Okay...this is weird. And yet, interesting.
What I say is we need a good old-fashioned crusade! Fuckers.
After those few days up at someone's house near Grass Valley over Thanksgiving, and realizing that I'm actually going to get a job of some sort and therefore get to bank the cash left over from getting laid off, I've been more inspired to buy some kind of property I can play with: mainly as a place to go mellow on weekends, but then also as a place I could put a coal forge, a place we could do construction and farming experiments (some friends have been taking construction and permaculture classes), a place where we could bring a few dozen friends to have an outdoor party, and so on. I had some nice conversation with two of my friends yesterday, and things look okay as far as why we would want such a place and what we might do with it. While this is definitely a retreat/play kind of space, going in on it with other people means talking about things like "What do we do if someone offers us enough money to retire on?" (the answer is probably something like "Take the money and go buy Montana"). There are lots of mechanics of working out responsibilities and safeguards for money and equity, and on and on and on and on. I'd forgotten how deeply terrifying the whole thing is, and yet how alluring.
In talking about what kind of place to look for, I thought we had a compelling case for a property with even a problematic house on it (part of our intention is to learn stuff, so a fixer-upper is okay if it keeps the rain off). For starters, banks want a 20-30% down payment for unbuilt properties, but they'll take 10% if there's even a run-down shack on it--a nontrivial concern when properties out here cost $300,000 and up. And I'm amused by the things I don't want to learn by doing: a house on the property almost certainly means that someone else has already hassled with water, power, and a septic system, none of which I'm in a big hurry to deal with (I'm sure dealing with an already-installed system will give me all the pleasure and excitement I need).
And, of course, it could suck out all our investments and savings and leave us semi-ruined. Property values do go down, even in California and even over the course of a decade. It's not likely, but something to keep in mind. (I was just realizing that I have enough cash and investments to cover not only a down payment but also a year, maybe two, of mortgage payments, and also realizing how little I want to use my investments for a year of mortgage payments.) Much of the financial stuff amounts to a cash-flow problem more than anything else: coming up with the down payment, and then supporting the mortgage payment for the first year until you get the interest back on your taxes--and California mortgage payments typically seem to come out in the range of $3000/month.
I've updated the company comparison table, and given it a page of its own, since I'll keep updating it. I had brief moments of panic today, since Company A is on the verge of making me an offer but Company B is taking its sweet damn time, thinking about the commute to San Francisco and how, even if not driving, that could tweak my life; but then I remembered that at Company A, the engineers work from home 2 days a week. And 1 day a week at Company B--crap, how lucky could I get? So only doing the commute 3 days a week makes me feel better about the possibility that Company B may not get its shit together in a reasonable amount of time (later this week I will communicate to them that I have another offer pending from Company A, I have a strong interest in working at Company B, and I don't really want to wait indefinitely). Either way, I think I'm covered for a well-paying, interesting job with a flexible schedule that includes working from home, and precisely the kind of career move I wanted to make. So, sweet.
This week's fun possibility: my new job could pay me enough to support a mortgage payment. Rock.