For my friends and family reading this, I’ll answer this right away: We’re staying, at least for now, but we hope for longer, maybe forever. But raising children in San Francisco comes with challenges, and my husband and I constantly evaluate what will be best for our family. The biggest consideration, of course, is the cost. I dare you to find a three bedroom single family home to purchase for under $1.2 million or an apartment to rent for under $4,500 a month. Housing expenses eat up most people’s paychecks here, which sometimes forces us to look outside the city and sometimes outside of the Bay Area altogether (because the suburbs don’t offer a bargain, either).
Then, there are the schools. The public school lottery system is unsettling, not knowing whether our kids will go to the school a few blocks away or have to be carted across town. Of course, we can always shell out an exorbitant amount of money for independent private schools that rival the cost of four year universities. Or, we can go the “bargain” route and enroll in a parochial school, relegating ourselves to a life of hypocrisy, since we’re not at all religious. It’s a lot to think about.
Our group of friends is at the same crossroads as us, and we’ve seen some exits from the city. Some have gone across a bridge and some have gone across the country. Their reasons for leaving vary, but it’s no coincidence that having a family forced the issue.
Since my husband and I grew up as suburbanites in the Northeast, raising kids in the city is not the norm for us, and we don’t have family ties to the area either, but we love it here. There’s a reason San Francisco is a perennial tourist destination and iconic movie backdrop. It’s beautiful, quirky, diverse and affords a year round outdoor lifestyle. We’re not ready to throw in the towel and, luckily, we’re in a position where we don’t have to, but if you are considering a move, you might want to try The Suburban Jungle, a free advisory service that can help you choose the right Bay Area suburb to call home.
I first read about The Suburban Jungle in a New York Times article (the company started in New York City) and my husband and I decided to give it a try. Not being Bay Area natives, we are pretty ignorant when it comes to the ‘burbs, unless we can count all of the towns in Sonoma County because we are certainly well versed in wine country.
We filled out an online questionnaire that asked about our preferences and priorities for commuting, schools, walkability, outdoor activities, our budget, housing needs and willingness to remodel. Then, we had a phone call with a personal strategist, one of their real estate experts, who asked more probing questions. She threw out some suburb suggestions right on the spot, and she had some helpful insights and considerations for each. She followed up with an email recapping the towns we discussed and shared detailed information on the school systems. The conversation gave us a lot of food for thought and actually reaffirmed our decision that we’re not ready to make a move right now.
Had we chosen to continue, though, we would have been paired with a real estate agent to tour the towns and narrow down our search. They would have even connected me with local moms from our favorite towns to give us unbiased opinions about what it’s like to live there. If we eventually bought a house through the process, then Suburban Jungle would get a cut of the real estate agent’s commission. There would be no money out of pocket for us (except for, you know, buying the house).
It’s a pretty cool service to get you thinking about your priorities and needs, and they might just name a town you didn’t expect. Or, like us, you might be reminded of why you live here in the first place and decide to appreciate the city and all it offers while you still can. Either way, if you, too, are asking, Should we stay or should we go, know that lots of us are asking the same question and Suburban Jungle might help you find the answer.