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Housing Affordability for an Entry-Level Intern Architect

Congrats, young intern! You've finished your grueling professional degree in architecture, and now it's time to look for your first full-time job in the business, rent an apartment, and become very close friends with NCARB as you log your hours and study for the registration exams.

In the spirit of my previous thread, here are your housing options in the same 15 cities, based on the following assumptions:

1) You're making the average annual base pay for an Intern 1 according to the 2015 AIA Compensation Report. Statewide figures are used if numbers for a specific city aren't available.

2) Any overtime pay, if you're lucky enough to get paid overtime, is not included in your housing budget.

3) You're single with no kids, and don't want to live with roommates.

4) Your maximum monthly rent is based on 1/36th of your annual gross pay in all cities except New York, where landlords typically require your salary to be at least 40 times your monthly rent. Security deposits and any broker fees are not included.

Sources: 2015 AIA Compensation Report, craigslist.org

Job description from the Compensation Report:

And here's what that gets you:

Cincinnati, OH
Annual Base Pay: $39,800
Max. Rent: $1106

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Downtown
Commute time: 8 minutes (walk to Fountain Square)

(I actually lived in this building in 2015-2016. Nothing special, but reasonably clean and quiet in a good location.)

https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/apa/6044796216.html

Asheville, NC
Annual Base Pay: $40,100
Max. Rent: $1114

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Five Points
Commute time: 11 minutes (bus to downtown)

https://asheville.craigslist.org/apa/6023579598.html

Jacksonville, FL
Annual Base Pay: $40,400
Max. Rent: $1122

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Downtown
Commute time: 5 minutes (walk to Hemming Plaza)

https://jacksonville.craigslist.org/apa/6026583927.html

Chicago, IL
Annual Base Pay: $38,600
Max. Rent: $1072

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Lincoln Park
Commute time: 29 minutes (Red Line subway to State / Madison)

(This place is a little special to me, as it was where I got my first apartment as an undergrad, after leaving my parents' house in the suburbs. I paid $485 a month here for a studio in 1996. Sometimes the hot water and elevators even worked. Also, everybody in Chicago apparently has a friend who used to live in this building.)

https://chicago.craigslist.org/chc/apa/6042797160.html

Boston, MA
Annual Base Pay: $43,200
Max. Rent: $1200

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Jamaica Plain
Commute time: 25 minutes (Orange Line subway to Downtown Crossing)

https://boston.craigslist.org/gbs/fee/6025139798.html

Philadelphia, PA
Annual Base Pay: $41,300
Max. Rent: $1147

Shown here: 2 bed / 1 bath, East Falls
Commute Time: 27 minutes (Regional Rail to Market East)

https://philadelphia.craigslist.org/apa/5999280564.html

New York, NY
Annual Base Pay: $41,100
Max. Rent: $1028

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Commute Time: 43 minutes (R train subway to Lower Manhattan) 1 hour to Midtown

https://newyork.craigslist.org/brk/fee/6020561630.html

Los Angeles, CA
Annual Base Pay: $41,300
Max. Rent: $1147

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Culver City
Commute Time: 45 minutes (Expo Line light rail to 7th / Metro Center)

https://losangeles.craigslist.org/wst/apa/6040891022.html

Seattle, WA
Annual Base Pay: $43,100
Max. Rent: $1197

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Capitol Hill
Commute Time: 19 minutes (Link light rail to Pioneer Square)

https://seattle.craigslist.org/see/apa/6046833328.html

San Francisco, CA
Annual Base Pay: $48,900
Max. Rent: $1358

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Richmond, CA
Commute Time: 1 hour (BART subway to Union Square)

https://sfbay.craigslist.org/eby/apa/6034201281.html

Portland, OR
Annual Base Pay: $39,800
Max. Rent: $1106

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Goose Hollow
Commute Time: 7 minutes (Blue Line light rail to Pioneer Courthouse Square)

https://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/apa/6047366127.html

Denver, CO
Annual Base Pay: $39,900
Max. Rent: $1108

Shown here: Studio / 1 bath, Capitol Hill
Commute Time: 6 minutes (bus to downtown)

https://denver.craigslist.org/apa/6048400063.html

Minneapolis, MN
Annual Base Pay: $44,000
Max. Rent: $1222

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Marcy-Holmes
Commute Time: 16 minutes (bus to downtown)

https://minneapolis.craigslist.org/hnp/apa/6040832664.html

Atlanta, GA
Annual Base Pay: $42,900
Max. Rent: $1192

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Buckhead
Commute Time: 21 minutes (MARTA Gold Line subway to Peachtree Center)

https://atlanta.craigslist.org/wat/apa/6048059492.html

 
Mar 18, 17 9:56 pm

Biggest surprises: the pathetically small amount of money you make in NYC compared to the cost of housing. You can make more money in Minneapolis or Atlanta, and apparently live like a normal human being. Although Seattle has high rents, it's a much better situation if you're renting here vs. buying.

My next and final installment in this series: You've finally become a principal and have married somebody who makes roughly the same amount of money, and you're looking to buy a place. Stay tuned.

Mar 18, 17 10:06 pm

Also, a note about San Francisco's BART system and your transportation budget:

Most transit systems offer an unlimited-ride monthly pass that usually ranges about $70-100. In New York City it's about $115 and includes unlimited rides on the subway and buses throughout the city. Many employers include a transit pass as a perk, or at least let you buy a discounted pass on a pre-tax basis.

You're not so fortunate if you live way out in the Bay Area suburbs and commute into the city on BART each day. BART's fares are distance-based, and no monthly pass is offered. A one-way fare on BART from Richmond to Montgomery Street is $4.65. Multiplied over an average of 22 workdays per month, that's $204.60 in BART fares.

And since you're living way the hell out in Richmond, you probably also need a car for getting groceries, running errands, etc. The average cost of car ownership is $8698 per year, or $725 per month. So that adds up to about $930 in monthly transportation costs if you live in a Bay Area suburb and commute to work on BART in the city.

Mar 18, 17 10:26 pm
geezertect

These two threads are great.  They sure make Asheville look like a great place to land after graduation.  Cool craftsman style apt when young, and beautiful two story colonial when at mid career.  As far as the other cities are concerned, there isn't much of an improvement in life style after 15 years or so in the profession.  Pretty demoralizing.

Mar 18, 17 11:00 pm

I hated Asheville when I lived there as a kid, but I'd probably appreciate it much more now.

In the part of town where I lived, my best friend's back yard was adjacent to the property of noted landscape architect Doan Ogden, and me and my friends spent many hours exploring the extensive network of immaculately landscaped trails throughout the woods on his property, and we were even invited inside his nice mid-century house a couple times. I'd buy that property and move there in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.

I'm guessing architecture jobs in Asheville aren't exactly plentiful, though, right?

David Cole, AIA's comment has been hidden

I hated Asheville when I lived there as a kid, but I'd probably appreciate it much more now. In the part of town where I lived, my best friend's back yard was adjacent to the property of noted landscape architect Doan Ogden, and me and my friends spent many hours exploring the extensive network of immaculately landscaped trails throughout the woods on his property, and we were even invited inside his nice mid-century house a couple times.

archi_dude

Why wouldn't you want to live with roommates? I've had so much fun with all my roommates ever since college. And of course the plus is I've always lived walking distance to the beach and never paid more than $750/mo

Mar 18, 17 11:02 pm

Not everybody wants to live with roommates. I've had some great roommates and some truly terrible roommates over the years, but it shouldn't be the default living arrangement for a professional with an advanced degree if it isn't desired.

archi_dude

I agree but it's not about how advanced your degree is, you could have a doctorate in some angry studies and it wouldn't guarantee financial success. The question is are you providing value with your degree? A good looking functional building is great but honestly I feel as though most architects and drafters can achieve that. Are you providing a good looking functional building on a faster schedule, with less litigation and snags for a more economical price than another architect or a contractor with design services? If yes, then yeah you can charge for it. If not, then you are selling design skills only, thus, your services will remain a luxury expense and not a value expense and you will need to accept the fact that earning a middle class salary for a mostly art based service is pretty good.

archi_dude

I guess a less long winded response is dude, an intern is making 44k/yr painting sketch up models vs. business majors getting sucked into a black hole of excel spreadsheets, or enterprise rent-a-car "management" or cold call sales. Life ain't that bad.

archi_dude

I guess a less long winded response is dude, an intern is making 44k/yr painting sketch up models vs. business majors getting sucked into a black hole of excel spreadsheets, or enterprise rent-a-car "management" or cold call sales. Life ain't that bad.

I'm not sure what you're on about, but in roughly ten out of my 15 examples above, it's perfectly possible to have a reasonable quality of life on an intern's salary without living with roommates. If you want to see the difference having roommates makes in the other five cities, feel free to do your own research and post your own thread.

gruen

Great thread! Thanks David.

Mar 19, 17 6:58 am

David - I dated someone that lived in the Chicago building.

Mar 19, 17 1:03 pm
poop876

David,

my first condo was across the street from 444 St. James. I know quite a few people that lived in that building. I probably ran into you at some point on the street if not at Tin Lizzie! I loved living on that street!

Mar 20, 17 8:55 am
David Cole, AIA's comment has been hidden

Small world... I never hung out at Tin Lizzie, but when I wasn't flat-broke I was a regular

Small world... I never hung out at Tin Lizzie, but when I wasn't flat-broke I was a regular at a few other neighborhood spots like the Pasta Bowl, Granny's Pancake House up on Diversey, and the Duke of Perth. I have no idea how many of my old haunts are even still in business... Most of my favorite spots in Wicker Park have long since vanished.

senjohnblutarsky

I went much smaller with my entry level job.  I made less, which by these numbers would put me in the $972 range.  I lived in a 1300 sf 2br, 2 bath, apartment that would leave me $222 after rent.  There were much cheaper places that could be had as well.  

There are definitely benefits to going small.  Definitely drawbacks... since there are no firms in my area anymore. 

Mar 20, 17 11:07 am

My final follow-up thread: Housing Options for a Managing Principal. As with the other two threads, these show what you hypothetically could buy under certain circumstances, not necessarily what you should buy.

Mar 20, 17 12:15 pm
bowling_ball

I've been kind of thinking that these are all 'could' and not 'should.' None of these options leave any real money left over at the end of the month. Importantly, you're not accounting for student loans, which eat up a significant portion of income for many graduates (and even licensed architects!)

I assume a certain amount for monthly debt payments in the two scenarios, which could include student loans, car payments, credit card payments, or other debt. The purpose of the exercise was to compare options across a variety of cities, not necessarily to account for everybody's particular situation.

I would strongly encourage people to use the links provided, make their own budget and do their own research, and take into account their own specific needs and financial situation before making any life decisions based on these threads.

bowling_ball

Well of course. And it's interesting stuff, although I don't think it stands up to real world scrutiny. When I made this range of salary, my apartment was half of the cost of those shown here, and I didn't exactly have a lot of extra cash left over. It might be a difference in countries though - my loan payments are 5.3% over 10 years, and I'm sure I pay more income and sales tax than most US states.

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