Buying our first house was a lot like dating. You hope that you find one that matches all your needs, so you're not compromising and settling for less. Yet you never know what's out there, or when you'll find one that works with you. No matter how disheartened you grow, you need to keep at it until you find an acceptable arrangement.
My dearheart and I lived in an efficient, tiny studio flat for several years together. This suited us quite well as we're both introverted people. So much so that our neighbour asked if we were moving in when they saw us carrying things during our move out. They never saw us around, so they assumed we were new.
However, as effective as a studio flat is for building savings, it's not a long term home. There's that saying: "the more you want to be free, the deeper your roots need to be." We needed a place to set down roots so that we could grow tall and resilient to things like Californian rent inflation.
Houses are a massive responsibility, but ownership of them offers plenty in return for that obligation. As a Domme I obviously don't shy away from being beholden bidirectionally, nor from working hard to maintain something. It's just as empowering as being responsible for my relationship with my dearheart.
One of the rewards of buying a house is that we'd be able to grow our networth faster with a mortgage than with rent payments, but just barely. Though it meant locking up some of our net worth in a notoriously illiquid real asset, it's not like we needed the cash for other things when we're already at a multi-income status.
Another goal for owning a home was that it would allow us to host a lodger. Lodgers/roommates are an easier introduction to landlording than renting out separate properties. That's perfect for teaching my dearheart some of the intricacies of the business. It also alleviates some of the quietude of home life with two introverts – I prefer a bustling life with several people involved.
With that all in mind, we began our house hunt based solely off of my dearheart's income alone. We had assumed that I would quit my job and be returning to university for the near term, so we wanted to afford it without factoring in my potential income. Think of it as a generous safety margin.
The Hunt Itself
We began by watching the real estate market online for several weeks to build our intuitions. Then we got a real estate agent and arranged for our first house tours.
We did three tours in the first day: all cheap condos in the same development area. Our first impression was of rundown roads, no private laundry, and no private yards. The HOA for the condos was minimal, but maintained a pool. Two were two-storey condos, and one was a one-storey, but all were two bed, one bath.
For such an unattractive proposition they still listed in the $300k range, thanks to California's exorbitant rates.
Our realtor had several bits of great advice, including tailoring our mortgage pre-approval letter to whatever offer we made – that way the seller wouldn't know our maximum bid.
We discussed it and tried to make an offer on the one-storey, but discovered that our maximum value for the property was $20k under the bidding war's current rate. We were more than happy to walk away from the wrong house for us. We didn't want to end up as yet another couple regretting our house purchase.
In the meantime, I was using this househunt as an opportunity to develop my dearheart's skills and professional polish. There were tiny details I called to his attention, such as the fact that he didn't obey protocol to introduce me to our realtor for the first time.
I also needed to disabuse my dearheart of the notion that these business interactions were simply one-and-done deals. He was brusque and to the point in his dealings with our realtor, as if they were an automated machine he was interacting with. I explained that our goal would be to turn around in five years time and buy a new place, so it was better to develop good relations with our realtor.
Good relationships have meandering ways of coming back around and paying off. It's best to sow early and abundantly.
A while later we came across a fixer-upper in the low-rent industrial area. We arranged for a tour through our realtor, and made a small Sunday drive of the trip.
What we discovered when we were there was a house with serious foundation problems, with deep cracks in the walls and floors. They tried to understate the case with their photos online, but the signs were there on the walls.
Even priced to sell as it was, the house was listed in the $400k range. It was fit only for demolishing down to foundation and rebuilding. California, you know?
At this point I intervened in our househunt. I played goad to my dearheart's ambition and prodded him to raise his price range. In the $300k range all we were seeing were the cheapest places: manufactured homes which we discounted due to the land leasing costs, and the cheapest condos with poor quality.
After my talk with him (and a dive into my affordability spreadsheet), my dearheart conceded the point. We raised our price range for the search. Which turned out to be a good thing, because the difference between the $300k condos and the $350k condos was an added bathroom.
Having two bathrooms would be integral to a happy situation with the two of us and a potential lodger.
My dearheart went alone for the next house tour: a 2 bed, 2 bath upstairs condo in the $350k bracket. He showed me the pictures and I was appeased – nothing obviously wrong with the place. Despite being sight unseen for me, I trusted my dearheart.
After all, I can live anywhere for two years at a time before my resolve starts to wane.
We acted swiftly from that point, and made an offer for the seller's asking price. Several other offers had come in, but they must have been under the seller's price by a wide margin as the seller immediately accepted ours. I'm more than happy to trade $5k - $10k in potential savings for undercutting the price for the sake of brevity with the transaction.
Closing went smoothly and swiftly thereafter. We moved in a little more than a month after making the offer, and have settled in with hand-me-down furniture. We can finally host our friends – if there weren't a pandemic on.
Having a bustling home is one of our eventual goals, especially as we grow to include other relationships. This first home is a great step forward on the path of our lives.
That said, it's also been a lot of work. We had a water leak that necessitated ripping up our floor and installing new tile. We have more bills, but also more room to grow.
After having been stuck in the small, dark confines of the studio flat for so long, it's been enlightening to realise how much better I feel to have separate rooms for work and play. And natural daylight, and a proper kitchen!
Home ownership isn't right for everybody, but for us? I think we'll do just fine.