Homefinding As A Skill

Viewpoint Telescope

We’re going to have a bit of a break from geek culture and career-specific advice to focus on a life skill that’s kind of high on my list. It all has to do with the rent and living.

I just got my lease renewal – and my yearly rent increase – I had a lot to think about. Where I was living. Where I might live. Potential roommates. How the hell high was the rent going to get in Silicon Valley?*

I think about this a lot as I’m sort of an accidental expert in living in Silicon Valley. I went through a phase where various current and potential roommates kept changing, and every change meant I had to research another place to live. I ended up learning a lot about locations and economics.

Then people just kept asking me advice due to that knowledge, so now it’s kind of “my thing.”

So now I watch co-workers struggle with commutes. My younger friends battle higher rents. New apartments pop up in Silicon Valley, hinting at future changes and buildings (and price increase).

Then it struck me. I talk a lot about skills here, about job skills, resume skills, and financial skills.

One thing you really need? Is Homefinding skill.

The Stakes

You may not live in an area where rising rent, changing public transport, and other issues aren’t affecting you. Though I’m guessing if you’re like the usual geeky audience you either are experiencing those in whole or in part. If not, you might be surprised when you do.

As I often note, relocation is something we all have to consider in our lives and careers. Moreso we progeeks who have to consider the value of specific geographic locations because the jobs are there.**

Just consider how where and how you live affects your life:

* Cost – Sort of obvious, but the question is really if you get your money’s worth. Where I live saves me $50 on a gas a month due to convenient location (as well as time driving), which is enough to take into consideration.

* Commute time and transport –  An extra ten minutes to or from work may not matter for one day, but it adds up. The method of commute matters as well – a train isn’t a bus isn’t a car.

* Access to work – A moved office, a changed contract, or the need for a job search can make you appreciate the need for access to work very quickly.

* Access to amenities – I didn’t realize how important this was until I lived near a shopping center and could go to a grocery store at 2am. How fast can you take care of the basics of life from where you are?

* Stability – Is the place you live in reliable, or is it going to change on you?

* Socializing – Can you easily get out with people like yourself – something my friends have experienced in the negative in their moves.

Now, as I look over the years, I can really see the sheer stakes in being good, at well, finding a living place.

It really is a skill.

One a lot of us are probably bad at.

Not So Surprising

Think of how many of us got good advice on finding an apartment. Did anyone sit down and teach us the best way to use a bus route? Ever shopped for a home (if you’re lucky you don’t have to do i very often). Did we factor in all the issues of our location before a move?

Probably not. Learning what makes a good place to live and how to find it is picked up by trial and error, and sometimes the various errors can feel like a trial.

So then I began thinking of how we can get better at it. And I look back on my own experiences in the hope it can help you.

Kind of. They’re not exactly coherent.

Steve’s Vague Lessons on Homefinding

So this may not be the most geeky subject, but I do want to get t out of my head. So I figured I’d outline just how I learned this skill and hope it helps you. These are the basic “subskills” and how to find them.

Learn To Budget – The first thing you need to do is know how to do a home budget. If you don’t you’re already pretty hosed because you won’t know what you can afford for rent or calculate the tradeoffs.

The best way to do this? Learn to do it. THere’s some good books.

Develop Goals – Relocating is not just finding a place to live. It’s about meeting certain goals. An hour commute may be OK, a nearby gas station may not be negotiable. Review your goals in finding a place.

The best way I found for this is to basically brainstorm goals and rank them. Keep doing this as you move around and evaluate your living situation.

Learn To Research – There’s probably a plethora of ways to find places to live, from websites to publications. Learn them. Learn how to find what you need reliably.

To do this, simply, do it. If you’re considering a move in the not-so-near future do some sample apartment searches. Learn how to find things.

(And no, it’s often harder than you may think. One lesson I learned is to pay attention to management companies as their disadvantages came with the advantage of consistency).

Learn To Run The Numbers – THis is a real critical point – learn how to turn your Homefinding into a series of relatable goals that use numbers. THis makes for easy comparison.

Sure there’s things like price, but there’s also utilities, distance to a given location, distance from an airport, and so on. Those goals you set earlier? They’ll help you do this.

There’s also helpful numbers like the Walkscore that do some of the work for you.

I even developed a quick ranking system for my last relocation that let me rate places simply and come up with the best score. OK that may be excessive, but it was an important move.

Share The Data – Share what you find with others. Why? Because it not only helps them out it helps you get better by seeing if you can help them. It helps you think.

Keep Notes – My past relocation drama led to me to keep a handy spreadsheet I can update when needed of convenient places to live. Certainly handy to help people out.


Now this may seem excessive . . . though I’m sure some of you in business areas like Toronto or Silicon Valley or Boston are nodding. After all you’re talking developing an entire skillset over time (I find it takes either a few moves or about two really good solid evaluations of needs to get good). Seems excessive right?

Not quite.

See there’s one more factor in being a good Homefinder and that’s knowing your area.

Because you take the time to research and rethink where you live, you learn about trends and patterns. Because you know rates you can evaluate that rent increase. Because you know transport you can move if an emergency comes up.

I’ve found the “knowing” part is almost as valuable as the finding part. I’m now aware of long and short-term trends. I have my ears out for traffic changes. By learning to look for a place to live I learned my area.

Its probably a bit like being a homeowner, but with the realization that I may have to move a few miles than stay where I am.

Definite Benefits

So I recommend getting good at homefinding if you at all may need it. THe lessons above will help.

Remember it’s not just being able to find a place. Its knowing your area.

Because if you’re anything like me, Knowing seems to be more than half the battle when someone builds a new trainline or raises your rent . . . and the last thing you need is your living space disrupted.


– Steven Savage

* Answer, “Too Damn”

** I like to have a plan for where to go if economic/weather/disaster issues affect where I live. For what I do and how I live, I was able to identify only 4-6 areas that fit me.