A visit to Southern California wouldn't be complete without self-torture by real estate. I've seen two-bedroom, one-bath houses advertised at over $800K. How about one-bedroom condos for $300K? Or maybe that "starter home" for $500K? Let's not forget the studio for $200K.* Oi. "I'm never, nevvverrr going to be able to move back to California," I wail. ("Not unless we give you a house," my mother comments. "We don't have a house to give her," my father points out. "Right. You're not coming back to California.") Yes, in upstate NY, we've got $800K houses--it's just that they're 4000 sq. ft. mansions on 6 acres with horse barns and an in-ground pool. Even a $200K house is one serious chunk of real estate. My own house would easily bring over $500K in CA (more if I managed to miraculously transplant the .29 acre lot along with it); the price I paid for it wouldn't even buy a semi-collapsed garage out here.
While I agree that I, as a singleton, enjoy considerably more mobility than the average academic couple, there's one catch: mobile in what direction, exactly? Given average salaries for bottom-rung associate professors, I couldn't afford to buy a house in any major city--or, indeed, many minor cities. For that matter, I couldn't afford to buy a condo in many major cities; Chicago is one of the few cities that the books** and I could probably swing (she says, looking wistfully in Chicago's direction). Heck, there are cities where even renting would be out of the question. I mention this because Chris Barnett's recent column about money presumed families, and while singletons vs. couples sniping is one of those things up with which I will not put, I think it's important to remember that a single academic's mobility is a slightly illusory phenomenon.*** It's not as though the landlord will cut the rent in half, let alone the mortgage company.
*--I know, from personal experience, that it's possible to fit 3,000 books into a studio apartment. Of course, it takes all available wall space, the closets, and a bunch of bookcases in the middle of the floor, but it can be done. 5,000 books, though, stretches the available space a bit, although I suppose it could be done if I built library stacks and eliminated all furniture except for a futon. Still, now that I'm almost 34, I fear that I've become too accustomed to niceties like sofas and chairs to make this a viable option.
**--I've suggested to the books that they might consider paying part of the mortgage--which would be only fair, since I bought the house for them--but they've remained strangely silent on the matter.
***--Bitch Ph.D., by contrast, noted the problem.