Musings on family housing...

If there's one topic that's guaranteed to come up in every casual conversation in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's the cost of housing. I assume that most people are aware that rental rates in and around SF are crazy. But just in case, the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is somewhere around $3,450. At such a price, a net salary of $41,400, wouldn't leave you a single cent with which to eat.

It's easy to compare this rental rate to that of other cities and gasp in horror. However, such aggregate comparisons can be misleading as what you'd really like to know is not the relative median prices, but rather the relative cost of similar apartments in different cities. I suspect that the median apartment quality in SF is lower than that of many other cities[1]. 

As a personal example, we recently moved into a ~$2,000/mo complex in SF's suburbs. Upon taking occupancy of the unit, we discovered that it didn't have a working phone line. This had to be repaired by AT&T technicians who noted that the wiring in the unit was terrible, leading to crossed wires and shorts (hence three weeks sans internet). This is important, because you generally don't test the wiring of places during the open-house tour. It boggles the mind: what is being done with these rents? It's clearly not upkeep.

Another of my suspicions is that part of the reason that rental prices are being driven up is because most techies are young and don't mind essentially lighting a large fraction of their salaries on fire rather than investing it in a house or condo [2]. On the other hand, if you're a couple of thirty-somethings who just started a family, investing in a home is the kind of thing you start to think about. For kicks I took a look at some places nearby. Crappy homes start at about $1,000,000 and go up from there. After putting a downpayment on something like that, I'd be pretty worried about a potential drop in housing prices.

At some point, our son is going to need his own room and even maybe some space to play. Someday we're going to want to send him to a decent school, which usually involves living in the right area, and so on. I enjoy the Bay Area, but in many ways, it's not very family-friendly.

Realistically, this leaves us with two options: a) we could consider the East Bay. However, as commutes across the various bridges are an hour or more each way, I'm disinclined to pursue that option. Or b) we could look into buying a place in the Necropolis of Colma. Housing prices there seem oddly depressed, which leads me to believe that they're having some sort of problem with the undead.

Zombies or no, it's the property values that I find terrifying. 


[1] I have no good evidence for terrible apartment qualities in SF (though a Google search seems to support it). However, I'm inferring it because 1) the insane demand for apartments means that (slum/land)lords need only do the barest of maintenance, 2) paralyzing restrictions on any type of building or renovations ensure that most buildings are old and decaying, and 3) the relatively mild climate means that old drafty buildings are more tolerable than elsewhere.

[2] The go-to mantra for Bay Area natives is to blame Silicon Valley for all of their housing woes. However, Econ 101 suggests that the over-inflated housing prices are likely a symptom of demand exceeding supply. See The Gated City for a good overview of how homeowners have pushed for an incredibly restrictive building code that prevents construction of modern housing and ensures the ever-increasing value of their properties.

Three-plus months in...

The books that my gf and I have read about parenthood all refer to the three month mark as something significant and auspicious. For instance, all sources agree that the three month mark is when babies may actually begin sleeping through the entire night. Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet.

In fact, our experience has been that things have been getting more difficult as time goes on. During the past month, our son has been getting much fussier, requiring that someone hold and gently bounce him constantly [1]. I'm serious: with the exception of the few minutes when he'll play on his play mat in the morning, someone has to be holding the baby during every waking moment. This is particularly exhausting as the baby wants you to walk around with him - sitting down provokes an immediate freak-out [2]. We knew that this would be rough, so we were operating on the assumption that this was just a hump that we'd be getting over eventually.

Thankfully, this seems to be the case: for the past couple of weeks, our baby has been much more agreeable, even tolerating long walks in the Baby Bjorn and drives to run errands. We're still noticing some regression towards fussiness once-in-a-while, but being able to get out of the apartment for a bit during weekends has been amazing.

We can only hope that it's going to get easier from this point in, because reflecting on it now, it's difficult to overstate how much of a complete productivity-killer a newborn can be. It's pretty-much impossible to get anything done at home - yes, the baby will sleep for brief periods, but the frequency and duration of these naps are relatively unpredictable [3]. You could take advantage of the baby's early bed time, but then again, it's unlikely that you'll have much energy left. Seriously, I rarely went to bed before 11 pm before, while over the past several weeks, our entire family has been under the sheets by 8:30 multiple times. Taking care of a baby is exhausting, especially for mom.

All things considered, life is slowly inching towards some version of 'the beforetimes': I've been able to play a few videogames here and there, and it only took me two weekends to write this short blog post. Happy times! 


[1] Here's a life-hack: The Fitbit Charge HR that I purchased to 'game-ify' my attempt to lose the five pounds that I've gained since the baby was born, records knee bounces as steps. 

[2] The nice thing about the first few months was that at least we could sit down and watch TV or read while the baby fell asleep in our arms.

[3] Which brings me to a geeky sub-rant: Adults require that every videogame allows a) pausing at any time, and ideally b) saving at any time. Modern technology can easily accommodate these features, and games that forbid pausing/saving in order to 'increase challenge' are clearly targeting kids and the unemployed.   

Should we agree to disagree?

This is a follow-up to a previous post wherein I complained about the lack of consistency in childcare advice in the maternity ward. We've since spoken to a pediatrician who told us that the number one complaint to healthcare professionals from new parents is the lack of consistency in information. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in childcare/parenting websites. 

Of course people can blog and share information about their parenting philosophies all they want. But some of these sites offer cross the hazy boundary between some random person's opinion into actual healthcare advice. While some sources are maintained by healthcare organizations and present expert opinion [1], a little digging reveals that more than a few are run by random moms who extrapolate from their own anecdotal experience [2].

See, it's not like we found these sites from random internet searches. Rather, multiple care-providers have given us pages of 'useful' resources. One such page of links contained several instances of contradictory advice, depending on which site we visited. Similarly, if we speak to our pediatrician or lactation consultant, we'll get yet more differing information. We're not looking for opinions on how to raise kids, here. Is it really so difficult to find out how much he should be eating?

My gut tells me that most of the stuff we're worried about is nothing, but you also have to keep in mind that our family is pretty sleep-deprived and antsy at this point. So when one source is telling us that we absolutely need to do X, while another says that we absolutely should not do X, it's more than a bit frustrating. I'm on the side of trusting our doctors, even though the handouts that they've given us contradict their advice.


[1] This is a much broader topic, but I think that we scientists don't give people enough credit for their mistrust of 'expert opinion'. It's a bit ironic how an healthcare organization can, in the same paragraph, 1) now strongly recommend that all babies be breastfed and, 2) point out that they spent years discouraging women from breastfeeding. Or how Dr. Spock used to recommend that babies sleep on their stomachs, while it's now 'obvious' that they should sleep on their backs. It would behoove folks to be more careful about making policy pronouncements. I suppose that researchers are people too and hedging suggests lack of confidence.

[2] There's value in sharing experience, but there is also a hell of a lot of woo and conspiracy theory on these sites. I've noticed a few instances of pairing mother-to-mother advice with organic/anti-GMO screed, for example.