Housing in Inland Southern California

Our greatest concern about moving back to California was affordable housing.  I left California to attend the University of Arizona in the fall of 2001 and came back in the summer of 2016.  A lot happened in California over 15 years including:  a housing boom, a crash, and a decent recovery.  Even though the housing market and general economy has recovered somewhat we were still apprehensive about buying a house and being “house poor”.  After all my hard work, it was time to enjoy life a little and not tie up all our money in a huge mortgage.  Let me clarify further, a huge mortgage for a not so huge house.  However, the Inland Empire’s housing options and prices came as a pleasant surprise, removing our biggest concern from the complicated equation of where to work and LIVE.
I had heard horror stories of doctors not being able to afford housing in California and having to rent something right out of residency.  We did not want that.  We had lived in helter-skelter housing for years and were ready for a house we could make into a home.  Enough with no kitchen sink disposal, light switches located behind doors, strange smells from the basement, and fighting with landlords to fix problems.  We were ready to finally have the ability to paint a wall, buy coordinating furniture, and LIVE in a modern floor plan that made sense for our family.
Let’s be honest here.  Housing in California is more expensive than in other states.  It’s the cost of moving to an awesome state with entertainment galore.  That’s the reason why people want to LIVE here.  There is so much to see and do in the great outdoors and in the cities.  The weather is more temperate than other places.  No shoveling snow and you can play golf in a sweater and shorts on Christmas Day.  The summers get hot but nothing like in Arizona where I lived for 15 years.  A beach vacation is a little over an hour down the road and you can come home to your bed at night.  In the winter change out that beach vacation for a quick snowboarding trip. There is a cost to all these amenities, but it is worth it.  Sure, in other states you could buy a mansion for the cost of what you could get in California.  We have lived in Texas/Arkansas and Tennessee and saw beautiful houses we could buy for a good price but there is a cost to living in small towns and living far from family.  What sealed the deal for my family is that my parents and three of my siblings LIVE in Southern California.  As a family, we were willing to pay for the luxuries listed above with the added bonus of LIVING near our extended family. The Inland Empire, specifically Temecula, fit the bill because, not only did it offer all of that, but like the smaller towns I lived in back east, I could live close to my workplace and not waste so much of my life away on the road.
In California, there are pockets of places that are cheaper than living in urban San Diego/LA/San Francisco etc.  Riverside County is one of them.  The Winchester/Temecula/Murrieta area in Riverside County are referred to as “bedroom communities” meaning that most people live in these areas for the cheaper housing and then commute to San Diego or Los Angeles.  A lot of our friends work outside the area and have hellish commutes for their employment.  But, LIVING and working in these areas is a dream because you get the benefit of cheaper housing without the commute.  You may need to re-read the last sentence.  You can have both especially because Riverside County is considered an “underserved” area for physicians.
My wife has figured out that we are about an hour away from everything.  Sometimes it takes more time to account for traffic but in general this is how far away we are from:
Sea World – 1 hour
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Hello Shamu!
Downtown/Mission Beach San Diego – 1 hour
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LegoLand – 1 hour 15 minutes
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There’s me and Lego Darth Vader at LegoLand.
Beaches – 1 hour 15 minutes
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San Onofre State Beach
Greater LA – 1 hour
LA Mountains – 1 hour 15 minutes
Downton LA – 1 hours 30 minutes
Disneyland – 1 hour 30 minutes
And the most important:
SKATE PARKS – 15 MINUTES in every direction!
How much cheaper are we talking here?  The same house located in either Organge/LA/San Bernardino County or San Diego County would cost at least $100,000 more than in Riverside County.  AT LEAST.  That type of money puts a big dent in your monthly mortgage bill.  That’s more money for buying season passes to LegoLand.  As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there are lots of different property types but I am going to focus on neighborhoods because that is where we chose to buy a house.
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This is classic Temecula.  These are ranch style homes on horse properties.  Can you see the mansion at the top of the hill?  This “neighborhood” is right across the street from a CVS Pharmacy.  No need to live in the sticks to have this awesome property.
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And here is Temecula Valley Hospital where you can see the view of the surrounding mountains.  Quite a nice place to take some shifts.
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This is a feed store off Temecula Parkway and Butterfield Stage Road.  Across the street is a shopping center with a Super Walmart.  Behind the horse is corn fields overlooked by neighborhoods.
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Just up Butterfield Stage Road is Rancho California and the gates to Temecula Valley Wine Country.
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Baily Vineyard and Winery has Shakespeare in the Vines.  The vineyards are up the hill to the winery at the top.
Again, we were ready for a modern home for our children.  My wife was insistent about living in a neighborhood because she wanted to live in a community where the kids could play and go trick or treating.  “Where will the kids go trick or treating?” she would say.  Remember in kid-dom your whole life was around Halloween and Christmas?  My wife has never let that go.
In general, the houses in Temecula/Winchester/Murrieta are newer.  When driving around with our realtor she would point to a housing development and say “And these are some older homes”.  We laughed out loud because she further explained they were built in the 90’s.  We have been living in home that were built in the 20’s, 50’s and 60’s so an older home in the Inland Empire is completely different than what we were used to.  What is the benefit to a newer home?  Laundry rooms upstairs, up to date electrical, solar panels, hard wired internet in every room, closets as big as bedrooms, and you name it!  It would be difficult to find a home to purchase that was built before 1980.  I am sure they are out there in all their gold flecked glory but we never saw one when house hunting.  Odds are you going to get that upstairs laundry room.
The only downside to a trick-or-treat neighborhoods is smaller yards.  While house hunting, we walked into some back yards that negated any of the good qualities of the house.  We have a litter of children that need to play outside or else . . .  Having a nice yard adds square footage to a house because you can always lock the kids outside.  Oops did I say lock, I meant you can usher them outside to play while the adults can have a 30 second conversation before the next interruption.  We knew that we would not find a house with yards on acre lots like the houses in Texas, but the small yard size was still a bit surprising while house hunting.  The good news is, you get over not having a yard because there are neighborhood parks on every corner that have beautiful grass that you don’t have to mow.  It’s a fantastic solution for a busy new doc establishing a practice.
With newer homes and neighborhoods comes the age-old question (since about 1980) to live in a home owners’ association or not to live in the home owners’ association.  Well thank goodness there are neighborhoods that do not have home owners’ associations.  If you want to live in one there are plenty of those around too.  You can probably guess which side I’m on, but do you know why?  It is my goal to build a half pipe in my back yard and a home owner’s associations would frown upon that activity.
I was thinking something like this:
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Naw, just kidding.  I was thinking of something a little safer for me and the kids.  Maybe this size.
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I’ll keep you updated when I start construction.
Honestly, living here has been awesome.  I don’t have to commute, LIVE in a huge new affordable house, skate whenever I want, surf at the beach, snowboard in the mountains, take my kids to school at a great neighborhood school, and hang with all my family.  LIFE is good in the Inland Empire.
Skate and LIVE