Long commute causes buyer’s remorse: how gas prices are affecting life in the exurbs.

“Remorse goes to sleep during a prosperous period and wakes up in adversity.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Awhile back, a journalist was looking for stories from our readers experiencing buyer’s remorse in the wake of higher gas prices. He wanted to know if anyone bought a house in the exurbs when gas was 3 bucks a gallon and found themselves rethinking their decision now that the price is closer to $5.00.

When his colleague beat him to the punch with this article: Fuel Prices Shift Math for Life in Far Suburbs, I decided to print a story from one of our readers here instead. This comes from Addie Compton:

I bought my modest rowhouse in Baltimore in 2005 at the exact height of the real estate boom here. My home is in southwestern Baltimore city and I work in a DC suburb in Prince George’s County. It’s an hour commute, when traffic is moving well. And it is all highway commuting. My girlfriend works in DC proper - I drop her off at the subway before going in to work myself. There is a subway stop near where I work. However it is a 2 hour train ride with several transfers (from commuter rail to two different subway lines). I’m not willing to do that.

I would have loved to live closer. I looked in DC and the Maryland suburbs. However, there was literally nothing in my price range when I started looking. I bought my 3 bedroom, 1 bath house for $150,000. (I won’t live in Virginia.) Everything was $200,000 and above - usually much, much above. And this includes marginal neighborhoods with bad schools and significant crime problems. (Prices have not dropped much here. There is still very little available for $150,000 or below.)

So I started looking in Baltimore city. I had lived in the city 10 years before and loved it. I still really enjoy Baltimore. My choices three years ago were buy in Baltimore or not buy at all and continue renting.

I don’t exactly have buyer’s remorse. I do have carbon guilt for all the carbon my five days a week, two hours a day driving. Otherwise, I live in a small house in a city, eat local as much as possible, recycle and so on. My impact, barring driving, is less than the average American. And while the high gas prices are brutal, we make enough that they are not a crushing burden.

However, my girlfriend and I cannot move until we have a significant down payment. Much of that down payment will come from the sale of our current home. And while I did not overpay for my home, it is not appreciating quickly anymore. We could sell it right now for $150,000 or slightly more ($155,000 or so). (During the craziness, Zillow.com rated it as worth over $200,000 which I knew was inflated.) I need my home to be worth $180,000 or more in order to have enough for a down payment to move into the DC metro market.

I don’t regret buying the house but I’m not happy about my carbon footprint. And I’m stuck.
Apparently, homeowners don’t have the lock on regret. Our own Jennifer indicated she has renter’s remorse after they chose to rent in Silver Spring (a suburb of DC), though she works in the District. With gas costs, she notes commuting has become a major expense.

What’s next? Christopher B. Leinberger at The Atlantic Monthly declares the suburbs could become The Next Slum by suggesting that:
The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life may turn today’s McMansions into tomorrow’s tenements.

So what do you think? At one time, did the longer commute seem a worthwhile trade off and now it’s killing your monthly budget? Are you changing your lifestyle to accommodate this added expense? Please feel free to share your experience over at Queercents.