Possible relocation to Mill Valley - Rent larger now or buy small and live cramped until things turn around?

Asked by Infoseeker, Murrieta, CA Fri Feb 19, 2010

There's a possibility my wife and I (along with our baby) may be moving to Mill Valley (from Socal) due to a job opportunity there. Everything we've learned about Mill Valley so far has us excited - it seems it is ideally suited for us and our child in every way but one - the price of housing. If we do end up relocating there, we're considering renting a single family home since there's no way we can afford to buy anything that would cost more than $500,000 or that would require more than a $3500-$4500 monthly payment. We really need 3 bedrooms/2 baths and roughly 1700-2100 sq. feet (1 bedroom for us, 1 for baby and 1 for home office - I work from home and require a decent sized home office due to the nature of my work).

My question is should we consider buying a tiny condo and live totally cramped until the market turns around vs renting a larger space now since by owning we at least might be able to move up the property ladder vs locking ourselves into indefinite renting.

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Tristan Cela…, , Marin County, CA
Sat Feb 20, 2010
As a child I was told by my father, a broker in Stockton, never buy when you first move to a new area. First rent so that you can learn what best value is in that local market and then, the big thing, you can learn your way around and find the community and neighborhood that truly resonates for you.

Evidence points to the market continuing its decline or flattening so you've probably got the market on your side. No need to be impetuous.

There are rentals, not many, on the MLS, http://www.realtz.com/Marin_MLS/page_2089399.html. The definitive source of rentals has become Craigslist.org, check 'em out, http://sfbay.craigslist.org/nby/apa/.

If I can help further RSVP. Check my website for more tools and information to assist.

http://maps.google.com is a pretty new real estate venue with a not quite complete inventory of for sale and rentals. The thing that's neat is that you have maps, air photos, terrain maps and street views all at hand, You can do preliminary investigations to survey various neighborhoods.

You'll love Marin - it's heaven.
1 vote
Scott Wilmore, , Marin County, CA
Wed Apr 28, 2010
In the short run it may make sense for you to rent. However, in the long run it will nearly always pay to buy. Between the potential price appreciation (as long as you don't overpay), the tax write-offs, and the latest $8000 write-off for first time homebuyers it is hard to lose. The latter would require you to make a decision by the end of this month as it is not likely to be extended.

There are also loads of new tax incentives for energy savings, upgraded appliances, windows, etc...you may be able to help someone out of a bad situation and pick up a bargain that needs some upgrading anyway. I made far more money buying and upgrading fixers than I ever saved working for a salary.

A condo is also a good possibility in Mill Valley, and there are some beauties on the sunny side near Richardson Bay. Be careful to see what is included in the Condominium Association Fees.

I've been here for over 25 years, and as much as I like to visit Fairfax for the music scene, and Sausalito for the artists and waterfront, Mill Valley is a gem (especially the unincorporated west side, Almonte, and Homestead Valley)
Web Reference:  http://cityofmillvalley.org
0 votes
Tristan Cela…, , Marin County, CA
Wed Apr 14, 2010
There is a new CraigsList/GoogleMaps mashup growing at http://www.housingmaps.com that presents in the Google Maps format using the CraigsList database - see below.

Using http://maps.google.com together with http://www.housingmaps.com you will have access to virtually all rentals. There will be duplication though they are different databases since savvy owners/managers post on both.
0 votes
Mvhouse, , Mill Valley, CA
Wed Apr 14, 2010
I am planning a move also, and have a house in Mill Valley for rent which sounds like it would fit you perfectly. You can email me at nicola@grow3.com if you would like photos and info. You can also see more details on the website below.
0 votes
Tim Ambrose, Agent, Castro Valley, CA
Sun Feb 28, 2010
Hi Infoseeker,

That is a loaded question, So based on what you have said, my question is, will your job move you again soon? Unfortunately, 500k is not a strong price point for that area. My advice would be to rent a place that works for the family and work you way up the ladder for a lager salary. Being cramped is no fun and being cramped and broke is even worst.

I hope this helps!

0 votes
Anne Mosnier…, Agent, Kentfield, CA
Sun Feb 28, 2010
The rent v. buy in Marin County always comes up a lot, and especially these days when future values are uncertain. I specialize in working with investors, and many are on the fence right now in Marin. Prices have definitely fallen, and there's a better than even chance that they will continue to adjust downwards a bit. Renting for a year would give you a great opportunity to figure out where you want to buy, and you'd be able to enjoy MV in the meantime.
If you think that your price range will still be in the $500,000 range a year from now, the communities of Fairfax and Novato are going to be your communities in Marin where you get the most square footage for your money. Although, there is also one 2 bedroom home priced under $500,000 in MV right now - but it's a short sale and may be bid up above that, or the bank may not agree to take that price.
Good luck!
0 votes
H, , Belvedere, CA
Sun Feb 21, 2010
Here's the short answer....rent now, buy later. Considering you are not familiar with the area and are concerned with what you can buy in Mill Valley that could meet your minimal needs, give yourself a chance to learn what the different areas have to offer in Marin County....then maybe after a year, you will be able to understand and appreciate why certain locations are more exspensive than others. I grew up in Tiburon and now live in East San Rafael (close to the water) and love it! That said, some day, I hope to move back where the schools are excellent.
0 votes
Kevin Keyser, Agent, West Hollywood, CA
Sun Feb 21, 2010
You already have some great advice below. I agree with Tristan and Greg that it is often best to rent first while getting to know the area, even if you just do a short-term rental. We live in Mill Valley and love it, but there are a lot of other great areas that are close by and are more affordable. Fairfax is a lot more affordable than Mill Valley, and you may even find the perfect home for yourselves there. It is a great town with a lot of nice restaurants and stores, and you still are close to the mountain for hiking, biking, etc. But it can take a lot longer to get to the city, so if that is important you may want to factor that in.

You can definitely find a nice rental in Mill Valley in your price range, which would give you the time and freedom to look at other areas. The rentals in Mill Valley can be found in a lot of different ways, as there is really not one definitive source for listings. Craigslist is where you will find many of them, as well as the MLS... but some owners in Mill Valley will just put up a sign in front of the house, or rely on friends and family to get the word out. It is best to find an agent who is local and can also tell you the pluses and minuses of the different neighborhoods in Mill Valley. We enjoy being able to walk to town from where we live. Mill Valley is one of the great towns for walking, with an extensive series of Steps, Lanes, and Paths that make it a real joy to get around by foot.

Let us know if you would like any advice or guidance about your move! We have helped several clients move here and really enjoy pointing out the great neighborhoods and outdoor activities here.
Web Reference:  http://www.keyserhomes.com
0 votes
Mary Kay and…, Agent, San Rafael, CA
Sat Feb 20, 2010
Dear Infoseeker,

Is the job in Mill Valley? There are other areas of Marin that are more affordable than Mill Valley that are very close by. The commute would be minimal. Our worry about you renting a property for a long period of time would be that you might miss the market as far as prices go. Right now, prices in many areas of Marin are lower than they have been for years, and we consider this a great opportunity for many buyers to be able to purchase a property in Marin, which in the past has been unaffordable for many buyers.

Have you checked with a mortgage broker to see what kind of loan you could qualify for?? That would be the first step that we would recommend. If you need a referral for a mortgage broker, let us know!! After that piece of information is obtained, and we have some idea of the price range that you would qualify for, we can let you know what properties are available in your range.

Let us know if you have any further questions.

Mary Kay
0 votes
Greg Corvi, Agent, San Ramon, CA
Sat Feb 20, 2010
You should probably consider renting at first to get to know the areas. There is a wonderful "family oriented" neighborhood in Corte Madera, which is next to Mill Valley. The neighborhood is Mariner Cove. You can rent a 3 bedroom, 1500-1700 sqft home for $3500 or less. The neighborhood is flat, near trails, a park, and lots of kids. I know of one home currently for rent. Feel free to contact me if you would like some insight in to the various cities in Marin county. I am a father of young childrren and it sounds like we have the same thought process.
0 votes
Ronald Parks, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Sat Feb 20, 2010
Mill Valley is a wonderful special town. There are also many other towns in Marin that you might consider for the move where you will get more for your money. The rental market has been very favorable for renters and you can get a nice home for around $3500 to $4000 per month in Mil Valley and substantially less in other cities such as Corte Madera and Greenbrae.

A condo in Mill Valley might be a great option at this time as prices are very depressed in that market and you could get a great deal on a bank owned or short sale property. Feel free to contact me at 415-297-9000.
Web Reference:  http://www.Westbayre.com
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Sat Feb 20, 2010
If you found the rent or own blog helpful I have several other blogs related to buying a house. One covers things to do when you are a year or more form buying a house. One covers how to find a down payment by looking at your real spending habits. All are basic, simple, and easy to understand. I hope they help.
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Sat Feb 20, 2010
You have a better chance of losing money in california by buying a house now.

look at the site below. It shows predictions for prices in cali in 2010.

The real truth is that the prices dropping or going up are irrelevant in your case.

What you could buy is not adequate for your needs.
What you could rent would fit you very well.

I would rather rent being able to move anytime I wanted in a spacious comfortable house compared to living in a condo I owned but could barely turn around in.

There are times money is a big consideration, but for you, people first, things second.

If all of the people in your house feel cramped no one will feel comfortable. I would not be surprised if it caused more arguments and made people more on edge in your household.

I can definitely see it not working out for your most important aspect of all. Your job working out of your to cramped to move around in house. You would likely lose productivity if you lacked the room you need to work in.

I would rather rent than own in this situation even if it cost more to rent. You need the space and the condo just will not give it to you.

If you want to look at does renting or buying make more sense from a purely economic standpoint look below. It is a blog that shows how to plug in your numbers to see which is really the best option.

Amortization and realtor fees really hurt any profit you might make for at least the first 5 years of a 30 year mortgage. In the above blog I covered everything I could think of except for 2 things. 1 price change. That is a bet not a sure thing. Prices could go up or down. 2 income tax changes, I could only say check it out since I do not know how to figure that out for a mass audience.
0 votes
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