Help me decide where to live
November 11, 2019 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving out of my apartment next month and trying to decide between three different places I could potentially move to, each with their pros and cons. I have to make a decision in the next day or two - help!

I'm moving out because I want: a) to be closer to work, and b) more space for my hobbies and projects. This necessitates moving out of the city into the suburbs, which I'm not totally thrilled about (perhaps why this decision is so difficult) I've included some SF Bay Area-specific location details but also tried to keep it general enough to be universal. The options are:

Option A: The utilitarian - in Sunnyvale
+ Space: 2b/1ba duplex with a small front yard. Pretty average in all respects, but an extra room (storage/guest room?) for the same price.
+ Closest to work: ~5 miles, 30 minute bike ride (mildly stressful streets) or 15 minute walk + 10 minute bus.
- Location: more "sprawly suburbia" than the others (close to "downtown Sunnyvale", but those who've been to Sunnyvale know there's not much there), bikeability/walkability lower than the other options.

Option B: Nicer, with drawbacks - in Palo Alto (near Cal Ave)
~ Space: 1b/1ba duplex in Palo Alto (near Cal Ave). Older, but has really nice vaulted ceilings, small front + backyard.
- Distance to work: ~11 miles, 1 hour bike ride (mostly trails/low-stress streets, but still 11 miles) or 10 minute caltrain + 20 minute bus
+ Location: PA is a posher suburb (more trees and parks, fewer cars). Getting around with a bike is pretty easy.
- Other: The rental directly faces the train tracks. My noise tolerance is medium-high (I sleep through garbage/recycling trucks backing in and dumping things at 5am every weekday morning) Caltrain noise was OK but I'm slightly concerned about the Union Pacific freighter that runs at midnight-ish.

Option C: The shared option - in Mountain View (near San Antonio)
+ Space: Sharing a 2b/2.5ba house with a work friend. Since this is a full house the living space is the largest. It is also the newest (better insulation, central heat/cooling)
- Distance to work: ~10 miles, 5 minute caltrain + 20 minute bus or 20 minute walk + 20 minute bus
~ Location: Fairly new built community, mostly young families. Convenient for necessities (groceries, etc are within a 10 minute walk) but otherwise pretty boring. OK walk/bikeability.
+ Cost: ~25% cheaper than the others due to the shared element
~ Other: Obviously living with a roommate is different than living alone. I like my solitude but I've found this past year living alone in a new city to be quite isolating and it would be nice to have some low-key interaction in the evenings/weekends. Potential roomie works longer hours than me and rarely cooks, so I should still have some quiet time to myself. (Plus, selfishly: potential roomie has a car which some house-errands much simpler)

Honestly, any of these options would probably be "okay" - so how do I decide? Any advice on making the decision, or other factors I could consider also welcome. Thanks!
posted by btfreek to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm leaning A unless there's something you specifically like about C or dislike about A. Your goal is to get close to work. You'll be close, you'll have a whole extra room for your hobby stuff, plus you'll have an extra hour in your day to do it. Seems like you could rule out B. Longer commute, smaller space. C has its merits, but don't forget about the waiting time between train and bus (unless they're synced up).
posted by slidell at 1:11 PM on November 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Option A. The shortest commute and living alone would trump the benefits of the other two for me.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:12 PM on November 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'd chose C because you can walk to get groceries and that's a huge plus to me.
posted by Kalmya at 1:18 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to live close to a freight line, and it is the worst. I got used to it eventually, but family, friends, and romantic partners refused to stay at my place after one night because they couldn’t handle it.
posted by sacrifix at 1:21 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

-What does “being closer to work” mean to you? Shortest commute time, ability to bike there, something else?
-How much space do you need for your hobbies/projects? Are any of your three options better or worse in terms of lighting, location/“feel” of project space in your home?
-How much do externals of your immediate area matter? Do you like to go out and do things that wouldn’t be possible in some locations? Are you okay with hopping on transit to get to recreation (is that an option for late-night things? I am not familiar with the area)
-What could you do with that money you save on rent in place C (if anything) to make that living space/situation ideal?
posted by epj at 1:21 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can you also bike to work from option 3? I think I would choose this option, as long as you and friend have good communication and are willing to make a roommate situation work.

Normally I'd shy away from a roommate situation after age 22, but it sounds like there are some big benefits to this option (house! possible access to car! walk to groceries! cheaper! low-key possible human interaction!).

Note: I know nothing about these actual areas, so my info is based just on what you've written.
posted by hydra77 at 1:24 PM on November 11, 2019

I'd choose B and I think you should too because it sounds like you (absolutely correctly IMO!) don't like suburbia and big box sprawl that closes at 8pm (A) and you're moving out of the city to work on personal projects, which a roommate would inhibit (C). I assume you have a pretty brutal SF-PA commute right now, so while the commute for B is not a piece of cake, it's a major step up.

I've lived near a freight track. How disruptive it is depends strongly on the presence or not of at-grade crossings where the train is obliged to sound the horn. If there's no horn you get used to it quickly.
posted by caek at 1:27 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

caek makes an excellent point about the horn with regards to trains. Without the horn it would just be bad, instead of horrible. Unfortunately, they sounded the horn multiple times with every drive by.
posted by sacrifix at 1:32 PM on November 11, 2019

Just to be clear, not all at-grade crossings require a horn sound. Caltrans and friends can make street improvements that make it safe for trains to pass without sounding. Downtown PA is precisely the kind of place those improvements would have been made, but I'm not sure if there's an easy way to find out other than going there at midnight (or posting on Next Door, etc.).
posted by caek at 1:36 PM on November 11, 2019

Don't live next to a rail line if you can avoid it. It may not bug you now, but it will and as other have said, it'll bug other people.

Sunnyvale is fine! And there's a Whole Foods opening next year! And it has a farmers market!

I think either A or C is fine depending on how important a roommate is to you. I agree that it can be nice to have a little human company and if you don't have family nearby a roommate can sometimes help out in emergency situations (within limits). I think both are bikeable, I regularly do a 8 mile bike ride and once you get used to it, it's not hard at all. The area is very, very flat.

How big a deal is money? A 25% rent savings is a big deal and is potentially the cost of a small car, which is a big plus for getting around any of these areas.
posted by GuyZero at 1:55 PM on November 11, 2019

C, because the location is fine, there are plusses to having a roommate and a whole house, and saving that money is going to give you freedom to do something with it -- whether it's just saving it, splurging on something you really want, taking a trip, setting yourself up for property ownership later, etc.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:59 PM on November 11, 2019

Quick note to add for clarification (and also to highlight how bonkers SF rents are) rent for options A and B are also already 30% less than what I'm paying right now and C is 40% cheaper.
posted by btfreek at 2:10 PM on November 11, 2019

I interpret your question as looking for ways to think through your decision, rather than suggestions of which choice to make. I think you should try to imagine how you'll feel a few weeks after moving in, when you're most at risk of buyer's remorse that can permanently color your impression of the place, and how you'll feel six months into the lease, when you're used to everything and just managing the daily grind. Sunnyvale, as you said, is not very lively, so consider whether the change from SF will be great enough to make you regret your decision in a few weeks. The train noise in Palo Alto may bother you at first, but if you think you'll be used to it in a few months, it may not be such a big deal. You may like your housemate at first, but after a few months, will you be able to tolerate their idiosyncrasies, the things you keep having to nag them about remind them to do, the things they keep reminding you to do nagging you about, etc?
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:31 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

If I'm reading you right, you've felt somewhat isolated where you are in addition to not having room for hobbies and projects. Given that, I would lean toward option C since you will have a large space somewhat to yourself part of the time and company on a part-time basis as well. The 40% reduction in your rent could be saved to make another move easier if you eventually decide to move again, or to save toward buying a car.
posted by summerstorm at 2:35 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd immediately pass on C. Roommates are more trouble than they're worth, and add a level of instability to your life you probably dont need if you can afford not too. What if they turn out to be a nightmare? What if they want to move out, are you now on the hook to find a new roomie? What if they want to bring in their SO? Start raising peacocks in the yard? You get the idea... If you want more social interactions go do that, dont bring in roommates to solve that aspect of your life unless financially necessary. And it sounds like it's not (you're looking at duplexes in SF on your own) so... skip that.

Out of A or B, I'd pick A. That extra room is so useful, and the shorter commute is huge.
posted by cgg at 2:41 PM on November 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

I don't think you'll wind up with room to spread out for projects OR guests with option C. If roommate winds up with a partner who is either around a lot or they start cooking, this will eliminate one of the good things about the place.

I live near but not right on top of a train that rocks my bed when it comes through (and sounds the horn a lot) and it's weird how I can often sleep through it. The last train is at about 1:30 and the earliest is about 10:30 am and those usually bookmark my sleep. Otherwise I'd 100% go for a place that had more neat features.

That said, I think A gives you 1) close to work 2) extra space. Might be worth thinking how likely you are to keep this job, and thinking of things that might help you be less isolated in your new place. Five miles is really nice and close to work and I think that alone would give you more time freedom in terms of doing a lot of other things.
posted by jessamyn at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I used to live right near train tracks in the Chicago area (freight + amtrak + light rail). If the windows were closed I barely noticed after the first couple weeks. When the windows were open at night, I noticed much more.
posted by kbuxton at 3:16 PM on November 11, 2019

I should clarify that while I've generally had good experiences with roommates, I am old and haven't had a "roommate" in like 20 years. People who have had bad roommates will probably be biased against them. And it's tough to judge whether a roommate is good for you as I know very little about either you or your potential roommate. So while I think they're generally nice, it's very fair to say that sometimes they're really terrible.
posted by GuyZero at 5:00 PM on November 11, 2019

Tricky. My personal choice would be A, but I see the case for C. You might try making a weighted pro/con list in a spreadsheet (give all of the factors a score in terms of how important they are to you, and then give each of the apartments a score for those factors, e.g noise=3 out of 5 or whatever in terms of importance, and Palo Alto gets a 2 out of 10 for noise, etc, and then multiply). Then you end up with a total score for each apartment based on what matters most to you.
posted by pinochiette at 5:27 PM on November 11, 2019

Thanks all for your insight! Some new developments since I posted this 4.5 hours ago: Option B was poached from under me by someone willing to pay 3 months' rent upfront (?!) and Potential Roomie expressed some of his own second thoughts about Option C, so I went with Option A in the end. The landlords for A seem to be decent people and were willing to be flexible on my lease start date despite having multiple other applicants, so I'm feeling pretty good about this. Marking as resolved now, and looking forward to having the option to bike to work :)
posted by btfreek at 5:43 PM on November 11, 2019 [14 favorites]

A was going to be my suggestion: because it's closer to work, and I have a soft spot for that Downtown Sunnyvale/Koreatown/Mission Santa Clara area. It's sprawly but there are lovely bits too.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:21 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

oneirodynia, feel free to memail me any recs you have ;)
posted by btfreek at 7:00 PM on November 11, 2019

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