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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

Finding out I want to LIVE in the Inland Empire

“This is Temecula?  It’s Beautiful.” -Carrie Horner
In the last year of my family medicine residency, I was looking forward to graduation and the prospect of my first job as a doctor out of training.    All those years of school and training took so long yet, that last year seemed to go by very quickly.  I had gone to many a lecture and listened to my attendings discuss their own career choices and now it was my turn.
In the summer and early fall, I started opening up PracticeLink more often and tried to find something out west to be closer to my family.  Sure, there were jobs in San Diego and LA but do I really want to LIVE in the metropolis and barely afford housing?  When visiting LA in the past, even from a thousand feet up in an airplane, there were housing developments as far the eye could see .  It was nauseating.  No open spaces.
I scrolled across an ad for Temecula, California and immediately called my parents.  For most of my life my Aunt Doris had lived in Temecula and I have heard my parents describe it as: “All the way out in Temecula”.  I had thought of Temecula as a hick town on the outskirts of the middle of nowhere.  The general attitude was that it was unappealing so, it came as quite a surprise when I called them and the following conversation took place:
My Dad: “Son, I think you would really like Temecula.”
Me: “Really?  It seems kind of remote.”
My Dad: “Temecula has really grown.  People have been leaving San Diego to move up there for years.  When Aunt Doris moved up there 20 years ago, it was small, but now there is probably close to a quarter million people in that whole area.
Me: “Really, because Texarkana (where I completed residency) and the surrounding areas are only around 75,000-100,000”
My Dad: “Really.  My buddy was complaining the other day that it takes 30 minutes to get from one end of Temecula to another.  I just laughed and told him it is not a small town anymore.”
My Mom: “Davy, I go up there for work quite often and it surprises me to see houses where there was nothing years ago.”
Although I was surprised by our conversation I was still skeptical about LIVING there.  I put in an application just to see what would happen.
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This map illustrates where Temecula is located in relation to LA and San Diego.
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Here is a map of Riverside County.  Temecula/Murrieta are the southern most cities in the county.  Going any further south will land you San Diego County and any further north is San Bernardino County.
 
**Disclaimer**
I am using the real names of the people that helped me get to where I am today.  I am not getting paid to write this blog.  All I want is to give props to the people who worked hard so I could live my dream in Southern California.  Cool?  Cool.
 
I received a call from Holly Garcia who is a recruiter for UHS which is the corporation over Temecula Valley Hospital.  Come to find out that the advertisement in PracticeLink was for several positions and that there is a desperate need for primary care physicians in Riverside County.  I thought, “Surely there is a need in Riverside County because no one wants to live there.”  I set up my first interview with reservation because I was still not sure if my family wanted to LIVE “All the way out in Temecula”.
Well guess what?  Temecula is beautiful and well populated.
On our way to my first interview we pulled into a gas station right off the 15.  “This is Temecula?” my wife said.  “It’s beautiful”.  Again, we were at a gas station right off the freeway.  And that was the theme of the entire day.
After my interviews, we took a tour around the area with Karen Summers who later became our realtor.  We could not believe how many neighborhoods there were throughout the Winchester, Murrieta, and Temecula area.  It was impressive not only how many neighborhoods but also how nicely planned and built they were.  There were parks, lakes, and gorgeous landscaping.
Karen Summers: “And to your right is the Red Hawk neighborhood.”
Me and My Wife: “This is Temecula?  It’s beautiful.”
Karen Summers: “And to your left is the Paseo Del Sol neighborhood.”
Me and My Wife: “This is Temecula?  It’s beautiful.”
You get the picture.
We were also surprised to find out that Temecula is the “Wine Country of Southern California”.  What does that mean to a Mormon guy who doesn’t drink alcohol?  It means there is gorgeous open space, farm land, and ranches almost next to your local Super Walmart.
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These are the stone arches leading into wine country on Rancho California Road.
As we drove around town we kept saying things like “This is not what I expected” and “I was wrong about this place”.  I GET WHY PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE HERE.  Lots of people want to live here because the housing prices are so much cheaper than in LA/Orange/San Bernardino County or San Diego County yet there are open spaces next to all the shopping and entertainment of a big city.  Our minds were completely changed about the area and we quickly could see our family LIVING and loving it here.
Since we have moved here we have found other hidden gem communities all up and down Interstate 15.  For example, the city of Hemet.  Hemet used to be a retirement community and it has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years.  Hemet has a super Wal-Mart (I have a big family so we set up our life to the closest Wal-Mart and Costco) that is actually closer to our house then the other one in Temecula.  We are frequently in Hemet shopping and even visiting the DMV.  Its less crowded yet has most of the shopping and amenities you could want.  Going further up Interstate 15 you’ll find awesome lake towns all in the Inland Empire.  Lake Elsinore is a beautiful city with housing options from lake front houses to full scale neighborhoods.  These cities are just to name a few.  As we explore the area more, I will update you on more nice cities (and skate parks) I find.
I have been pleasantly surprised living in the Inland Empire.  Even though I grew up in San Diego I never really ventured into Riverside County.  Even if I had, what was there, has changed dramatically.  I will discuss housing prices in another blog post.  Until then, think about Riverside County as an awesome place to LIVE and practice medicine.
Skate and LIVE!