Nina Smith

Should Gays Move Back to City: Are gas prices affecting your life in the suburbs?

Filed By Nina Smith | July 10, 2008 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gas prices, gay money, lgbt finances, SUVs

"Remorse goes to sleep during a prosperous period and wakes up in adversity." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Awhile back, a journalist was looking for stories from Queercents readers experiencing buyer's remorse in the wake of higher gas prices. He wanted to know if anyone bought a house in the exurbs when gas was 3 bucks a gallon and found themselves rethinking their decision now that the price is closer to $5.00.

When his colleague beat him to the punch with this article: Fuel Prices Shift Math for Life in Far Suburbs, I decided to print a story from one of the readers at Queercents instead. This comes from Addie Compton:

I bought my modest rowhouse in Baltimore in 2005 at the exact height of the real estate boom here. My home is in southwestern Baltimore city and I work in a DC suburb in Prince George's County. It's an hour commute, when traffic is moving well. And it is all highway commuting. My girlfriend works in DC proper - I drop her off at the subway before going in to work myself. There is a subway stop near where I work. However it is a 2 hour train ride with several transfers (from commuter rail to two different subway lines). I'm not willing to do that.

I would have loved to live closer. I looked in DC and the Maryland suburbs. However, there was literally nothing in my price range when I started looking. I bought my 3 bedroom, 1 bath house for $150,000. (I won't live in Virginia.) Everything was $200,000 and above - usually much, much above. And this includes marginal neighborhoods with bad schools and significant crime problems. (Prices have not dropped much here. There is still very little available for $150,000 or below.)

So I started looking in Baltimore city. I had lived in the city 10 years before and loved it. I still really enjoy Baltimore. My choices three years ago were buy in Baltimore or not buy at all and continue renting.

I don't exactly have buyer's remorse. I do have carbon guilt for all the carbon my five days a week, two hours a day driving. Otherwise, I live in a small house in a city, eat local as much as possible, recycle and so on. My impact, barring driving, is less than the average American. And while the high gas prices are brutal, we make enough that they are not a crushing burden.

However, my girlfriend and I cannot move until we have a significant down payment. Much of that down payment will come from the sale of our current home. And while I did not overpay for my home, it is not appreciating quickly anymore. We could sell it right now for $150,000 or slightly more ($155,000 or so). (During the craziness, rated it as worth over $200,000 which I knew was inflated.) I need my home to be worth $180,000 or more in order to have enough for a down payment to move into the DC metro market.

I don't regret buying the house but I'm not happy about my carbon footprint. And I'm stuck.

Apparently, homeowners don't have the lock on regret. Jennifer from Queercents indicated she has renter's remorse after they chose to rent in Silver Spring (a suburb of DC), though she works in the District. With gas costs, she notes commuting has become a major expense.

What's next? Christopher B. Leinberger at The Atlantic Monthly declares the suburbs could become The Next Slum by suggesting that:

The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life may turn today's McMansions into tomorrow's tenements.

So what do you think? At one time, did the longer commute seem a worthwhile trade off and now it's killing your monthly budget? Are you changing your lifestyle (not that lifestyle!) to accommodate this added expense? Please feel free to share your experience below.

Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.

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I live outside a small town, an hour's drive or ferry commute (more or less) from Seattle. I am glad I bought five acres and a house, because my partner and I are going to have to start growing at least some of our own food if we're going to continue to eat. No buyer's remorse here, though.

I only live in the 'burbs because my job is out here, and is only 2 miles away. If my job was in the city, I'd be there... of course, I don't own a house or a condo.

I live in a town 30 miles form the one I work in.I also own my own home 3 bedroom one bath small yard.Do I wish I could live closer yes but the over all cost of living makes my 45 min commute worth it.Property tax is around $100.00 each year. Yes you read that correctly gas is pricey but id have to pay more for my size house in the town I work in.I paid 35k 10 years ago for my home and yes its all paid off.So it pays in the long run for me to stay put.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 11, 2008 1:03 AM

Wow Cathy, it really does matter where you live! I would say that home ownership has to be an individual decision based upon convenience. I know happy Gay couples who rent, but have the discipline to save/invest the difference between what their rental is and what their "owned" home would really cost them with property taxes, insurance, maintenance they can be ahead in net worth.

One couple I know well have an apartment in a high rise in the Loop in Chicago, but walk to their offices and do not own a car, but take great vacations.

It is no secret the Gay house is the best looking on the block and if anything when we own we nest and overspend in ways we would likely not if we rented.

The days of a house being our greatest investment are probably behind us due to what will become a steadily increasing energy cost (not just commuting, but home heating). Convenience, access to public trans, and some compromise about size, should lead us to the wisdom of renting.

High gas prices are probably the only thing that can reign in the American sprawl and carbon emissions. We always talk about reducing our footprint by buying light bulbs and more efficient washing machines, but this is something that will probably happen on a massive scale that will significantly reduce America's contribution to climate change.

Sure, it's hard now and expensive for people. But the transition has to be made and it'll always be at a bad time. The rest of the world, believe me, is wondering what took America so long (two part answer: low gas prices and racism!). We have horrible public transport even in major coastal cities, cities the size of small countries, and just go for drives whenever we feel like it. ("eat local as much as possible"? When is it not possible? Are there food shortages in Baltimore that we haven't heard about? I think that comment that you posted is also great for proving my point here: she cares generally about carbon emissions, but they alone weren't enough to change her lifestyle.)

Life's great after the transition. I don't own a car and haven't driven for the past year here, and even when I lived in St. Etienne, I had access to everything I needed with public transport and hoofin' it. My bf's never owned a car and he gets by just fine. I know a few people in the city who own cars who think it's more of a hassle than it's worth.

I'm saying all this as someone who's experienced both extremes recently. Last year I lived with my parents in one of the farthest exurbs of Indianapolis (it wasn't technically even Carmel - Carmel was about a 20 minute drive from their place) and then I spent this past year in a mid-sized European city. In Indiana I couldn't do anything without driving, anything at all (even the groceries! Even going to work out! Even going for a drink!), and in St Etienne I had the whole continent at my disposal, just hop the tram to the train station and go anywhere, a whole lot cheaper than car, insurance, gas, repairs, and taxes would be.

Robert, you make a good point, although I'm not sure I agree with you completely on the rent vs. buy debate. I think a lot depends on where you live and the discipline factor of saving / investing the difference.

TechCrunch suggests you Check the Heat Map for the rent ratio to see if this makes sense.

Hey - I live in the city and gas prices are still killing me! Indy is so spread out that it's impossible to get around without a car. There's no real public transportation other than the rickety old bus line that takes hours to go anywhere and bike lanes are almost non-existent.

We are homeowners. I live 3.5 miles from work, but Susan's working downtown. We have 30mpg cars, but still, we've cut back the travel.

In much of the US, there simply is no alternative to a car. My city has no rail system. No bus exists that would get me to work, and none runs at the time I get off at night. I suppose I could ride a bicycle, but it's a busy 6 lane highway I must travel. I'm strongly considering getting a motorcycle.

That stated, we own our home outright (paid in full) and it's pretty well located, close to the necessities. We are homebodies and don't club. And it's a relatively small house that isn't bad on utility bills, and could be made better on them than it is. I bet the people who bought all the oversize Mcmansions are regretting it now.