Finding a home

Posted February 2, 2015

There are few things more stressful than a move. In my family, we like to combine the moves with other high-stress events in our lives. Just weeks after Eric and I were married, we loaded up our car for cross-country move from Chicago to Berkeley for Eric to pursue his PhD at Cal. Newly married, I was reeling from my change in identity (friends can attest that I could be heard, on occasion, saying “I am no one’s wife!,” though I soon got over that, thanks in part to Eric’s endless patience).

Since then, we’ve moved to Ann Arbor for his post doc and where I launched my own company (hello ILLUME!). After a short but incredibly productive three years here, we are trying to wrap our heads around building a home in the one part of the country I never ever considered before – the southwest. Goodbye Ann Arbor, hello Tucson.

As the quintessential nomadic academic couple, we have postponed buying a home longer than is financially reasonable (or smart). But like other urban dwelling Gen X’ers (esp in the Bay Area), the point of entry was just too high even with a great career and a double income.

So here we are, moving across the country with our five year-old in tow, to find the place we will call home. Since that first trip together, our means have changed considerably but so have our demands. While we can reasonably afford to buy a “dream home” in Tucson, yet defining what our “dream home” is has been a long process of articulating, prioritizing, and reassessing our personal values. This has underscored, once again, that when we are selling products like energy efficiency and solar, we are competing against a set of ideals much greater than our desire to mitigate climate change or reduce demand for energy. We are competing against deep and long-formed visions of what a “good life” involves.

While we agree that we want to live in a home that is as low impact as possible, there are also items we are unwilling to sacrifice to get there. Here are the first three priorities that we are unwilling to compromise:

1. Neighborhood within walking distance of U of A and close to downtown (less than one mile to central campus).

2. Neighborhood where we would feel comfortable with our kiddo running a few blocks to see friends.

3. Neighborhood with a good public school.

If we factor in these three must-have’s, there are just two neighborhoods in Tucson that meet this criteria. Notably, these neighborhoods are not flush with homes that meet our second set of criteria, a home that is sustainable, energy efficient, and in line with personal philosophies of what it means to be a responsible steward of the earth. Most of the homes in the neighborhoods that meet out top three needs were built between 1930 and 1960, and while some have received upgrades, very few have the next criteria on our list including:

4. Small footprint

5. Is solar-ready or capable

6. Can easily be set up with an EV charging system

7. Has a gray water system or can be easily retrofitted to have one

8. Has energy efficient appliances and recent envelop upgrades

This may not surprise you as a reader, but as a new buyer I have been amazed at how hard it is to get everything you want or need in a home – and I come in very informed. This makes it clear to me how hard it is for the “average” home buyer. This spring, I will chronicle our search for a new home and the challenges of finding a place that lives up to my energy geek ideals, meets the personal needs I have for my daughter, her education, Eric’s job, and reflect on where were started, where we ended up, and why.