Thursday, April 29, 2010

Counting our (mixed) blessings…

We are still very excited about Paul’s one-year domestic assignment but it came with a couple of unexpected frustrations mixed blessings. I thought I’d share our experience because it may be helpful for new officers bidding on DC positions. It has its plusses but there are some practical things to consider, especially if you don’t already own a home in the DC area or have school-age children.

First, because Paul is no longer technically in training, we have to move out of our temporary housing unit and find a new place to live. State gave us exactly a week to do that. Yeah, one week! Some realtors and apartment managers laughed at me when I called them. Not cool!

So, I have been running around like a chicken with it's head cut off trying to find a place. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be an issue as there is a myriad of housing options in the DC area but we have a child already enrolled in a Falls Church school and we didn't want to move her again 5 weeks after we moved her from her school in FL. Falls Church is a very small town and its own school district. It’s not part of Fairfax, and it’s not part of Arlington. It has the reputation of having fantastic schools. We are also almost at the end of the school year but not quite, so no one is moving. Needless to say, the pickins were extremely slim.

We were hoping to rent a nice little house or a townhouse in the neighborhood between Oakwood and the metro – fat chance! No houses, no townhouses for rent in our school district. I called every realtor that had a For Sale sign asking if the owner would consider renting – nothing. I called condo complexes – no rentals. There were only a handful of apartment complexes in our small area of interest. I called them all. Only one had something close to what we needed within our price range.

This is probably a good place to mention locality pay. Because Paul got a DC assignment and we can’t live in the temporary housing complex (Oakwood) provided by the State Department, he will get what’s called locality pay, which is 25% on top of his salary and helps off-set housing costs. This was very good news for us as we are still paying the mortgage on our house in FL and I have yet to find a job. After adding the locality pay we ended up with a housing budget of about $2,000 per month. When we first ran the numbers, I was excited. See, we came from Florida and there you can get a lot of house for $2,000 a month. In DC – not so much. We looked at a couple of very nice complexes that had beautiful two-bedrooms but at $2,500+ per month they were out of our price range, so we had to settle for the one remaining option we could afford – Merril House apartments.

It’s an old complex that has seen better days but our apartment is a three bedroom, so we will have more space for visitors – yey! The kitchen is small with old appliances and limited cabinet space but it will have to do. The bathrooms are pretty dated too but otherwise the place is not bad. It’s pretty roomy and there are a lot of closets. We also get new windows, new linoleum and new carpet, oh my!  We are happy about the new windows because that means energy efficiency but linoleum’s not my thing and I am not a big fan of carpet because it gets nasty and there’s really no way to clean it well. Plus I am not sure which is better: older carpet with nastiness built in or the new carpet smell that doesn’t go away for months. We are also going to get a washer and dryer - in our apartment- for an extra $65 per month. And we’ll have a bright red accent wall in the living room! I just keep telling myself “It’s the little things that make all the difference.”

As far as Nia is concerned the new place is terrific because it has a pool and a koi fish pond. We are thrilled about those too because we will get to use a pool that we don’t have to maintain for a change and enjoy pet koi fish that we don’t have to buy or take care of – awesome!

Anyway, we signed the lease tonight and are moving (again) on Saturday. So we won’t be homeless after all!

The second mixed blessing is that we will get all of our household effects (aka HHE), so we will get to use our furniture, pots, pans, plates and glasses, sheets, towels, books, toys, etc while we are in DC. The only catch is that it may take a while.  The earliest is a week but it could take a month or more.

That is a little less than optimal because as you may recall, when we moved out of our house in FL, we packed pretty much everything but our clothes and some urgently-needed items. Everything else went in long-term storage because we were told that we were moving into a completely furnished apartment with very limited storage.

Now we have to move into a completely unfurnished one and are looking at spending a week to a month (0r two) with no furniture.  I mean no beds, no table, no chairs, no sofa, no microwave. Not fun!

We did bring our TV, not because it was an urgently-needed item but because the movers couldn’t guarantee that it would survive the move, so we got that going for us. And an inflatable mattress. So I guess we are going back to the mattresses. Unless, I take a trip to IKEA, where I may find solutions to some of my problems…and Swedish meatballs…

But wait, there’s more - we may also be incommunicado (or should it be incommunicadi because there are three of us?) for a couple of weeks because Verizon FIOS said it would take them that long to connect our cable/internet. So, if you see me hanging around the Oakwood parking lot or playground with my laptop in tow, you’ll know why.


  1. Oh boy. That's like Survivor, FSO edition. Think of it like camping. Just no campfires on the new carpets!

    Here's hoping for a FAST delivery of your HHE.

  2. yummm, swedish meatballs!!!! :)
    good luck and remember to breathe!!!

  3. oh, goodness, before you got to the 3rd para I was thinking you would say you couldn't find anywhere to live!
    Thank goodness. Frankly it sounds great to me- a pool for ~$2k!! But hey I'm from NYC where things are even more $$ than DC.

    Hope your HHE arrives really soon. But ikea swedish meatballs sure are tasty. Maybe if you post on Livelines or FS parent, local families would lend you some pots/pans or stuff like that so you don't have to buy things for such a short time? FSOs seem to be so helpful like that.

  4. It's Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  5. I only just found your blog today (and added a link to my blogroll at, and I so wish I had found it sooner. While I am not sure where I live would have fir your school needs, there is a place in my condo complex for rent. 2BR, 2.5 ba, on a bus line, 1.5 miles from FSI and 4.5 from Main State. I think he charges around $1900 a month. And I'd have loved to have had another FS family in the complex.

  6. I feel your pain...wish it could have been easier for you. Happy to read that you found a place though!

  7. It really does seem like State needs to figure out a better way to deal with local hires and those taking a first post in DC. Glad you did find a place though. And remember, you'll be bidding on your next post soon and looking forward to better housing in a year!

  8. Daniela, Congratulations (?) on the DC assignment. My fiancee did the same back in November and she has enjoyed it so far.

    I wanted to let you know that your listing in the livelines links page is not formatted properly, making the link not "clickable." This is because the address is listed as "http://" instead of just "" (only one instance of "http://" ). Minor issue, but perhaps one worth fixing so the link is clickable :)

    Also, craigslist is a fantastic resource for cheap, temporary furniture if you don't mind driving around a bit. Just look at it as a good way to get to know the area.

  9. Thank you everyone for being so supportive!

    Digger, thanks for visiting! Love your blog! Even with the internet we still don't have perfect information. Wish I had known about that condo because it sounds perfect. I am getting used to our new place and it's only a year, so we'll be alright.

    Miles, thanks for pointing out the problem with my blog's url on livelines. I have fixed it. And yes I used craigslist but couldn't find what I needed there in the short amount of time I had. I do love craigslist though.

  10. We miss your updates! How's the new apartment treating you?

  11. Hello?
    How are things working out for you and the family? Haven't heard anything in a while...

    I hope all is well.


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