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I spent 10 years living in LA, and I’ll tell you now I did not always love it. It was expensive, it was hot, and it often felt like one big parking lot. But it was also the place where I grew into myself and made wonderful friends and found a loving community.
So we danced an awkward dance for a decade, Los Angeles and me, sometimes totally in sync, winning the top prize, and other times trampling each other’s toes.
Moving to Glendale was the last straw
Over the years, the cost of apartment living pushed me further and further east, away from my beloved Pacific Ocean. I didn’t move often, but when I did it was in pursuit of more space, and more space came at an ever-rising premium.
Eventually, my now-husband and I, searching for enough room to start a family and in proximity to decent schools, moved to a $2,000-a-month apartment in Glendale, a small suburban city to the northeast of LA. We hoped that, by not fully maxing out our budget on rent, we might be able to save enough to eventually buy a tiny starter home. We dreamed of living a life in LA that didn’t always feel like we were running to catch up.
A few months later, though, the pandemic hit, and we suddenly became very intimate with our little neighborhood in Glendale. And we discovered quickly that it was … not great.
In the summer of 2020, as the nation faced a racial reckoning, we learned that Glendale had (in the not-so-distant past!) been a “sundown town,” a place where Black Americans were warned not to be caught after dark, and a welcoming home for the KKK and the American Nazi Party, which kept its headquarters in Glendale until the 1970s. That tension lingered: My husband, who is Black, never felt welcome, and we got a lot of sideways looks as an interracial couple.
My awkward dance with Southern California had become a full-on wrestling match. A few months into the COVID-19 crisis, I decided to tap out.
We set our sights on homeownership when the pandemic hit
While there was much to love about LA, from our friends to the film industry that beckoned my actor husband, we took a look at our finances and faced a chilly truth: Short of winning the lottery, there was no world in which we’d ever be able to afford real estate in LA.
Even if we socked away every spare penny for the next decade, a not exactly fun proposition for two young people hoping to have kids, we simply wouldn’t be able to save enough for a down payment on a $1 million-plus home. Our incomes just weren’t enough. And of course home prices would probably just keep rising, putting our dream further and further out of reach. With our lives on pause because of COVID, we reassessed our priorities — and homeownership came out on top. So we made a plan.
After years of waffling, we finally decided we’d leave LA, giving up our California Dream once and for all. My husband is a Philadelphia native, and I liked the city a lot. Plus, his parents were there and were super enthusiastic about the prospect of grandkids, so we knew we’d have some help. We set our sights on Philly.
With next to nothing to spend our money on, we decided to live on my salary alone and save every penny my husband earned. It was tight but fine, since there was no social pressure to spend beyond our means. In about six months, we saved enough to put 3% down on a modest house in Philly, and in December 2020, we moved into our new home.
I’ve discovered the priceless joy of owning a home
A little math to put things in perspective: The total cost of our house ($210,000) is about 20% of the cost of a (very) modest $1 million home in Los Angeles. If we’d purchased an equivalent house in LA with 3% down, we would have had to save triple the amount we did for our house in Philly, and our home loan — which right now is about $203,000 — would have been upwards of $970,000, making our monthly payment completely unaffordable at well over $4,000 a month. Just thinking about it makes me sweat.
Some people think we’ll regret the decision to leave LA as soon as the world opens up again and we realize we’re in Philly. But I don’t think so. This city is full of life and personality and community spirit, and I only look forward to getting to know it better. And homeownership? It’s even better than I expected. Yes, our…