The explosive growth of the Internet brought a lot of money to the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Many of my work colleagues and friends cashed in their stock options and bought high-end cars or lived BIG in San Francisco during those go-go years. Many of us younger employees did not know the difference between paper wealth and actual wealth. Unfortunately, the paper wealth quickly disappeared as pro-forma balance sheets fell out of fashion and stocks plummeted. Easy come, easy go.
Fortunately for me I did not get sucked into the craze of buying a BMW M5 and renting an apartment in the Marina. My Mid-West style upbringing made me far too frugal (or cheap!) for such “extravagance.” Fortunately I was able to same-day sell a chunk of my ISO options and chose to just sit on the cash. I continued to drive the 1988 Toyota Carolla I owned in college and rented with a roommate a two-bedroom apartment in less than trendy Sunnyvale. I was also able to have my company pay for a good portion of the MBA program I attended to avoid taking on massive student loan debt.
Yes, I experienced a ton of peer pressure for not living in the city. “Come on, Dunstan! Move up to the Marina with us. You won’t have to make the long drive home to Sunnyvale late at night…and “Social Safeway” is just crawling with honeys.” Many a tale has been told about love found in the produce aisle.
Why didn’t I cave to the peer pressure or buy-in to the spendy trends at that time? I wanted to buy a house. That was my goal. Even back then, living in San Francisco was expensive and many of my friends there lived paycheck to paycheck. Several work colleagues graduated with an MBA and $100K+ in student debt. I graduated with no debt. Shortly after I started my first job after business school I was able to purchase my first house. Goal accomplished.
The San Francisco Bay Area housing market is even more competitive (read “expensive”) now than it was in the early 2000s. Buying a home or condo takes a significant cash down payment to meet the more stringent lending requirements. A hefty monthly cash flow is also required to take care of the trappings of ownership…namely property taxes, insurance and then basic living expenses. Home ownership gets expensive. Fast. But I think it’s SO worth it!
First time home ownership is still possible in the Bay Area despite the gloom and doom affordability market data. Sacrifices have to be made and savings goals have to be achieved. Life style choices have to be made too. The process of saving for the first home may take some time and may require renting with a roommate in a less fashionable area to amass cash. Building a monthly and annual budget is a great tool to help analyze where the monthly paycheck goes and decide what changes are to be made to funnel more cash to savings. I highly recommend Alexa von Tobel’s book, “Financially Fearless” to help with building a budget and savings plan.
Buying what type of house and in what neighborhood will also be defined by company stock performance and salary compensation. People make a lot of money in the Bay Area. However, how well one manages money will play a key role in the home purchasing power of the individual. Keep in mind that most first time home buyers will NOT be able to buy a home in a top neighborhood. Be OK with that. Buy what you can afford in the best neighborhood possible. How this is done will be discussed in future posts. Start small and gain equity to then move up to the next house/neighborhood. This is all very possible. It takes time, commitment and money management. I did it. So can you.
Please send me a note on Twitter (@ericdunstan) if you have any questions.
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