Thursday, July 20, 2006

The emotional toil of buying a house in San Francisco

I realize that everyone goes through emotional stress when they purchase a first home (or any subsequent homes), but it was over-the-top stressful doing it in San Francisco. I've come a long way in three years, but it has been quite a journey.

After husband and I got married, we started a full-on search for a house in San Francisco. I would have been more than willing to extend the search beyond San Francisco proper, oh but no, husband would hear nothing of it! He had lived in the city for approximately 10 years and was(and still is) city-centric. He has heart-palpatations just thinking of moving outside of the "city walls." He claims that we wouldn't take advantage of all the city has to offer if we moved away. It took a while for him to convince me, but I agreed to start looking in The City.

The first house we attempted to purchase was in The Sunset district, a neighborhood out near Ocean Beach, very residential, nice, near a great private high school. It needed a lot of cosmetic work, but it had a great veiw of the ocean and had expansion potential. We offered about $25,000 over asking price. Now don't freak out (well, ok, you can freak) that we would even consider offering this much over asking. Back then, in 2003, properties were selling well over asking price, like in the $100Ks over. Anyhoo, we broke the ice, put in the offer, and quickly found out that we were one of 32 offers on the house and we came in dead last on the price! That quickly deflated our hopes. How in the heck were we going to get a house, much less afford one, in San Francisco!

Did I say that my husband is a real estate agent? Well, he still had hope and convinced me that this is the way things were done here in SF. The search continued. The second house we seriously considered buying was also a fixer-upper. It was located south of City College, in an OK neighborhood. It was a corner house (not so great) and a bus stop (another not so great) happened to be at that corner. Nevertheless, it was a fixer-upper that had amazing potential. Oh, did I mention that it needed a new foundation! When standing in the back room behind the garage, you could see the backyard through the concrete in the wall. Did this deter us? Well, slightly, but we decided to move forward. 'Cause this had great potential (note the sarcasm:) and because it was so, excuse my language, crappy, we thought we'd have a chance. Since when did our search start with the run-down, smelly, needs-work houses? Aarrgh! Well, you may have figured out, we didn't get this house either. Luckily! We definitely would have been way over our heads with repairs.

A few more months go by, we are looking, but not looking too hard. I'm a bit (ok, a lot) disgusted by the state of the housing market and I just can't be bothered with it. In the meantime, husband sets us up with automatic e-mails of available properties within our price range. I look at them from time-to-time, but not seriously. Until one day, I printed out some of the properties that peaked my interest and brought them to him. Since he is a real estate agent, naturally, I made him do most of the work. A few days later, he comes back to me and encourages me to take a look at one of the properties on the list. This property is listed at $490,000. It was just reduced after sitting on the market for about 33 days.(That was considered a looong time!) It's a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with a big backyard at the top of a hill at the end of a dead-end street . I didn't do back-flips when I realized what neighborhood it was in, but I wasn't deterred from looking at it either.

When I walked into this house, I was amazed. Not in a good way, mind you, amazed that someone could live in a place so dirty! The previous owners had smoked in the house for over 30 years; it had this reeking smell that made me cover my mouth with the top of my shirt. I asked husband if he was serious about this dump. He said, "Of course, look beyond the crap and the smell, darling wife. This is all cosmetic stuff. Once their belongings are out, we'll clean the place up and make it our own, this will be great!" I looked down and saw rat traps. You've got to be kidding me!

Unless, you live here and LOVE San Francisco, I'm sure you are thinking we are the most insane people on the planet. I sure thought it then and looking back on it, I'm still amazed that I agreed to this chaos. So, we offered $465,000 for the house. They countered at $475,000. After a day of hemming and hawing, we accepted. Eventually, we got some money from the selling agent because the fireplace needed to be repaired. But, we were in! Our mortgage was going to be more than twice what our rent was at the time. I was happy and excited and scared and worried.

(I'm going to write more about the house saga...stay tuned!)

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