The other day my husband was discussing our progress of saving for a down payment with his mother, my mother-in-law. Now, my mother-in-law holds a PhD in Business Management, specifically International Student Affairs, or something like that. She is quite knowledgable, or I would assume so based on all of her education. She was concerned about our progress on our down payment. However, my husband explained that saving 20% of $250,000 is difficult and takes a while. Her comment went something like this, “Oh, you don’t need to buy a nice home for your first home.” My husband tried, again, to explain to her, as he often has to do with his family in general, that a “starter home” in a Los Angeles suburb starts at $250,000.

We’ve tried many times to explain to family members living in other, more affordable, states that homes in California are expensive compared with the rest of the nation. Somehow, even when we browse realtors windows when family visits, it just doesn’t sink in. They think we are being “picky” and won’t settle for a small, starter home. So, my goal in this post, is to explicitly show with graphs and examples, that we’re not exaggerating, or being too picky when explaining that starter homes really do start at $250,000, and that’s not in a prime neighborhood.

I’ll begin with a city comparison from I love comparing cities to see where the deals are, and the comments left on this site are very insightful as well. First, I chose to compare Mesa, AZ, where my husband’s family resides, and Los Angeles. Of course, I live in a suburb of Los Angeles, and not directly in the city, but a few of my examples will show this initial chart isn’t that far off the mark. I chose to compare only the housing. However on a side note, Mesa is less expensive in all areas.

Mesa, AZ compared to Los Angeles, CA housing costs
Mesa, AZ compared to Los Angeles, CA housing costs

Notice that the percentage of people renting homes in Los Angeles, something my husband and I do, is 33%  higher than in Mesa, AZ. This is, of course, due to the fact that so many people cannot afford to buy their own homes. Where as in Mesa, AZ, homes are so affordable that it doesn’t make much sense to rent. I also noticed, looking at this graph, that Mesa’s houses cost $25,000 less than the national average. So, my in-laws live in a very inexpensive housing market. My mother-in-law’s comment begins to make more sense to me now. Graphs are great visual aids!

I then decided to also look at for specific sale listings to get a better idea of how our specific communities’ prices differ as well. I chose a house that looked similar to my mother-in-law’s in the Mesa area. Actually, I have to say that most of the houses in Mesa, AZ look the same to me, so this task wasn’t very difficult.

A Mesa House Very Similar to My Mother-in-Laws House
A Mesa House Very Similar to My Mother-in-Law's House

This cute home is under $200,000, and it’s a large 1,643 sq ft., well large to my standards (see previous post about Small Houses Rock if you’re interested!) It also appears nicely landscaped for the desert terrain. (I really do wish builders would stop featuring the garage as the prominent focus of the house! Drives me nuts.)

Next, I searched for a home in my neighborhood that we could actually afford, and this price is really stretching our budget. We originally budgeted $250,000.

This house is just around the corner from where we live.
This house is just around the corner from where we live.

This is a home around the corner from where I live. I think it is priced a little high for our neighborhood, especially since it is under 1,000 sq. ft. Again, this is one example of many that I could find on Zillow that shows that you get much less in a Los Angeles suburb than in Mesa. According to what Zillow had listed, it looks as if the prices are rising a bit in my area. However, a close informant (a manager at a bank) mentioned to us that there are a slew of foreclosures that will take place in the beginning of next year. So, we may see prices decline at the first of the year.

Sometimes, my husband’s creative ideas sound enticing when I search Zillow. But, we’re still pursuing our goal and are focusing on becoming home owners within the year.


  1. Susan Tiner Reply

    Little house, I’m so impressed that you’re sticking to your guns re: the 20% down payment. I like your husband’s offbeat ideas. What about moving in with family for awhile to save the remaining funds? Also, is there any chance you could offer a lower price on that house near you? I agree it does seem way over priced.

    • Thanks Susan,
      Yes, his off beat ideas are interesting. We may have to start thinking about them more seriously to get that 20% saved!

      thanks for the comment-
      Little House

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