Monday, February 6, 2012

April 2010 (Part 1)

Take a trip back in time with me. It's April 2010 again. Do you remember where you were? What you were doing?

I was purchasing my first home. And scared. Seriously scared.

Wait. Let's back up a tick first. Let's rewind to mid-2009. Like a large portion of America I had entered the depths and depressions of unemployment, but was able to extract myself from the vacuous pit. In a few brief months I found myself on the opposite side of the statistics. I had landed a stable job (teaching high school English), had married the love of my life, and was putting more into savings that I had ever imagined. It seemed everything was aligning and the future could only hold positives. So I took a gamble and entered into the real estate market, the arguably single greatest villain of the late 2000s depression. At every corner were friends, family members, coworkers, etc. telling me and my wife to take the plunge because prices, rates and availability were inevitably short-lived and we, as a country, and as a state (Massachusetts) would never see such promise and abundant deals ever again.

Our first thoughts: this will be easy; there's so much to choose from that we'll never be able to decide on just one that we like and we'll be able to move in whenever we want and pay what we want for it. The reality was sobering. The first few houses which we looked at were mostly decrepit, dilapidated at times, and were downright destroyed in some cases (think front door kicked in, hot pink living and dining room, and no headroom in an upstairs master bedroom that mysteriously had a stairwell entering into the only spot in the room in which a bed could feasibly fit.) We needed to up our price range.

With an deflated confidence and inflated wallet we trudged on and found better homes, fewer problems and more aesthetic appeals, but we also found competition. On a given Saturday in late 2009 we were looking at anywhere from 5-10 homes in a single day, all across Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Though we focused on certain communities in our research we quickly found the realities of home shopping to be less than the grandeur that all the rumors promised. Online articles were screaming about the deals to be had in the sunbelt states, especially Las Vegas, where a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home that only 3 years earlier would have gone for $750,000 was suddenly reduced to $175,000. And even at that price they were having difficulty finding buyers or even investors. It seemed that American homebuyers had made a hasty exodus and we could only capitalize on the opportunities. Around here, though, the impact was much more muted. Yes, homes had decreased in value but the amount of buyers and the prices were staying relatively stable, allowing most areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island to tread the tides until they receded. When we viewed each of these homes, we were never alone. We were often greeted by interested parties either leaving when we arrived or vice versa, sometimes found ourselves viewing homes simultaneously with other couples, and once even had to wait an hour in order to see a home which had cars lined up down the road with their occupants eagerly anticipating their chance to view the diamond in the rough.

These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities applied to countless people who, like us, had weathered the storm and were now ready to snatch up the best deal in the neighborhood, especially with the opportunity to cash in on the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit. But with holidays, our wedding, honeymoon and jobs picking up, time was suddenly working against us. We now found ourselves in a very negative situation. We needed to act much faster, be a little less choosy, and settle upon the realization that unless we made or had saved exponentially more we still couldn't afford our dream home, even in a market like this.

We spent the next few weekends sorrowfully watching homes enter the market on a Saturday and be pulled off the next day, often with full price offers, and with us unable to even make an appointment to see it. We walked through 11 homes one Sunday, and returned home exhausted and fed-up with the entire process, ready to just settle on anything that came our way, so long as it was something with a roof and the promise that we wouldn't have to endure this process again for a very long time. Then we found it.

It was gorgeous, or at least to us, then, it was gorgeous. It was everything we were looking for--a medium-sized lot near some quiet woods, in our price range, which had a gas hook-up, two different heat zones, a partially finished downstairs and was essentially just a cosmetic fixer-upper. We saw it twice within a week's time and were promised by both our real estate agent and the seller's real estate agent that they were flexible with the price and that, since it was a short sale, they were willing to stick with whatever buyer desired the home as opposed to going for the highest price. I decided to ask my parents to come up the next weekend to check it out.

My dad is the handiest of handymen. He is one of those people who picked up a Biology book in 9th grade and instead of reading the fascinating article on the mating habits of snowy owls, investigated how the book was bound and pondered over the construction of the bookshelves which supported the class copies. If anyone knew how to mentally deconstruct a house and inspect its every inch, he was the guy for the job. So when he came out to observe this home, I expected him to go on ad nauseum in regards to all of the pitfalls and negatives of the home; however, to my surprise, he was equally hopeful we'd get it and was very optimistic about its possibilities, and though he found many problems with it, he seemed confident that he and I together could fix each and every one of them. Our offer went in that very night.

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