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Curbed Reader Kyle M. Shares His Tale of Obtaining Homeownership For the First Time

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[The view from the roof of Kyle's building]

In early January, my wife and I accepted our landlord's offer to vacate our apartment. We had 75 days to find somewhere else to live.

I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I'd pretty much been conditioned to believe that I could never afford to buy a home in the city. My wife, on the other hand, hails from the Midwest, where her entire family owns homes. She wanted to look into buying, I didn't think it was even worth investigating. I told her to go for it, while I started scanning the rental classifieds on Craigslist.

We started looking at listings on January 6th, and we were handed the keys to our first property, a condominium, February 14th.

We looked at a variety of neighborhoods, and had some definite preferences. I was tired of the noise and crowds of mixed-use neighborhoods, so the Mission, Haight, and pretty much everything south of Market was off the table. So was everything east of Van Ness. I liked where I lived, on the border between Pacific Heights and the Western Addition, and wanted to stay. In the end, what we could afford shelved all of these preferences and the only place we absolutely would not look at was District 10.

Not having a lot of money made the search both harder and easier. It was harder in that we had to accept our options were severely limited. At $450k, the upper end of our budget, the list of affordable properties was like a used robot lot in a Star Wars movie. But a lack of choice made choosing easier, and the clock was ticking.

It took only two Sundays of open houses for us to nail it down: a condominium down by Ocean Beach. Two bed, two bath, and 1,300 square feet, plus a garden plot. It also had parking, which made hourlong after work parking searches a thing of the past. It was at the nexus of Land's End, Golden Gate Park, and Ocean Beach. The first time we toured it, it just felt like it could be home for us.

And it had been on the market for more than 100 days. Originally listed at $489k, by the time we noticed it the property had dropped to $450k. We offered $425k and poured whiskey. The next day we learned our offer had been accepted.

Now, the mortgage. We were approved for $450k, but with $600 monthly HOA fees factored into our finances the bank would only approve $425k. The entire process was like standing in front of some incredibly complex machine that I had no hope of understanding, and which periodically demanded money and financial documentation. Every once in a while it would cough and there would be a brief panic. But in the end, everything worked out.

Having a good realtor and mortgage agent (who also had a good working relationship) was absolutely essential. Both worked tirelessly for us and although we were pretty small fry as far as the San Francisco market went, treated us no differently than if we were buying a multimillion dollar home. Both protected us from the listing agent, who in our opinion was crazy and incompetent.

The contractor inspection was thorough and money well spent. The pest inspection was an UTTER RIPOFF which consisted of the inspector showing up and then wandering around the property with little interest in actually performing an inspection but more in networking with the realtors. Twenty minutes later, my wife and I were presented with a bill for $400.

The mortgage comes out to $1,200 a month. Add to that $600 a month in HOA fees, and we’re still paying far under the $3,000 a month we’d be paying if we rented the unit. We’re saving a great deal month to month and (hopefully, eventually) building equity, but it all came at a considerable cost: the bank made us cough up a 30% down payment, which meant scraping together everything we had.

Are we happy? Yes, but it’s not an experience we’d like to repeat any time soon. Thanks to the market, I’m pretty sure we won’t.

Thanks for sharing your story, Kyle!