that costs $55,000 in upstate New York?

My thoughts last about 5 minutes. Then I stop. I am sitting in the sunshine in my garden. My family is here. My work is here. I like it here. Can I really imagine going somewhere where I have to work to be warm?

Many of our friends and clients have moved out of state. Most of them said they couldn’t stand the traffic, the congestion here anymore. And, of course, they are right. I remember when it took only 10 minutes to drive from Elmwood to North Berkeley, when it was a cinch to find a parking space anywhere along Shattuck. When Hink’s Department Store with its hardwood floors and ladies who knew their stock was the place to shop in Berkeley.

Anet grew up in snow country. She’s from Illinois, the southern part near St. Louis, but she says that even as a child she didn’t want to stay there, could easily give up the fun part of snow. After college she visited a friend in California, her first visit. She stepped off the plane in November and there was sunshine! Within an hour she saw a most amazing sight – an enormous jade plant growing outside.

Anet had grown a jade plant of her own during college, placed it a window, protected it and coaxed it to a height of 5 or 6 inches tall. In this new land jade trees leaped to tall heights, as tall as people, and they did it unattended and in the out-of-doors.

She decided to stay. She flew back home, loaded up her car and drove to California. I don’t think she’d be willing to go to upstate New York, or similar, even though there is a lake, even though a house can be had for a lot less money than anything here.

As I say, we have friends who report success and happiness in other places. We had one client who sold the house her mother had left her and moved with her husband and teenage daughter to Kansas City (his family was there). Suddenly they were “millionaires” and were able to buy a much larger house on a big piece of land, plus new cars, plus put away money in a college fund, plus cut back their working hours. Although our client had never lived in the snow, she says she is fine with it.

But we seem to be in good company here. More and more people come to California. They come for the weather and the people and all the good things we have here. Pretty mountains and trees, snow sports nearby but not too near, Whole Foods and Monterey Market and the like, beautiful San Francisco and the ocean, and on and on.

In spite of congestion and crime and high prices for everything, especially high prices for housing, California is a lovely land.


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