Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006 | When it comes to real estate, all the world’s a know-it-all. That’s what I’ve learned from the overwhelming response to my last column, “Renter’s Paradise,” where I discussed my view that renting isn’t such a bad deal.

The response was stunningly positive as it seems quite a lot of San Diego professionals are happily renting single family homes and avoiding the noisy, nauseating casino that is local real estate. There were, as always, the naysayers, who quickly and, in some cases nastily, advised me of how terribly off course I am and how my direction must result from astounding arrogance of youth or just plain irresponsibility. My favorite: “Only the young could be so shortsighted.”

If you can converse about real estate, you’ll always have someone to talk to in San Diego. Never has a sector so rife with speculation and uncertainty produced so many experts.

You can read “Renter’s Paradise,” but here’s the short version: My husband and I recently sold our townhouse in Chula Vista, used part of the money to pay off all our debt while saving the remainder, and are now proudly renting a very large four-bedroom house in Point Loma for just about $200 more than we paid monthly for our two-bedroom, two-bath townhouse, which, positioned 17 miles from downtown San Diego, entailed quite a long and painful commute. The thought of living there for even five more years was beyond suffocating.

Unfortunately, I think some of the naysayers missed my point entirely. But, I’ll post a couple of comments that best represent their perspective.

Here’s one from Monica on July 23:

“What’s Point Loma but an older suburb? Filled with lots of independently owned restaurants? I don’t think so. So you can walk to one or two bars and restaurants. You are going to get tired of that limited selection pretty fast. No, you just don’t want responsibility, which is a very immature approach to life.”

Wow. The assumptions here are really something, especially the last bit on how I don’t want responsibility, as if rent isn’t a big one. Older suburbs are entirely different from new ones because older suburbs aren’t the product of master planning, at least not on any scale comparable to today. No two houses look alike and retail shops are allowed to exist right along side houses. It’s wonderful, but I said enough about the fabulousness of Point Loma in my last column.

“Charlie” shared his own thoughts on July 23:

“Amazing! Not only does your article reveal much about today’s younger generation, the fact that most of the comments (including all that were somehow removed), are enthusiastic in response is simply mind blowing. Yes, you should not live beyond your means. Yes, you should try to live someplace decent that fits your lifestyle, but you should also plan for the future. Stu’s comment about ‘live for today’ is so 20-something. In 30 years? Why, he’ll probably be in a one-bedroom subsidized apartment, living on Social Security and Chapter 8. You really need to reprioritize. THINK CONDO!”

In case you missed it, “Stu” wrote in with a positive comment along the lines of ‘live in the now.’

Just to satisfy myself that I’ve really explored all angles here, I took Charlie’s advice and “THOUGHT CONDO” this morning. Turns out you can’t buy one in the central coastal or central inland (North Park, Normal Heights, etc.) areas for less than about $290,000 and that will get you 795 square feet of living space. The cheapest place to buy a condo near downtown is amazingly downtown, but cheap is a relative term. Porta D’Italia in Little Italy is advertising condos for as little as $253,000, which sounds amazingly cheap until you consider that the starting price gets you 350 square feet. A 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo in Point Loma or Ocean Beach costs well over $450,000. It’s also interesting to note that the condo market in San Diego is on a downturn.

The fact of the matter is that anyone in San Diego living on the median household income, which the San Diego Association of Governments estimates at $64,273 a year, simply can’t afford to buy anything without spending far beyond the 28 percent of their monthly income that is generally recommend for housing. Not one thing.

It’s sad and sobering, and all the more reason why anyone lucky enough to own a home in San Diego has no business belittling renters as immature, irresponsible drifters. Trust me, we want the responsibility we just can’t afford it without moving to the nether regions of San Diego County.

Charlie wasn’t the only reader to warn me that I’m headed for a dim future of subsidized housing as if buying a home now is the only way to build wealth for retirement. (Say hello to a 401K! Or a money-market savings account – the highest yielding accounts offer interest rates north of 5 percent – or a well diversified stock portfolio.)

The point of “Renter’s Paradise” is not that homeownership stinks and should be avoided so we can all live the fast life now. The point is that homeownership is a very expensive, very long commitment.

The days of fast money are over, so, in order for real estate to be a good investment, you have to buy a home in a neighborhood that you want to live in.

It’s a pretty simple concept, really. I’m not even talking about dream homes. Just a house with four walls in a neighborhood you like. I fail to see, and the naysayers have yet to successfully argue, how living for 30 years in a neighborhood you can’t stand just so you can live there for free until you’re dead is a good investment. The cost is just too great.

Catherine MacRae Hockmuth is a free-lance writer living in Point Loma. Please contact her directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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