Housing Prices, or Why to Get the Hell Out of California

Having given my notice at work I find my motivation to continue working hard waning each day. In an effort to do things other than work at work I decided to compare the housing market between Salem, OR and San Diego, CA. While I already had a good feeling for what the difference was since I spend a lot of time monitoring various housing markets, I found this comparison pretty interesting, and if you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, you might find it interesting as well.

I decided to look up what kind of housing you could buy for $300,000-475,000 in San Diego, CA. As you may have guessed, most of the options in that price range, especially at the low end were condos. The first single family home (SFH) that showed up (when sorted by price) was this gem:

Note that besides the lovely condition (read with sarcasm), it is a whopping 663 sq ft (more sarcasm).

The next SFH which comes up is this one, which is somehow even smaller than the last one!


Again, does it even count as a house when it’s this small? At least this one has a large lot


Still tiny, but at least it’s clean and up to date inside. Notice the emphasis on how rare it is to find a SFH in San Diego for under $350,000. And the outside/lot leaves a lot to be desired…


This house is kind of cool in a weird/wacky way, but now we’re down to 472 sq ft! For a house!!

The SFH’s are rare in this price range and sprinkled amongst condos and apartments. The few that do exist continue in this manner of tiny home, rarely exceeding 650 sq ft. At this point I began to wonder if I would find a SFH that measured even 1,000 sq ft before hitting the $475,000 price cap I had imposed on my search.

Aha, I found one!

Although they claim this house is in San Diego, I’m skeptical. This looks more like a house I would expect to see South of the border.

Now, lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, here is the first SFH that actually seems… livable


For $400k, this doesn’t seem terrible, though the lack of pictures makes it hard to tell.

Holy moly! I finally found one. Now here’s a house that I would actually consider moving into, and at $425,000 we could even afford it. Though it is a little depressing to know that all that money is buying a house that is only 1100 sq ft.

Between this last house and the $475,000 price cap there were actually a small handful of SFH’s which I would consider to be move in ready, and which got as big as 1700 sq ft. None of these houses had any real property to speak of, and I didn’t spend any time evaluating the safety of the neighborhoods, which in San Diego can actually vary quite a bit. So… that’s not terrible. My fiancee and I could certainly afford it, especially while we’re both working. But now, let’s compare home prices in Salem, OR.

Immediately you are confronted with a plethora of SFH’s, including this one which starts off the list. In excess of 2500 sq ft, and on nearly an acre of land. You may or may not like all the wood inside the house, but this house is in totally livable condition, far from the dilapidated slums that were to be found in the mid $300k price range in San Diego.

In fact, let’s do an apples to apples comparison. The first SFH I found in San Diego was listed at $315,000. For the same price, this is what you’ll get in Salem:


The first house I deemed livable in San Diego was listed at $390k. Here’s what you get in Salem for that price.


And for the final comparison, the first house I deemed to be something I would actually want to move into in San Diego was listed at $425k. Let’s see what that kind of money gets you in Salem.


A very nice home, and at 3400 sq ft, probably more space than we would ever need. I’ll stop here because this is getting a little long winded, but I would like to point out one more thing which is difficult to convey through the text here. In San Diego, I had to struggle to find even those few homes which were in decent condition in my searched price range. In Salem, there were pages and pages of results with very cool and nice looking houses within that range; there is absolutely no shortage of affordable and nice housing there.

This doesn’t even touch on the the other fiscal benefits of living in Oregon versus California such as no sales tax, property taxes and assessment fees which are lower in absolute dollar amounts, and lower prices on seemingly everything including fuel (about a $1 per gal price differential) and vehicle registration (Oregon charges $80 every two years vs. the ~$300/yr I paid in California).

I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are certain intangibles which may explain the price differential. San Diego generally has more exciting stuff happening and more places of business to frequent than Salem does. There’s also that sunshine/lack of rain, and beaches thing that people seem to be so crazy about. But I don’t surf and when I go to the beach, I prefer a setting like Sunset Cliffs where I sit somewhere scenic and look at… the scenery, as opposed to laying out in the sun and playing volleyball or whatever. On the other hand, I do enjoy snowboarding, camping where there are big trees and bodies of water that don’t contain salt or large waves, and mountain biking. So, I think this is the right move.

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