Saturday, March 08, 2008

house to home

Here I am, age 43, and I’m finally gonna be a homeowner.

I work in the SF Bay Area, one of the more desirable and thus more expensive regions in California. The late 90s crash in technology startups had very little effect on regional house prices. Here, the house priced at a half-million makes people wonder what’s wrong with it.

Speculation and flipping and the economy's failure finally did stun the insanity. This house is one of many that are in the first stages of foreclosure. A foreclosure is bad news for both the owner’s credit record and the lender, something to avoid. There’s a half-state between a regular sale and foreclosure called a “short sale.” For those who unfamiliar with this, this is a situation where the current homeowner has not been able to make their mortgage payments, and the value of the loan is greater than the value of the house. In a short sale, the house gets sold and the homeowner’s lender will forgive a portion of the loan. The owner’s credit record just shows a few missed payments, and the lender gets their money.

The term short sale is a misnomer. Instead of being negotiated by the owner and the buyer, the lender has much of the say. And lenders are institutions, meaning they make decisions at a speed that a wooly mammoth would consider leisurely. A three-way train wreck. Short sale is actually a very long sale.

But I’ve managed to weather through the waiting and the confusion. The house was offered at $349K and I offered $345 in mid-January. Finally, hopefully Monday, almost two months later, the lender will accept. Or at least my real estate agent seems to think so.

It’s a nice house, no piece of crap. Admittedly, it's a tract home built in the fifties, ordinary looking and identical to all the other houses in the neighborhood. But it’s got hardwood floors, granite countertops, oak cabinets, garage door opener, and vinyl windows: all the good upgrades. I wish it had was a fireplace, but given my record of fireplace usage where I live now, this is no big deal. It's not on a corner and has a small front yard (both mean less work to stay acceptable-looking) and a big backyard. The neighborhood is decent blue collar, neat lawns, no gang types, no security doors, and just one house down the street looks trashy. It’s an easy drive to the freeway but far enough away that I don’t hear the noise or get the dirt. The street it's on won't have the entire neighborhood driving by during commute time. And finally, for my good feng shui fix, it faces east.

There are short sale and foreclosed houses going for less, but none of the ones I’ve seen so far have all the above factors.

I liked the layout immediately, and interestingly, it is nearly identical to the layout of the house I grew up in: living room on the left, kitchen/dining on the right; down the hall are two bedrooms on the left, and a bedroom and bathroom on the right. The only thing my parents have in addition is a formal living room in front.

Happiness awaits.

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