A few days ago, Mike and I notified our landlord of our intent to move out by the end of February.  “As much as we have loved living here and will miss it, we need to move on,” Mike wrote in his e-mail.

Frankly, I’m tired of needing to “move on.”  This will be our 5th move in the ten years Mike and I have known and been with each other.  I would like to stay longer in the next house we move into.  Set some roots.  Belong for a while.  Maybe it’s time we own our next home?

When I was growing up, my family did not own our home.  We lived in the basement of our uncle’s house.  It was dark in that basement, and cold.  I didn’t like living there, especially because my uncle owned a dog, a mean grumpy old dog with mangy hair infested with fat gray lice and dark red ticks.

One day, probably tired of living with a grumpy dog in that dark and cold basement, my mother picked up a pencil and some bond paper, and hired the local fish vendor who happened to mention one day while delivering anchovies that he moonlighted as a construction worker.  The fish vendor recommended his two other fish vendor friends to become his assistants and the three of them constructed our house—from pounding the earth solid, to mixing the cement, to setting the hollow blocks and cables, to nailing the walls together, to hooking up the electric wires, to setting up the septic tank, and to installing the glass jalousies.  My mother managed the entire project:  one big square divided into four smaller squares—one for the living room/kitchen/dining room, one for our room, one for their room, and then a small room that caught all other things that didn’t go to any of the other rooms.  When it was all done, she paid a native datu to bless the house.  The datu gutted a chicken, sprinkled the blood around the house, buried the liver along with several coins below the front door, and chanted for the spirits to protect our house.  For good measure, my mother also lit some candles around the family Buddha which she inherited from her Chinese father.  Everyone agreed that our new house was much better than my uncle’s basement.  I bet if it hadn’t been for my family’s immigration to the US, we would still be living in that house until today.

Nothing about the home owning experience here in America compares to my mother’s experience.  Here, most people do not have a say on how the home is built.  Instead, we simply look around and shop.

Actually, I should not say “simply” because there is nothing simple about this home buying process.  The most onerous part about this process, at least for those with kids, is the required due diligence regarding schools.  When my mother finally decided to build our home, it was not because my eldest brother had to attend pre-school.  (Come to think, he probably did not attend pre-school.)   My mother did not have to agonize over which public school district the location is zoned for.  For school purposes, it didn’t matter where she built the house.  There were only two public schools and both were open to everyone.  In contrast, since Mike and I started flirting with the idea of buying our next home, I must have already spent a hundred hours consulting numerous websites over which schools in the East Bay score a 10 out of 10, which schools get how many stars from parents, and what the strengths and weaknesses are of each potential school—class size, the teacher-student ratio, parent involvement, extra-curricular classes offered, emphasis on “academics” versus pursuit of “creative” endeavors, play settings, fundraising requirement… Additionally, I’ve stayed up well past midnight reading up on which neighborhoods in the East Bay are “family-friendly”, “diverse”, “safe”, and “community oriented”.   I’ve pored over maps of Oakland and El Cerrito, almost memorizing the names of the streets that belong to the “desirable” district because in these two cities, missing the school boundary by even just half a block could mean landing in a school that’s rated 5 (OH NO!!!!) instead of in a school that’s rated 10.  The whole thought process is draining and though I try to keep my Justine cool on this the way I do with most things in my life… I can’t, just can’t, because applications for the Fall (September) 2013 school year will be due in February 2013 and even though that is still a year from now I can’t just sit on my ass and take it easy because February will be here soon enough and we’d end up sending Charlie to the neighborhood kindergarten school which scores a frightening 4 and already he will be at a disadvantage and his chances at getting into an Ivy League university on a scholarship (‘cuz that’s the only way he’d be able to actually attend given the ridiculous tuition these out-of-touch-with-reality universities charge) will disappear, just like that.

I’d like to think that things would get easier once we get past the stage of figuring out where to buy but I doubt it.  Next, we’d have to start discussing our budget and financial habits with a loan officer and we might well realize that we are, after all, unfit to buy a home in various depressing ways.  If we do qualify for some loan, then we’d have to start going to open houses on weekends and asking about foundations, roofs, drainage systems, green improvements, dry rot, pest and termite infestations…  And to top these all off, if if in the end something doesn’t work out with the house that we buy or the loan or the school district, or if we need to relocate for whatever reason, we won’t be able to easily give our 30-day notice, pack up, and “move on.”

I think we’ll just rent for now.

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