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Everyone wants something different when searching for a new home but my experience so far has been that I didn’t have a very good idea, when I started, of what that something was relative to what was available to me. There are many more factors to be considered now than when I started doing this a couple of weeks ago, some of which are quite shocking to me. One I discussed yesterday as, You pay a big price to live in Berkeley, explored just how wild price variations can be for similar houses in different locations. As much as twenty to one. 20 to 1.

Another factor I never thought very much about are the risks of being in some particular location. A given location might not seem particularly dangerous but when you think about a lifetime risk of exposure to some seemingly momentary problem with a slight but constant danger it becomes a catastrophic risk. For example, being directly on top of a know major earthquake fault isn’t a problem if you are just walking down the street one time because it’s a few minutes of one in a million risk. But if you and your family are going to be living there almost constantly for the rest of your life the risks become closer to fifty-fifty of being involved in a catastrophe and losing everything you possess including your life and your loved ones. So moving into a know risk area becomes unacceptable if it can easily be avoided. Some friends of mine recently move away from a known danger area into a slightly safer one only to have a crime committed right under their window. Had they checked out the Neighborhood Scout ratings they could have moved into a similar habitation a mile away with much safer crime statistics.

What I am saying here is that something which seems like a small problem in the short run might become a really big one at any instant in the long one. So when you are considering a new place think into the future a reasonable amount of time that you will probably living there and try and see how you will have been forced to confront the circumstances. Think about the continuous risks which might happen and also what you will be like in five years and how you would be able to cope at that time. It is easy to predict a few years but twenty years requires some thought and might be a bit more unknowable but even there you can make some estimates. For example, you will be twenty years older and will have the problems associated with a person of that age. In five years you will probably be just about the way you presently are but not in twenty; in twenty you will be different.

In my present mode of thinking I wouldn’t consider living in a Neighborhood Scout crime rating area below 50. It’s not worthy of consideration. Why take the risk when there are plenty of places readily available with very little risk, so I am looking for the few places with scores better than 90.

There are other easily avoided problems besides living in a crime infested neighborhood. Usually a serious problem for a local area is well known and the local people just ignore it like the people here in Berkeley ignore the earthquake hazard and the firestorm hazard and the crime hazard. But, it’s impossible to know a date for some potential catastrophe hitting you personally and it is far better to use Nassim Nicholas Taleb’Black Swan approach of preparing for the likelihood of an event rather than  attempting to time the event and duck it at the last moment. Talab would suggest to position yourself in such a way that the problem can’t affect you or at least is very unlikely to affect you very much and then make what general preparations you can for a backup plan just in case it does happen. With that approach you can make general preparations which would cover a great number of particular problems and their contingencies instead of just worrying about a particular problem. Take earthquakes for example:

Chart of where earthquakes are to be expected in the Western United States
Earthquake Hazards in Western United States from USGS

It would be much better if one could live outside of the brown zones on this map. Unfortunately a high percentage of people and employment is located within these seismic zones and so one should plan to live to the side of the fault as much as possible. A couple of miles will make a big difference especially if the house is on rock solid ground and is brought up to earthquake code. Go to the USGS Natural Hazards Gateway for a complete list of this type of problem. Another thing to consider for long term home security is a terrorist attack. The site of such an attack is probably limited to very high profile locations like Washington DC and New York City and spectacular public events like the Superbowl or New Years at Times Square so it is very easy to simply avoid these sites except for visits. Don’t worry about WWIII or Doomsday because you probably can’t do anything very likely to be successful and the stress of the worry would probably cause more harm than good.

Explore your housing options for at least a month before jumping off.