My older son, Case, called home last week to say he and some of his schoolmates had found an apartment to rent for next year. While Case's desire to move off campus seems appropriate at this stage in the game, I am struggling with the increase in housing costs it might mean closer to home. (Heck, I'm still struggling with the cost of tuition!)
"Your dad and I currently spend x dollars a month for your room and board," I matter-of-factly stated, "If you can find a 'furnished apartment' near campus for the same amount - with a lease that allows each boy to sign individually - we'd consider it." (There's NO way I'm going on a lease with four boys - none of whom, I assume, has any working knowledge of a mop!)
"We already found a house," Case explained, "but it's more than that."
"How much more?" I said.
"A little bit," came the response (which, roughly translated into teen- speak, means "quite a lot.")
"Then you'll need to keep looking and come up with some alternative solutions, " I advised, "or take a job on campus to cover the difference."
SILENCE! (That went over like a lead balloon.)
Looking through the beautiful three-page color flyer the university had sent me the previous week, I can understand Case's disconnect and sense of "entitlement." "The Lifestyle You Deserve!" is what the tag line read. In addition to 4 bedrooms and 4.5 baths on this particular model, the complex also provides a tanning bed (Would you expect less of Arizona?) a health club and a pool. "The lifestyle You Deserve?" Are they kidding? These kids are eighteen and nineteen years old. Exactly, what "lifestyle" do they deserve? More to the point, what "lifestyle" have they earned?
At nineteen, my tiny Hollywood apartment sat on the edge of East LA and consisted of a used sofa, a table and chairs, a castoff TV, and a futon. The shelves of course, were standard issue concrete blocks and plywood. I had left school after my Freshman year to pursue dancing and my parents' largesse didn't extend to paths that were less scholastically directed. As a result, I shared the apartment with a roommate and we both waited tables and took catering jobs on the side. It would be years before I progressed to the place where I could afford "built-in" bookshelves or my own bathroom.
What my son is blessed and lucky enough to "receive" is a college education at a Pac-10 University. At the end of which, he will hopefully emerge with the requisite tools to go out and seek "the lifestyle he so richly deserves;" a lifestyle that will depend entirely on his own actions, intentions and efforts - and not on mine or on his dad's generosity.
When working with new buyers, I often ask them to create a "wish list" of sorts to clarify and define their needs and goals. Then, I ask them what they can compromise on - or live entirely without.
While we all might "deserve" a palatial estate on Sea View Avenue or a Brown Shingle Traditional in the heart of Piedmont, what we can actually afford, might be dramatically different and that's important to define from the get-go.
So if location is non-negotiable for you, perhaps bedroom and bathroom count is. If size drives your decision, perhaps location is more flexible than you think.
Conversely, the same is true for sellers. While you might legitimately deserve (or need) two million dollars, what the market is willing to pay, may be significantly less. Remember, the market isn't necessarily inclined to care about what you want or what you need and that's the difficult truth (sorry to be bearer of bad news!).
While my son and his friends might "want" a 4 bedroom/4.5 bathroom house, what they actually "need" is significantly less and what Case "deserves," is still up for debate.
It may just take a college education to figure that out . . . but I'm counting on him to get there. Case is a smart boy. (He takes after his mother.)
In the meantime, I think I'll work on a new tag line and send it off to Arizona. How about "The lifestyle your parents provide for you until you get a diploma and can provide for yourself!" (Admittedly, it needs work.)
Send me your thoughts and I'll treat you to a latte and scone at Mulberry's Market and I'll publish the best of them next week!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.