There was a house abandoned on the side of the freeway. What some people will throw away.
A few years ago my wife and I were thinking about buying a house. We spoke to everyone we knew about the subject from homeowners to real estate professionals and we even watched the TV show House Hunters. They all told us the same thing. When you get enough for the down payment you'll be able qualify for all sorts of first time home buyers programs. Then you should be able to find a starter home. Expect to spend twenty five percent of your income towards housing, but the good news is that you will wind up paying less on your monthly mortgage than what you are currently paying for rent. It was as if all these people gathered together earlier and got their stories straight. When we got enough money for the down payment. We were ready.
We went to the real estate broker at the bank and asked, "So, what programs do you have for first time home-buyers?" "What?" he responded. I asked again, "What programs do you have for first time home-buyers? We heard that there are many different programs available for first time home-buyers". He looked at me like I had two heads. "Where'd you hear that?" he questioned. I wanted to say to this guy, "Are you new here? Did you transfer over from another department like valet parking? Don't you watch House Hunters?" Instead I just answered, "Everywhere." He backpedaled and said, "Oh, well, there some programs out there, but you two don't qualify because you make too much money and you have excellent credit." Then it was our turn to say, "What?" I craned my neck to see if he was actually looking at our paperwork.
It seems that we do make a decent living if we lived anywhere other than Southern California. He pointed out that there are some programs for low-income families to buy homes in depressed areas, but we wouldn't want to live there. We did not let that discourage us and let him know that we were looking for a starter home. He responded again with, "A what?" I repeated, "A starter home." He responded condescendingly with, "There are no starter homes in L.A." In Los Angeles the term Starter Home is as antiquated a term as haberdasher, apothecary or record player.
We were not discouraged. We had just heard ago about some condos in North Hollywood going for one hundred and ninety thousand dollars, but we could not find them. The asking prices on homes were higher that what we thought, but our realtor told us that we would be offering at least five percent less than the asking price. Our realtor wanted us to talk to her finance guy before we went any further. The finance guy wanted to know how much we have for a down payment. When we told him how much we had for a down payment he seem surprised. He thought we would at least have put down twenty percent. We thought we were putting down twenty percent. We told him about the condos in North Hollywood going for one hundred and ninety thousand dollars, but the finance guy didn't seem to know what we were talking about. His tone was like Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca when he said, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" When he crunched the numbers he was coming up with payment plans that would cost us thirty-five to forty percent of our income.
This went against everything we were taught about real estate. We told him and our realtor what we believed to be the set in stone rules of home buying like first time home buyers programs, starter homes, twenty five percent of our income towards housing, paying less on our monthly mortgage than what we currently pay for rent. They looked at us like we were crazy. We knew home prices were going up and it would have been nice if they had just said "You missed the boat, You're a day late and a dollar short" or simply "Your timing sucks." No, instead it was as if they just got together again and this time agreed to deny those fundamental rules of home buying they taught earlier.
Then the finance guy was offering this weird double mortgage plan with mutable arms and told me that we should not worry because I would be refinancing within six months anyway. It all just seemed wrong. We decided that we were going to keep looking until we found a place that we loved or at least liked and then find another finance guy. Then our realtor was telling us to offer five percent above the asking price.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when we saw a condo complex we liked in a neighborhood that we could live with and for a price that we could work with if we got creative and made a few sacrifices. We called our agent and told her we would like to see the unit and to set up an appointment. The agent called back five minutes later and told us that the owner just raised the price by forty thousand dollars and only was going to show it to serious buyers.
We put our dreams of home ownership on hold. We were told that the housing bubble would eventually burst. Recently we started looking again. The prices are coming down, but not low enough for us yet. So we're still being patient.
Then we see this house abandoned on the side of the freeway and my mind wanders back to my childhood when my grandmother gave me too much food to eat. She would tell me to eat because there are starving children in Vietnam. Grandma saw food on my plate as waste and she had a problem with waste in one part of the world while there is want in another part of the world. My four year old mind could not make the connection between starving children in Vietnam and me being stuffed in Defiance, Ohio. When I saw the abandoned house on the side of the freeway, the lessons that my grandmother was trying to teach me became perfectly clear.
The house caused a great deal of spectator slow down (Rubbernecking) so we able to give it a long hard look. Then my wife turns to me and says, "Maybe we should make an offer."
Tony Figueroa is a writer living in California.
You can read his blog at: http://childoftelevision.blogspot.com/