the thing about taos…

Taos, NM is a beautiful and very weird town. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a desert but it’s fertile, it’s flat and expansive but it’s mountainous, it’s wealthy and it’s poor, it’s ancient and it’s new. There are cacti amid aspens and horny toads and rattle snakes amid elk and wild horses.

The history of the town is what drew me in. From the second we rolled in I’ve felt the ancient spirits of the land walking alongside the living. A place this mystical and magical can’t be ignored. People say the mountain invites you in or spits you out, perhaps it’s really the spirits that make the final decision. I’m still trying to figure out if I’ve been welcomed or not. Jonathan, my husband, has been but I still feel like I’m trying to find my ground.

I’ve never known a place to test my faith in the universe and myself (and my marriage) quite like Taos. Working to live is a very real thing here, more so than I ever felt I experienced in North Carolina. Sure, I always worked several jobs there but it felt different. I’m still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it’s just because I’m in a different place as a person now than I was then. I wasn’t married, or trying to make a real go at a small business, or pregnant, or sober, well…I wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict, at least not toward the end of my North Carolina stay, but I certainly dabbled (in the alcohol, not the drugs. Well…okay, if we’re totally honest, drugs were a very real part of my life in my early 20s but non existent by my mid 20s. I digress…).

Perhaps I’m still in the adjustment period of starting over but I’ve never known it to take so long, which is why I’ve never had trouble with bouncing around every 3 years or so. We’ve now been here just over 2 years and I’m only just beginning to form real, solid friendships and feel like maybe this is a good place for me to be for awhile. Everywhere else I lived I was rather a social butterfly. I loved my time alone at home but I thrived having people over or being out and about. I always put myself out there and have no trouble introducing myself to people. But then again, all that is easy when you drink the juice and hang out at bars. I don’t really drink anymore, nor does Jonathan, so putting myself out there is a whole other thang…a very difficult thang.

And then there’s starting a family so, so far away from family. I’m so close to family and didn’t realize how much I loved being close until I wasn’t close anymore. I guess that’s the way it goes.

There certainly are a lot of question marks out here, and I suppose that’s what I mean when I say it tests my faith.

A big challenge has been finding a good quality of life while having to work so hard to survive out here.

Here the cost of living is so much higher than the average paycheck. There’s no possible way we could afford the life we have now if we didn’t have Jonathan’s income on top of mine, and both of our incomes are pretty low when you compare it to other towns of similar size. I would say that’s an okay trade in for living in such a beautiful place, but that’s not so. We have to work so much it’s hard to find time and energy to really, fully enjoy the beauty of where we live. Thankfully our house has some amazing views so we can at least look out the window…you know…when we’re actually home.

My day job is working as office manager and property manager for a local boutique real estate company and in the almost two years of working there I have come to see where this high cost of living vs. low income stems from. It wasn’t always this way. Jobs aren’t paying much better than they used to but the rental and real estate market is getting more competitive driving the prices higher and higher. Thanks to the sell of the Taos Ski Valley and its renovations as well as being featured in large publications such as Outside Magazine, New York Times Travel, Eddie Bauer editorial, and many more, Taos has been “put on the map” as a hot destination for the wealthy. What does this mean for the locals? (I’m not just talking about people like my husband and I, but the real Taosenos who have been here for centuries…the Hispanic families and Pueblo people.) It means wealthy folks (mostly from Texas, Oklahoma, and California) are rolling in and buying up the real estate to use as their vacation homes. What happens to the homes when they aren’t staying there? They aren’t going into the rental pool, but rather they are being turned into Air BnBs and vacation homes operated by Property/Vacation Management companies. Of course, to the owners of the home this makes sense. You can make a lot more money renting out your home for $150-250/night rather than renting it for a year, and this keeps the home more accessible for spontaneous visits from the owners. But, this also means it’s slim pickings for those of us who can’t afford to own and therefore have to rent. On top of that, most of the remaining homes that are available for long term renting are in pretty poor shape because the decent houses are being bought up. It also means you better be ready to fill out an application right then and there because there may be a couple dozen people also waiting to look at the same rental house. Beggars can’t be choosers if all you can afford is to rent, and you better be damn aggressive.

Our first house we rented here in Taos took us a month to find and although it was unique with a lot of character (as Taos homes generally are) it was old and cold and falling apart, and had a mice infestation (and was definitely haunted – that will be another post entirely). It didn’t take long before I realized we couldn’t stay there long term. The price was right at $750/mo but the cost to heat the place (and still never quite get it warm) was upwards of $3k for just about 5 months. Not to mention waking up with my lungs and nose full of dirt.

It took me 7 months of checking local listings for a new rental multiple times every single day before I found a house for rent in our budget that allowed pets and had at least two bedrooms (I need a room for my leather business studio). When we showed up early to look at it we were soon joined by several other folks who were ready right then and there to fill out the application and hand over money. We, however, didn’t have any of our references, etc. ready for the application. We had to race home and I emailed a long essay about why Jonathan and I are dream tenants to the landlord. Thankfully, they chose us. Was it really because of my charming expose on why we are fabulous? Not really. They actually chose us because we were the only applicants that were two people rather than a single person, therefore we brought two incomes to the table which is a lot more appealing to a landlord than just one income (I know this because I am a property manager). In other words, we just got lucky (or blessed by the Universe, which is the way I choose to look at it).

Now we have a baby on the way and you bet your britches I plan on living in this house until we can afford to buy our own – which is most likely many, many years from now if we decide to stay in Taos.

 

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