Dear SF Bay Housing Market

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Dear SF Bay Housing Market,

You are really harsh. So harsh that I’m here in a rented room in Belmont that costs as much as my current mortgage, trying to find “our place and people” and save enough to get the rest of my family out here so we can make you a better community (I know. From what I see so far, you are already amazing, but trust me, we’re a great addition).

So, I got my dream job . And it doesn’t come with stock options or six-figure bonuses. But the work is going to be fantastic, and impactful and it’s really where I belong. Don’t get me wrong, the compensation is more than fair for academia, and would be more than sufficient to provide my family with comfort and security and housing and travel and everything we could ever need. . . except for here.

So get ready, because I’m aiming for your soft spot, here. I’m going to tell you about us. I’m going to tell you what we need from you. I’m going to tell you what we have to offer (it’s mostly not dollars) and I’m going to hope that someone out there has “the deal” for us.

First, the basics…
We are a 2/3/1 (married 16 years, with 3 young boys and a cat). We both work, full time. I get a paycheck. She’s building good kids/people. We’re both trying to make the world a better place through our work. She’s probably having more impact in that regard than I. We are non-smokers, with excellent credit and steady (albeit constrained) income. We are frugal and community-minded. We believe in public schools and volunteer in them. We are here for the long-haul. If you are right for us, it will be a long time before you have to look for tenants, again.

Breaking It Down:

Me:
I’m a Map Guy. I make maps (digital and analog) and teach/help other people to leverage “Where” in their research, teaching and community work. I have been the Geospatial Swiss Army Knife for an Ivy League University for the last decade. I take my work very seriously because it matters and I am pretty damned good at it. I’m from Texas. I value Family, Community, Reason, Friendship, Love, Truth, Manners and a really good dry-rub brisket. I am tattooed from fingertip to toe. I can be salty and prickly (but really only in defense of my family and community), but I will also walk across The Earth for the people that matter.

She:
She is a Brooklyn Girl, who fate relocated to Texas early so that I could find her and become a better person for it. Everything I do is really just to impress her. She is our (“The Boys”) Magnetic North. We (“The Boys”) look to her to know where we are, and where we are going. She is a certified Elementary School Teacher with ESL and Environmental Education experience who took a break to focus on getting our boys to school age. She is also a Yoga Instructor who has been bringing Yoga and Mindfulness to inner city public schools for the last two years. She wants to expand this work, now that the little one is ready for Kindergarten. She’s the real selling point in all of this. She makes everywhere she is, better. She lives with four boys. She is a modern day saint.

Us
Us

We Have Three Boys:
They will be 5, 7 and 9 years old by the time they get here. We refer to them as the “Wolverine Monkeys.” That is only half a joke. This is full disclosure. They are brilliant, beautiful, healthy, joyous and caring little rays of happiness and sunshine (that’s mom, see above). They are also loud, untidy, contentious, strong-willed knuckleheads (that’s me, see above). They like Legos, pretending, sticks, animals, hikes, bikes, and anything that looks like it is supposed to be climbed upon. Our parental philosophy is this: All that matters is creativity, curiosity and community-mindedness. Everything else takes care of itself.

Wildlife:
We have a ten year-old cat named Popeye, who thinks he is a dog. He is missing an eye, his tail and his plumbing (fixed). He was born in a horse barn in Texas. He is the best behaved animal I have ever lived with and my mother used to show horses and dogs, so I have lived with LOTS of animals. We have NEVER seen a rodent in any home he has lived in.
He is not a pet. He is family. He is non-negotiable.

>There will be breakage. I have a toolbox and skills.

>There will be noise. We shouldn’t live next to retirees or people whose therapist told them they “need a nice quiet environment.”

>There will be climbing. Trees would be nice.

>There will be dirt. We really need a dishwasher and in-laundry.

>Archaeologists will find Legos and Matchbox cars on your property 1,000 years from now. Sorry.

What to expect from us:
First, we will do everything we can to make your community happier and healthier than it is, now. That’s actually just selfishness on our part, since that’s what we need out of a community. We will LIVE (in capital letters) in your house. We will build our new life there. We will walk or bike our kids to public school and volunteer there. Maybe someday we will try to buy something in the area, but I really don’t see that happening for a while. So, we will be steady, reliable tenants. The specifics:

>We will be respectful of your property (We’re homeowners, too. We get it)
>You will get your rent on time (autopay or direct deposit, if you are set up for it is GREAT)
>We will carry renters insurance
>We will not bother you with nonsense (Again, I have a toolbox and skills)
>We will immediately communicate with you whenever an issue arises that you, as a homeowner, should know about
>We will be loud, sometimes (we have 3 boys,see above)
>We will garden. In containers, if necessary
>We will keep chickens, if you let us (think fresh eggs with the rent check every month)

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Your garage will become a:
>Bike repair shop
>Art Studio
>Furniture Refinishing shop
>Sewing Studio
>Etsy Warehouse

Your yard will become a:
>Yoga refuge / Neighborhood Daytime Mommy Yoga Class
>Climbing Gym, Jungle Adventure, Moon Landing site
>Southern BBQ/Grilled Pizza Restaurant
>Bicycle Drive-in Movie Theater (Pizza-Movie Night is every Friday, bring your toppings and adult beverage, we’ll make the dough and sauce)
>A Nature Preserve (we feed birds, critters, etc. . .. We’re horrified by the thought of pesticides/pest control, save for Popeye)

>We will walk, bike and transit everywhere we can
>The minivan may sit for long periods. It’s not derelict, we just don’t use it any more than we have to.

>There may be a VW hippie bus in our future.
>There will be Yarn Bombing

If you are Faculty (anywhere), I will make your publication maps in perpetuity, in return for reasonable rent in perpetuity. (CV on request)

What We Need From You:
Obviously, we want a walk-able, bike-able community with fantastic public schools and amenities (parks, playgrounds, pools, farmers markets, etc. . .). I get free Caltrain and VTA, so it would be great to be within biking distance of the Caltrain line (think a guy in jeans and a blazer on a crappy 50 year-old 3-speed not worth what it cost to ship it here, rather than a guy in spandex on a $4k racing bike. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not me), with bullet train stops being a bonus. The closer to Palo Alto, the better for us, in general.

Three bedrooms would be great, but two with a bonus room/den, etc. . . or exceptional outdoor space works, too. Two bathrooms would be fantastic (did I mention we have 3 boys?), but we could live with one. Quirky, funky, hardwood, open plan, fireplace, dishwasher (we have 3 boys, see above), laundry hook-ups (again with the 3 boys. . .), built-ins, garage/studio space, fruit tree, neighborhood overrun with kids, next to the elementary school, across from the park, goodnesses are all a major bonus.

Where We are Coming From:
You’ve got a tough act to follow. We are leaving Westville, New Haven, CT: what must be one of the best neighborhoods in America. One of our neighbors wrote this (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/realestate/keymagazine/105newhaven-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) about it. Every word of that article is truth. It really is that good. That part about diversity… that’s the key.

In Westville It is not understood that when you have a crisis, you can ask your neighbors for help. It is understood that you do not have to ask. They descend upon you and circle the wagons. Westville is the template for good, healthy community. I sometimes joke that “we bought the worst house in the best neighborhood in New Haven,” but that is only half-joking. The community really matters more than the property for us. Keep that in mind.

When our neighbors moved in next to us, our first meeting was to figure out what to do about replacing the dilapidated fence between our properties. We decided not to. We just tore it down and gave our collective five children run of both. The old adage that “good fences make good neighbors…” is nonsense. Good people make good neighbors. The people who move into our house after us will probably have to get used to the neighbor kids just walking in their back door. Whenever. They are going to get a letter like this, too.

We are valued by our community as much as we value our community. There has been much crying and talk of commuting 3300 miles “not being that bad, really,” from our friends. They wrote a Country and Western song about us leaving and sang it to us at the annual New Year’s Eve bash at Lyric Hall, Westville, CT. It’s a great song. All the best C&W Songs are about heartache. Lyrics on request.

We realize that you may not be there, yet. We can help you, though. We know what a great community is supposed to look like. Westville has taught us that. We will bring it, ready or not.

Finally, I have found myself in some really far off places in my work (Damascus, Kurdish Syria, Mongolia-China border region, etc. . .), so I am sympathetic to having to deal with global logistics, etc. . . but, if you can’t find a real human, with keys to your property and the time to show it to me, you aren’t getting a response from me. Save the stories about how you are on sabbatical in Timbuktu (I could actually verify that one with colleagues on the ground) and you just need a deposit to hold the property because we sound great, but you have other people interested, blah, blah, blah. . . I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

Rental, Friend, Community and Professional references on request. Happy to submit to a credit check, but only if you are serious. I will not participate in bidding wars.

Respond with photos, specifications, questions, leads…

Hope to hear from you, soon.
In Friendship, Love & Truth,
A Family Desperately Looking for Their People Here, and a little rental mercy.

[Edit] FYI, the amazing family portrait was done my Mistina Hanscom ofhttp://www.lottastudio.com/ Hire her to do yours so her awesome family can come see us in Cali!

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