My first guest-blogger just so happens to also be my wife, imagine that good fortune to get such an established blogger over here typing for me! She plans to return with more stories about homeownership and I plan to include more personal touches like these on my blog going forward.
We bought our first home three and a half years ago, the summer before we got married. My husband had just graduated from SF State and I was an economic analyst down in Berkeley. We wanted to move back to Sacramento, our hometown, where for the rent of our 650 square-foot, one bedroom apartment on busy Shattuck Avenue, we could own a whole house with a yard and three bedrooms. We had visions of dogs, lazy backyard barbecues, and maybe even someday, children. I had visions of no more homeless people waking me up in the middle of the night as they yelled at each other down on the street beneath our bedroom window.
However, like any well-intentioned dream, it was a little bumpier getting there than we expected. First, my husband decided to become a real estate agent in Sacramento. He had been successful in many other sales environments, so it was a natural fit. I, on the other hand, was lost in a job that paid me well but I did not enjoy. My husband would return to Sacramento to learn the tricks of the trade from family during the week, then come home to me in Berkeley on the weekends. Because he was then a fledgling entrepreneur, I had to keep that job in the Bay for us to qualify for a home loan.
So, from 90 miles away, we house hunted for months before an offer was actually accepted. Competition was fierce with the falling home prices, and we quickly found that we had to make offers well above asking to even be in the running. At first the disappointments were huge, those adorable or well-located houses going to other people, most often investors.Then we started to make offers from afar, because logistically I just couldn’t make it up to Sacramento every time an attractive home came on the market. If our offer was accepted, we knew we would still be able to view the house before anything was final.
As we lost out on several houses, many going for $30,000 or more over asking, I began to feel desperate. We were at least three months into our house-hunting adventure and it was nothing like what you see on TV. I fell in love with house after house. I was so impatient we offered our full budget for a two-bedroom fixer that needed a ton of work but had the most charming, floor to ceiling front window. Fortunately, we lost out. I don’t think we could have kept up with the amount of work required to live there.
Then, one day, we found the right house. My uncle spotted it the second it came on the market, I happened to be in town, so I actually got to see it. I remember walking the rooms, admiring all the work that went into restoring it, the new carpet, the granite countertops, the gigantic framed mirror in the bathroom. Moving through the empty space, I could imagine us in it. Other friends lived in the same neighborhood. We would finally be in the same city as our families again, no more two hour drives back and forth each weekend for all those different family functions, (although, I didn’t realize at the time I would be trading that drive for four hours on the train each day to commute to Berkeley for work for an entire year, but that’s a different story).
We put in an offer with a quick expiration deadline, claiming another possible contract if we did not hear quickly. Luckily good real estate agents have tricks up their sleeves. We offered $10k over asking in exchange for closing costs paid by the seller. We had to do some fancy footwork because as a flipped home, we could not use FHA, so we had to come up with additional money for a larger downpayment. With creativity and a little help, we made it happen. We were in contract for our first house!
We were so excited. But then came all the scary parts. The parts no one talks about or maybe only anxious 26-year-olds feel. I had to ask my work if they would let me commute and work from home a couple days a week. They said yes. We had to sign over the largest amount of money I had ever parted with in my life. Other costs caught me by surprise, like the annual homeowner insurance premium and the property taxes, both paid in advance. We had to buy a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, a lawnmower. The night before we went to sign our closing papers, I did not sleep.
Fortunately, it all worked out in the end. I quickly discovered that homeownership was nowhere near as scary as I feared. The surprising costs dwindled away. An insurance policy helped shield us from any unexpected repairs, which popped up here and there in the beginning. We learned how to care for our own lawn. We got two cats and eventually a dog. A year later I was accepted to a teacher training program and placed at a school just two miles from our house. Talk about good luck.
Our home is now exactly that, our home. While there are things I would change, like maybe an extra bathroom and walk-in closet, I am so grateful we were able to make it happen. I remember lying in bed one Sunday morning back when we first moved in and staring up at the huge branches of all the neighborhood trees, appreciating the quiet of our own space compared to life back in Berkeley.
Buying your first home can feel pretty scary, but then you realize it is comforting to know that you’re in charge– if you want to put a huge planter box in the backyard, no problem! It’s your house and as long as you make the payments, no one is going to ask you to move. I’ll take that over renting any day.