An article in the New York Times yesterday made me think about my life in the outburbs.
About four and a half years ago (gosh, has it really been that long?), my then-boyfriend-now-Cute Husband and I started looking at houses. One of our friends lives on the outskirts of town, about a 15 minute drive from the Magic Kingdom, and I saw lots of new developments cropping up near his neighborhood. There was also a major hotel and golf resort being built nearby, and I predicted the area would only continue to grow. So, Cund te Husbaand I agreed to build a house in one of the new developments and planted ourselves there.
I insisted that we needed to strike immediately, and, thankfully, Cute Husband agreed. I placed a deposit on our lot in October of 2003 (thus locking in an affordable price) and we signed an intent to build in January of 2004. The big housing boom was just starting, and we watched the price of our home climb 5%, then 10%, then as much as 20% – and we were thankful we were ahead of the market and signed when we did. A combination of timing, luck, and having a really good builder and mortgage broker made it possible for us to get our house at about $82 per square foot of liveable space; by the time we actually closed on our house in September, a new contract on the same build would have been 40% more expensive and way out of our price range.
We live, however, in the far ‘burbs, in an area that, because of its proximity to Disney World, is ideal for (and has a lot of) vacation homes. As a result, the school system in our area is terrible, which is why I’m determined to do everything I can to send The Boy to private school. When we moved there, gas was hovering around $1.60 and not a major concern. About three months after we closed on the house, I lost my job (bad times – talk about stress!) and started working in Downtown Orlando a few weeks later (much better times). The commute was awful, but bearable. After all, I’m from LA and braved the Valley-to-Santa-Monica commute for a while before the Valley-to-Culver-City commute – and I survived both of those.
Now I work near Universal Studios, which is only a 20 minute drive away. For the past two weeks, I’ve been able to carpool a few days a week with one of my coworkers, but summer camp starts next week for her son, so carpooling won’t be an option for a while. Collectively as an organization, the employees in the corporate office are really trying to push telecommuting (I’m not the only one living in the outburbs), but we’ve yet to get a final decision on that.
Still, I have no desire to leave the outburbs any time soon. Our home is far from a McMansion, but if we tried to buy a similar house in Orlando instead of one of its outburbs, it would easily have cost us 75% more. Even now, with the market on the downswing, houses in this area similar to ours are still beyond our price range.
And yet, with my 25-mile, 20-minute commute, I have very little cause to complain. My friends back home see gas well above the $4 mark; I filled up this morning at $3.89. Orlando is also unique in that the majority of its larger companies aren’t downtown but in more suburban areas. We rarely – if ever – go downtown for anything. My favorite way to shop is online, and I often use my lunch hour to go to stores near my office but not near my house.
Life in the outburbs works for me. We have a comfortable home in a gated community in an area where I feel safe. And that’s enough for me.