Born into Condos [Stay-at-Home Nerd]
I almost bought a house today — I shit you not. I was born into a duplex, lived in rentals most of life, and have inhabited just over thirty places in just over thirty-five years. But, if you live in LA, read the real estate section of the LA Times (online, of course), DVR HGTV shows like Property Virgins, House Hunters, My First Place, and know what the hell Trulia, Zillow, Movoto and Redfin are for, then you know what I’m talking about.
My son was born into a condo. My wife and I bought the condo when she was three months pregnant. The economy had bottomed out, or so we thought, interest rates were super low and with grants from the federal government for first time homebuyers and grants from the state government for purchasing new construction, we were able to secure a condo that we could conceivably live in for 10 or more years. That was then.
Now that we have a kid, a boy to be exact, a boy who loves to be outside and run and play and get dirty to be more exact, we want a yard. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does have to be big enough to toss or kick the ball around. It also needs a driveway that is perfect for hanging a hoop. During a brief four-year stint in my youth my parents managed to buy a house, before losing it after a messy divorce. I hung a hoop. My friends and I all played on it day and night. It was awesome. I want a hoop. My son will have a hoop.
I could, but I won’t, get carried away with my list of housing must-haves, wants, tolerables and unacceptables. What I will say is that a Redfin listing of a house in the neighborhood we want, for a fair listing price (rare these days), in a good school district, with no unacceptables spurned a flurry of open housing today. We saw the house in question. We saw others to compare. It’s perfect. Everything we want. Then we told my wife’s mother about the house. She listened. She questioned. She came with us and we all went back to the open house. We talked about it. We talked about the numbers. We crunched the numbers. Then we… did nothing.
Not buying a house isn’t as easy at looks. The minute you picture playing catch in the backyard, hanging the hoop, firing up the grill, and tossing back a cold one from your very own beer fridge you’re sunk. Your heart wants what it wants. I can imagine a scenario in which we throw our condo back on the market, cross our fingers thayt it sells, empty the coffers to afford the down on what was once an unimaginable price for a house and live happily ever after.
Being the optimist that I am, I have a hard time seeing it go the other way, but I’ll give it shot. What if our condo doesn’t sell? What if the house needs more work? What if we need the money in those coffers for a new car, an unplanned trip, or an unforeseeable expense? How long can we carry two mortgages? My mother-in-law put it in perspective when she made clear when she said we’d be over a million dollars in debt if we bought the house without selling the condo. I’m old enough to remember when a million dollars was a lot of money, but I certainly don’t want to be a million dollars in the hole.
In the end we were saved by the same system that started the feeding frenzy in the first place: the internet. While we could theoretically buy that house on paper, we’d have to make some dramatic lifestyle changes including, but not limited to: keeping our 1998 and 2002 automobiles up and running for 5, maybe 10, more years, taking staycations with the family where we substitute looking at photographs of cool places (the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge etc.) for actually going there, cutting our cable, internet, gym memberships; limiting our number of showers, use of electricity and gas; foregoing braces, doctor’s visits, trips to the barber; and subsisting on Top Ramen, eggs, white bread, butter, and 2 buck chuck… You get the idea.
Instead we took another look at active real estate listings and realized there are other fish in the sea. In fact, they’re everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes, in every price range you can imagine, and they’re all visible online. Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Ennis House just sold for 70% less than asking. Candy Spelling’s Holmby Hills mansion was purchased for a cool 85 million by Petra Eccelstone (you know, the 22-year-old fashion designer!). That’s much less than the 150 million Candy was asking. You see it’s a buyers market.
And in a buyer’s market, time is on our side.
featured image credit: Caesar Sebastian