Housing

998 Square Feet of California Dream

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Home Sweet Home; photo by Rich Dean

The three segments today on the increasingly volatile global housing market got me thinking about my own personal role in the American housing market. People who bought early, cheap, and at sane interest rates are looking like financial geniuses now, but sometimes there is an awful lot of luck and chance involved in getting that piece of real estate. Most people don't wind up buying a house by accident, especially not in Southern California, but that's kind of what happened to me...

In 2003, I was living in a one bedroom basement apartment in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. My then-boyfriend (now husband) was living up in San Francisco. "As much as I love you," Rich told me during one visit to southern California, "I hate Los Angeles even more. I'm never moving here!"

Fortunately, (for us, I mean) the dot-com bust came... Most of our friends lost their jobs, and Rich decided to join me in southern California in my little one bedroom apartment. It was cozy, but cozy only goes so far. We realized in pretty short order that we'd need a bigger place.

As luck would have it, I got an email forwarded by a good friend — a guy she knew was renting out his house in nearby Atwater Village. It sounded perfect: three bedrooms, a big back yard and, best of all, a garage with a mechanic's pit. (We didn't own a house, but we did have a small fleet of vintage cars). We fell in love with it the second we saw it and soon become his tenants.

About a year later, the owner ran into some financial trouble and called to say he was selling the house. We had two options — move out or buy the place. Without much of a clue about what we were doing, we quickly pulled together all our savings and (with a bit of help from our incredibly generous parents) bought the place.

I'll never forget the day we closed on the house. It was the same day as former California Governor Ronald Reagan's memorial. I raced from the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley to the offices of the local Countrywide in Woodland Hills.

Signing all of those papers was one of the most terrifying and exhilarating things I've ever done. And before I could say "escrow," we became California home owners.

We still need to replace the non-functional fireplace which will cost us at least $15,000... Central AC would be really nice — that's at least another 6 grand. Oh yeah, and did I mention that eventually we'll need to get rid of all that asbestos that lines our house? I really do need to start playing the lottery....

Still, when I read about foreclosures and skyrocketing mortgages, I feel incredibly lucky to have our own 998 square feet piece of the California dream.

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That's a beautiful story! The house is adorable! I'm scared-to-death of buying my first place in CA. Commitment issues, I guess. Maybe the $1,500 rent check I write every month should be my motivator.

Sent by Elyse | 3:28 PM | 7-8-2008

I bought in much the same accidental way in Portland, Oregon, in 2000. I knew I was making a good long-term investment, but had no idea it would get as precipitous as it did.

Sent by Grateful every day to live where I live | 12:27 AM | 7-9-2008

998 is quite a large space in SF terms...one I can only dream about... right now, I can only dream a 600 sq ft TIC, and without generous or wealthy parents, I'm still dreaming...

Sent by magie | 8:27 PM | 7-14-2008

wow, thinking about the cost of living in CA makes my little Ohio heart pound extra hard! 1500 a month rent? That's my monthly mortgage payment for a 1700 sq.ft. house!!! Ohio might not be as glamorous as california, but in this case I'm glad of it.

Sent by Jen Garcia | 1:45 PM | 7-15-2008