Pacifica, CA

House Hunt part 9: 'Desirability has diminished considerably'

Kristen Philipkoski

This is a weekly series documenting a real family's quest to find a home in their beloved California coastal town, Pacifica, CA.

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(A "new build" in Marina, CA)The house hunt has officially gone off the rails. If you've followed along this far, first of all, bless you and thank you.

Second, you likely thought we had found our home: the "new build" in Monterey County. We thought so, too.

Yet here I am today to tell you that the walk-in closets, the walk-in pantry, the 3,000 square feet, the spankin'-new kitchen, all of those things lost their sheen yesterday when we took a bike ride around the neighborhood where the homes are being built.

May I just say, damn those model homes? They were located at the top of a hill, away from street noise and some even had ocean view.

The location where the builders are currently erecting new homes is about a quarter mile downhill from the models, close to a busy street with Route 1 just beyond that. One of my husband's top requests from our prospective new home is no freeway noise, please. We currently have a view and direct earshot to Route 1. We can usually tell what time it is based on the traffic sounds.

As we pedaled around, we did not see any kids playing. It was a Saturday afternoon and there was not one child riding a bike. No families were taking walks.

We did see several Black Lives Matter posters in front yards and windows and there was even a "We believe Dr. Fauci" one and that was encouraging.

But the more we rode around, the more I felt a cloud forming over my head and although neither of us spoke I knew my husband felt it, too. After nearly 18 years of marriage it's almost like we share a brain sometimes (and other times it's like he's from another planet but that's for another story).

"Desirability has diminished considerably," my husband said when returned to our car parked next to an enormous dumpster and overlooking and expanse of sandy, empty lots, motorcycles revving in the distance.

That's what I was going to say.

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(Our daughter does a cartwheel in the empty lot of our prospective new build.)

Maybe it was just the reality of leaving Pacifica sinking in. Instead our ocean view we'd be surrounded by empty lots and construction. Instead of neighbors walking along the beach path a short walk from our home, there would be a vast expanse of new homes but no one emerging from them.

We already knew all of this. It's an unestablished neighborhood. Friends had told us the development would be mostly retired people (indeed the humans we did see on our bike ride appeared to be in the retirement phase of life). I love retired people and I hope to be one someday, but it would be nice for our daughter to have kids to play with.

Friends had also gently cautioned us that the town has a reputation for high crime rates and poorly-rated schools. But, we thought, walk-in closets and pantries! Plus, school ratings can be skewed by low test scores, which happen in communities with a high number of English learners, so we remain open minded and reserve judgement on schools until we can tour them (virtually, these days). We're not afraid of a town with some rough edges. I lived in the Mission in the 90s OK?

But the truth is, I was already holding out some hope that before we committed to the new build, a place in Pacifica might come on the market that would work for us. So, in between obsessively virtually touring the the new build floor plans and pinning tile and balusters and kitchens on my Pinterest page, I've been obsessively refreshing Zillow.

I have a tendency towards magical thinking. A home I called out in a previous post was until recently still on the market for nearly $2 million, and I emailed our agent apparently believing maybe the owners would bring down the price by $700 thousand?

Alas, they got their $2 million last week.

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(A $1.5 million listing in Pacifica, CA)

The frenzy to buy houses right now has been documented extensively. The pandemic has made people want to buy in the suburbs to get more space so they can work from home. Even though we are (hopefully) emerging from the pandemic with vaccines being distributed, the market does not seem to be slowing down.

The fact that many home buyers have had terrible experiences and regretted hasty purchases has not put a damper on skyrocketing home prices and bids hundreds of thousands of dollars over asking. Plus, interest rates are staying low.

Despite all of that, most economists don't expect a real estate crash in the United States in 2021. Inventory is increditly low, and demand is high.

It all adds up to a terrible time to buy a house.

The bottom line seems to be that if we're going to go with a new build, we have to be willing to be patient and part of something new and untested. The payoff is a beautiful, brand new home that will increase in value, at least by the time our daughter sells it.

The question is whether it's worth it to wait. By the time the neighborhood is vibrant, will we be ready to leave? Maybe we won't like the area. Maybe the market will, if not crash, see a correction, and we'll be able to buy in Pacifica. Everything is extremely unpredictable right now and it's truly crazy-making.

We have two months left in our search and there are a lot of question marks. It's not a fun place to be but writing about it certainly helps the state of my mental health. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for another installment next week!

Check out the rest of my House Hunt series: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

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I'm a veteran writer and editor and founder of Mean Magazine and The Mean Podcast for GenX women. I write about everything from fashion to science and everything in between. I’ve written for Racked, Refinery 29, 7x7, SF Chronicle, Wired, Gizmodo and many others.

Pacifica, CA
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