'Locked Out' Part 4: Commuter's Remorse

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(Tracy, CA)
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Michael Schrager is looking for a house. Real estate agent Dave Konesky is showing him an older one story tract home in an established neighborhood in the San Joaquin County town of Tracy. Konesky points out that in lieu of air conditioning, the house has a large, powerful fan.  

Schrager already has a house in Manteca, about a dozen miles away, which he’s going to sell. It’s relatively new, with plenty of room, the latest appliances andcentral air conditioning -- considered a necessity during sweltering Valley summers.  Why would Schrager want to spend 400-thousand dollars on an older, smaller home in Tracy that doesn’t have central air?  "Because it’s about as close as I can get to my office without paying a million dollars and it’s closer than the house I’m living at the moment. It’s also an investment. Let’s face it the way these prices are going up, this will probably be my house until I retire."

Schrager is a sales representative for an irrigation supply company and his office is in Livermore.  Most of his clients are in the Bay-area.  Schrager bought his house about a year ago. He says it quickly became clear his commute would be an endurance test. Livermore isn’t far from Manteca “as the crow flies,” but during peak drive times, Schrager says it seems light years away. "This should be 20 minutes from Manteca to my office when there’s no traffic out there. It takes me over an hour easily during say between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning and heck anytime after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon right up until 6:30." 

Schrager makes his commute to the Bay Area each day along with about 20-thousand other Central Valley residents, according to data from the Modesto-based Great Valley Center. President Carol Whiteside says these commuters are spending far more time in their cars than in their dream homes. "Most of our drivers are driving to the Bay-area, about eighty percent are driving to the Bay area. We have subdivisions in our communities that the police call ghost subdivisions. And that was simply reference the fact that people left before dawn in the morning and didn’t return until after dark in the evening."  

For years, Bay Area residents have been moving to the Central Valley where they could afford bigger homes. Places like Modesto, Manteca and Stockton saw growing numbers of home owners who worked in the Bay Area. But a reverse trend is emerging. Real estate agent Dave Konesky says many are finding the drive is just too taxing.  "A lot of people that have moved to those outreaches now are realizing that it’s too far, it’s too crazy. We see some people moving back to Tracy or Livermore trying to cut that commute down."

Unfortunately, Konesky says some Bay Area returnees are finding prices have nearly doubled since they left, and like Schrager, they’re forced to make compromises to move back. Schrager is moving to Tracy, which he can afford. A few miles away, just over the Altamont pass, home prices are double or triple.

 Michael Schrager isn’t sure whether he’ll buy the fixer-upper in Tracy that has no air conditioning -- but he does know he’s had enough of the long drives each day. "I’d rather be home or I’d rather be working making money."  
If he does buy the home, Schrager expects he could purchase a new central air conditioning system with the money saved on his commute.