4 Things I Learned Buying My First Home! (In a Garbage Housing Market)

By Loryn Stone

I was never a bride.

I never had a wedding.

I’ve never gone on a destination vacation.

But today, I have my very own back yard.

I’m not telling you about these “nevers” to get any sort of sympathy. All of these things were a choice. Early on in our relationship, my husband and I knew we wanted to be homeowners someday. Unfortunately, both of us come from families where financial help or cash gifts just isn’t a reality. The idea of my parents paying for a wedding or my husband’s parents giving us money for a down payment on a house is a fluffy daydream saved for a Hallmark Channel movie. In real life, my mom is dead and my dad started over with a young wife and had two small children.

pexels-photo-305256.jpegBut we persevered, damn it. We decided that wedding planning was for the birds and eloped. Who needs vacations when you can day drink in the beautiful California sun? We had our two kids in an apartment and eventually…finally, after seven years of saving, we were ready to buy a house.

And we did. In July, 2017. We beat the odds and got to be millennial homeowners. Along with some of our other friends, we made the plunge. In an overblown market. In expensive-ass Los Angeles, California.

Oy.

I became a homeowner at thirty-one years old, a feat I never thought would be mine. But along the way, I learned many things. My husband I made many concessions. And we had to consider bunch of shit we never thought would cross our minds, such as….

4) You Learn Not to Get Too Attached (To Anything)

pexels-photo-922283.jpeg

My mom used to watch a whole mess of HGTV and it gave me a very incorrect version of what I thought buying a house was like. In movies and TV, a couple walks into a house and it’s either comically terrible (like all the fixtures are ripped out, the ceiling is painted with flowers, and there’s a portal to the murder dimension). Stuff that’s easy to understand why this is all a pile of yuck. Or, it’s their dream house. The couple gushes, they hug and kiss, they vividly picture their life in the new home, complete with all the company they’re going to have and the entertaining parties they’ll throw. And just like that, they put in an offer (likely lowballing, because they’re not going to get ripped off with their savvy Real Estate agent on their side!) and get “the call” that the house is theirs.

pexels-photo-238486.jpegThis couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially in areas of the city where everybody wants to live and housing is limited. Dave works in Burbank, CA. Our apartment at the time was in Glendale, ten minutes away from his work. We liked the area, the schools were good, so that’s where we started looking. Well…let’s just say Glendale has become an area where a two-bedroom, one bathroom, 700 SQFT house is almost a million dollars. Some houses were “priced to sell” at about $575,000 (still way above our price range) but that was just to attract buyers. Those houses would go over $750,000. We put in at least 10-15 offers and got into severe bidding wars until the offers crept into territory we just about couldn’t afford.

That’s why it’s important to look at homes objectively for what they are…houses…not for what your life is going to be in them.

On the topic of not getting attached, there was a second scenario we found ourselves in. The one where your offer is accepted, but the place is a fuck-house. We also made offers on two different houses, the offer got accepted, but then the inspections were nightmares and we had to pull out and start all over again. We were also paranoid that our realtor hated us and even considered firing him because we were embarrassed and awkward, which makes no sense. But we would see areas that are super nice and then, oops, Mello-Roos tax. Can’t afford living there anymore. Or the house that had nearly an acre of land, and then oops, it’s in a flood-zone where you have to get mandatory flood insurance and home owners insurance may not cover it without a fight.

3) The Concessions You End Up Making (Are Insane)

pexels-photo-1038260.jpegWhen my husband and I first started looking for a house, we had a huge list of “must haves”. Whatever house we end up with must have central air, must have a dish washer, must have a window in the bathroom so it doesn’t get mildew-rot in there, must have a yard that isn’t a concrete block (ever so popular in the older LA neighborhoods for reasons I seriously don’t understand). No HOA, single story, must cook me dinner and give me a hand job for the amount of money we’re going to sink into this beast.

But after looking for months, it became more like the house must not be a piece of shit and be in an area you’re not afraid to walk around in it night, thanks.

pexels-photo-1019980.jpegWith house hunting, you learn a lot about your partner. You have to discuss things that just don’t typically come up in everyday conversation. My husband grew up in New Hampshire, so he finds charm in Victorian homes, the woods, and structures that have that old “turn-of-the-century” charm. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, the part of Los Angeles where Porn and Pot come from, so I find charm in something that was built ten minutes ago that isn’t an asbestos ridden nightmare.

When you’re looking at older houses, it’s easy to be seduced by the quirk and personality. Something that looks all art-deco and is reminiscent of the Brady Bunch house is pretty irresistible. Few people look at rows and rows of Tract Home and think “Yeah man, this is the life.” But do you know what kind of house we ended buying?

A two-story asbestos-free 1987 Tract Home. Right up next to a park. At the end of a cul-de-sac. With an HOA.

Deep in the suburbs of Santa Clarita, CA. An hour north of Los Angeles.

Where everything is pretty and manicured.

There are great schools and shopping everywhere.

And the hippest music venue, The Canyon, is in the mall.

But you know what? It’s pleasant as fuck here.

2) Commutes vs. Social Life vs. Familial Needs

pexels-photo-207697.jpegBack in 2011 when my husband and I first started house hunting, we had no kids and gave zero shits about schools other than they existed. That was back when we were newlyweds and for us, children were a “that might happen eventually”. In those days, we looked at neighborhoods strictly at cost and the commute back to society. But now, in 2018 (2017 when we bought the house), we had to really consider schools. Additionally, as discussed before, my son is on the autism spectrum. And when your kid has special needs, you need to take extra precautions to make sure they go to a school that won’t leave them behind.

Therefore, my husband and I paid $20K extra to get into an area with schools rated 8/9/10 because the neighborhood with the cheaper houses has an elementary school rated 6. Laugh at me all you want and tell me those numbers just reflect test scores, I don’t care. You’re talking to someone who used to wreck face on standardized tests but was too lazy and unmotivated to do her homework. Most LA neighborhoods have schools rated in the 2-4 area, especially in the more “hip” areas. Glendale and Burbank, the area we came from had uncharacteristically good schools. But parts of the valley, or Eagle Rock, or Los Angeles proper, not so much. So, you have to be careful.

pexels-photo-256468.jpegBut unfortunately, it’s the social life that sort of goes to shit. My husband has one friend who moved to the exact same neighborhood as we did at the exact same time, which is nice. But otherwise, we’re far from friends and it’s a project for people to come up and see us. The balance between knowing if this is just what happens when you get older and people have kids versus the actual proximity people are from each other is hard to gauge sometimes, to be fair.

 

1) Figuring out the Order of Fixing the Money Pit  

pexels-photo-1002669.jpegBut going back to the house situation itself, the physical structure. So, okay, now you’re broke and you spent your life savings on the damn thing. Hooray, awesome, let’s hope the roof doesn’t leak. (Spoiler, it doesn’t, thank the stars.)

Once you’re in the house, the best thing to do is spend the first year inside the damn thing all while figuring out what you need to fix now and what can wait. You might also spend some time angrily wondering why the last five-hundred people who lived in it before you went thirty years without fixing certain things like the god damn 1987 robot of a furnace that I SWEAR we’re gonna replace this year.

On the real, there should be Home-Buying Showers instead of Baby Showers. A party where people buy you shovels and curtains and shit. I’d give back the Baby Showers I had if I knew of all the garbage I needed to buy to make sure this house doesn’t fall apart. Sure, there’s House Warming parties, but that just means a succulent plant and a bottle of tequila. I’m talking more about all the shit you need if you buy a house with a yard. And grass. And since we had kids before we bought the house (take that 1950s Americana bullshit dream) we made sure this damn yard had grass.

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This is the backyard I actually purchased. 

But still see my friends in other states buying monster-sized houses for $250,000 and want to cry.

My Home Inspector, Randy Hallford (a friend I’ve had since 3rd grade) educated me about certain areas having more broken houses than others. Like if the price of the house is under a certain amount, the buyer goes so broke getting IN THERE that he/she has no money to fix things. So, the things that get fixed are done cheaply or by a rookie contractor and the gross just builds on top of itself. So not only do you have to get certain things fixed, but you have to peel away the layers of cheap work until you find someone who can do a quality job and just let them have at it.

It’s a lot. It’s heavy. It’s expensive. But you know what?

When my kids stop riding their bikes in the middle of our quiet-ass cul-de-sac just to look at me, smiling, and thank me for buying them a beautiful home (which happened, I’m not making that up), it makes every day of mowing, seeding grass, raking, and hoping my car doesn’t break because I have no money to fix it, worth it.

It’s so, so, worth it.

Loryn is counting what’s left of her pennies on Twitter. Loryn also has a personal blog. Loryn’s debut novel My Starlight, a young adult novel about anime, cosplaying, fandom, love, loss, and friendship will be released August 3rd, 2018 by Affinity Rainbow Publications.

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