Esteban, the home, the myth, the legend.

The following post is sponsored by real estate website, Trulia, which is where I saw our house for the first time and where I spent subsequent days and hours looking for homes in our neighborhood. (Trulia provides prospective homebuyers with info on neighborhoods, schools, agents financing, local amenities, etc.) To learn more about Trulia, go here. 
We got incredibly lucky with our house. I still don't know how we pulled it off, to be honest. Getting a loan when you're a freelance writer married to a permalance producer isn't exactly preferable when it comes to bank loans. I mean, we're not atypical for Los Angeles homebuyers but something magical happened with our house. Esteban, in all his decrepit old falling-apart-at-the-seams glory was meant to be our abode. For better and for worse, every miraculous turn brought us to this and, two years later, as we kick and scream through our refinancing, we remember (cue slide show with Five For Fighting on blast in the background) ... our Adventure in Real Estate Love Story-ness. 

I don't remember how much I wrote about our home search at the time. I feel like I might have written a lot about it because it was a very dramatic turn of events. For those who were not reading back in 2011, the day we brought the twins home from the NICU we were given nine months to leave our HOME which also happened to be a rental. (Our landlords wanted to live in their house again.)
IMG_8089 the day Bo & Revi came home/we started looking for a new one

Crushed, we immediately started looking for a new rental because owning a house in our neighborhood was an impossibility thanks to... us not being able to afford to own a house in our neighborhood. And leaving our neighborhood was also an impossibility because of the kids' school. SO. Finding a rental at similar value was the only option. 

Unfortunately, our search came up ... empty. All of the rentals we looked at were smaller more-run down versions of our house for AT LEAST 1K a month more. Which was depressing. I cried a lot. And wrote about it. I didn't want to move. The three rentals we looked at and were considering were all investment properties and when we asked whether there was a way to sign a contract insuring we didn't get kicked out after a year, NOBODY would agree to sign one. 

There was a good chance we'd get booted again. 

We kept looking. 

And then one day the doorbell rang. 

It was a real estate agent with one of those "new listings in your area" postcards and while I usually tossed said postcards before even looking at them, this time I actually perused... and found... ONE house out of fifteen listings that was A LOT less dollars than the other houses. 

I Googled. 

And that's when I saw our house. 

It was.... lovely. It was perfect! It was... affordable? 

I mean, affordable is relative, of course. This is LA. real estate is stupid expensive here as is the cost of living, relatively speaking, but considering the location and size, well... we had to see if buying was an option.

Because to rent a house of the same size, well... obscene.

The house was clearly in need of work when I came to see it the next day but the location was perfect, the size was right and it had been in the same family since its construction in 1928. It was full of original details (and also some unoriginal stuff that we could eventually tear out) and on its roof, a wrought iron weather vane that proclaimed, AHOY, I AM YOUR PERFECT MATCH! Six sails! SIX SAILS!
We could not afford to put the minimum 20% down. Thankfully, my parents, who had offered to help us with a down payment in lieu of the wedding we never had (and the college I never went to) were all about helping us. And while we had big plans to buy our first home ALL BY OURSELVES WITH NO HELP WE ARE SO INDEPENDENT, we decided to discuss taking them up on their beyond generous offer. 

First, though, we would have to get approved. 

The first bank rejected us.

Which was why it felt so overwhelmingly shocking when the second bank did not. By whatever miraculous patron saint of real estate mortgage lendings, we were approved for the loan we needed on the house we wanted. We totally cried.

And then, because it was a short sale, we went through two different escrows. (And kept crying.)

The first escrow was with the owners who accepted our offer. 

And the second with the bank who DID not accept our offer, came back at us with a NEW offer (we accepted because it was a fair counter and, well, it was a fair counter) and then we waited many more months while all sorts of unexpected things that were annoying/miraculous/terrible/wonderful happened.

Anyway, this is my long-winded way of offering the following five "things" for those looking to put an offer on a house that is a short sale, Postcards from my Homebuying Journey, style:


1.  Short Sales Take Forever: Have Patience.

It took us seven months to close. We actually had to RENT our house for one month before we owned it because we didn't technically CLOSE until August 1st even though we moved in in July (our landlords needed their house back July 1st). While we were in the thick of waiting and being inched along by agents and banks and agents at banks, several people warned me that "short sale happy endings were few and far between." We stuck to it. We had faith. We burned a lot of sage. Drew a lot of pictures. And had no experience buying a home that WASN'T a short sale so had absolutely nothing to compare it to. Which is always helpful. 

2. Prepare to Spend More Even Though You're Paying Less.

This was a brutal one for us. We had saved a pretty significant amount, wanting to put as much as we could down on our home. However, with short sales, YOU the prospective owner pay for EVVVVVERRRRYTHING. From inspections to termite tenting to MORE inspections to needing to replace all of the things that weren't to code, we spent a whopping 20k. Things that, had the home NOT been a short sale, would have been paid for by the seller. SO. Suddenly, all of this money we thought we had for our down, we did not. 

Which was a major buzzkill. 

That said, we bought our house for 20% less than what the neighbor's house sold for months later and in two years we have 50% equity in our home. So, all in all, we got a tremendous deal. 

3. Write Letters like a Mofo.

Every house and every apartment we procured since the beginning of time, we got, not because we were the buyers/renters with the most cash or even the best credit, but because I AM A LETTER WRITER AND I WILL WRITE LETTERS ALL DAY LONG UNTIL YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO SELL YOUR HOUSE TO ME EVEN THOUGH I DO NOT COME WITH A CASH OFFER. (We were the only prospective buyers who didn't offer CASH. We were also the only buyers who weren't going to bulldoze our house and build something bigger and newer in its place. We were also the only buyers who wrote a letter the size of a book, explaining who we were, what our life looked like and how we imagined ourselves growing up within these cracking walls.) 

I cry-wrote that letter like my life depended on it. 

Letters are EVERYTHING. (If you struggle with writing, maybe hire someone to help you? Hell, you can hire me. I'm going to start a business like in Her. Consider this my announcement of my new letters-to-homeowners-from-prospective-buyers business: LTHFPBB.)


Don't laugh but this is how I've always done business. I am not into strategy. I'm into nostalgia and signs and securing all the doubt so that I have something to stand on in order to peek over the fence.

5. Keep Looking. 

We kept looking at rentals the entire seven months we waited out our escrow. We HAD to have a back-up plan and we managed to find a few rentals that were completely overpriced but somewhat doable. (We also had a month by month option on the table if Esteban were to fall through last minute.) I searched real estate listings every day hoping to find another deal like Esteban and while I found nothing, I became addicted to local real estate listings and learned a few things which was cool. 

One of the most frustrating things about putting an offer on a "short" sale home is feeling completely in the dark. Looking, even though you are SURE you found your house, feels proactive. And feeling proactive is key in homeownership, I am coming to recognize. 


Not that owning a house is a picnic by any means. It's not. We are house poor like whoa. (But we're also childcare poor carrots-at-the-farmers-market-every-week poor and family-of-six-living-in-Los-Angeles poor so it isn't JUST the house that is breaking our backs. We knew that raising four kids in a city was going to be financially trying and it has been.) And worth every penny.

We're just finishing up our refi (which has also taken forever, omg) but eventually (soon, hopefully?) we'll be able to fix the leaky shower/basement and redo the roof. (Which is also falling apart. Our recent rain storm proved as much.) And then, in a few years we'll do the foundation, the windows, the kitchen, garage, attic, basement, bedrooms, landscaping, hallways, floors, ceilings, etc etc forever and everything else. 

In the meantime, here we are. We are the only landlords that can kick us out and that means something. Buying a house is pretty petrifying (not unlike all commitments) and for the last two years we've managed to stick it out, in good times and bad, for better, for worse, till debt do us part, amen.
photo 4
What about you guys? Anyone out there purchase a short sale? Happy endings? Horror stories? Real estate Tales from the Crib? I'd love to hear from you. 


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