Hey there, Ajai here, and I’m back with quite the home-buying update… Remember our horrendous home-buying journey, well we’re still at it. To sum it up we heard 14 “nos” until we heard one very special “yes” (I guess 15’s a charm). Before we get to what we purchased, let’s share how we finally got here.
Our home search spread from LA County to Orange County and it wasn’t before long, we realized we were swimming in a pool with people who had millions of dollars in cash to throw at hideous fixers. I kept wondering who these people were, where they worked, and where they currently lived. With some of the purchasing prices, I thought to myself, “why would someone with this sort of cash on hand be interested in such a home, why not just buy a turnkey home in a prestigious neighborhood? Especially if they were going to spend more money to gut and renovate the house.” Almost every home under $800,000 was in need of a complete tear-down and build-up. For this reason, we began considering condominiums and townhomes. We began our search again, just with new expectations and an understanding of what it meant to live in a condo. We needed to get familiar with HOA (homeowners associations) and what this truly entailed.
This made our home-buying journey a bit more unique, as it meant us interviewing HOAs and learning which ones would be a good fit for us. With every condo/townhouse, we had to inquire about the CC&Rs (covenants conditions and regulations) and ultimately wanted to make sure we were a good match for their rules. It started to feel like dating in a way… We wanted to see what the organization’s values consisted of, if we’d be able to make our own decisions when it came to updating the inside of our home, if there were any restrictions, and ultimately, how much we’d have to fork over each month in HOA dues.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t like dating (I’ve been out of the game for a decade, so I’m a bit rusty haha…). Maybe researching HOAs was more like choosing the right college. Nonetheless, it was tough business and quite the commitment. One thing we knew for sure, is that having to consider an HOA meant there could be limitations on what could be done to the home and rules that we would need to follow to maintain a good standing within our community. That said, you wouldn’t believe the sorts of rules some of these HOAs had.
We came across rules like (I’m paraphrasing here) “Every Owner(s) must run paint colors, flooring, and hardware by the association…” (I learned quickly that HOAs weren’t very designer-friendly) or “there can only be two heartbeats in a single unit” (I couldn’t believe that because of the square footage in some places, Jon, Jack, and myself couldn’t live there). It seemed like every time I found a great home, the HOA was quite the opposite, and when I found a good home with a good homeowners association, someone with a ton of cash would come along and offer a ridiculous amount of money (paying well over asking price, and quite frankly, insanely more than what the home was actually worth). We put in offer after offer, and eventually found ourselves putting in an offer on home number 15. Funny thing is, I’d seen this place early on during our search (it was fuuuugggly… even I had a hard time seeing the vision). Maybe because it was painted in circus colors. The entire living room had been painted red and yellow, and the baseboards were royal blue. The kitchen walls also kept to the circus theme. For weeks, I scrolled past the listing without giving it much thought, then I noticed it was taken offline and thought to myself “some crazy person must have purchased it. I’ll have to say a special prayer for them.”
I learned later that the owner of the circus condo took the listing down to have painters come in to paint the walls a reasonable color (cool gray as you can see in these before photos). All this to say, my realtor sent the listing to me again and told me to have another look. He mentioned how amazing the HOA was, and that I’d have full control over any design changes I wanted to make in the inside of the condo. So I looked over the listing again. I could see the potential this time around (maybe it was because I’d given it a rest for a few weeks… looking for homes had gotten so discouraging). This time, I felt good about the place. Needless to say, we made an offer. This offer took me a bit out of my comfort zone, as I’ve never been a fan of purchasing big-ticket items without seeing them in person. But I really wanted this place. I should also mention our apartment’s leasing office kept sending us letters in the mail stating that they’d be raising the rent significantly, along with pressuring us to renew our lease or to pack our things and hit the road. This alone made me feel anxious. I’d gotten to a point where I really wanted us to be in a place where our $35,000 spent in rent each year could go toward a place that would stay in our family. I thought it would be nice to have a place that Jack could inherit. This made purchasing our own property more important to me, even if it meant moving into an investment property before finding our dream home. So Jon and I decided we would save and use our savings for our dream home, and consider other means to move forward with purchasing an investment property.
I had made the decision to pick up extra work, so we could put together a nice down payment on this property, and Jon dipped into his own savings for the renovation work (because we sure had quite a few things to update). Now let’s get back to the part where we put in an offer on a place sight unseen. Quickly, we found out we were up against three other offers as our realtor came back advising us to offer over asking. We needed to beat out the competition (even though we had no idea what the competition was offering). We arrived at $2,000 over asking (if it didn’t appraise for the listed price), a 7-day due diligence, and purchasing the property in an “as-is” condition. We put in the offer on a Friday and had to wait until Monday to hear back. We never did find out what the other offers were, but ours was chosen, and just like that, we were in escrow.
Once our offer was accepted, reality set in. We had a week to get our inspections done, and to check it out before the window to back out (if we hated it) closed. This is when I should mention the place is in Las Vegas. Vegas is a 4-hour drive from our parents (in Los Angeles), and I have cousins who live there. My sister and brother-in-law also have a second home there. We thought this would be the perfect place to hang (as we both work from home) while we wait for the Los Angeles housing market to chill out a bit (and keep searching for a primary home). Plus, we couldn’t beat those Las Vegas home prices. By the end of the week, our inspection was completed, and we hopped in our car (with our little one) and headed out to see the place for the first time. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty (mountain views galore) and parks that surrounded the neighborhood. The neighborhood turned out to be quite pleasant, with many smiling faces and friendly waves. Once we got into the home, we felt like it was a good decision, and began game-planning our renovations. After completing our walkthrough and getting out of due diligence, the rest of the escrow felt like a breeze. In what seemed to be a blink of an eye, escrow closed and the place was ours. It felt great to be homeowners once again, and now we just needed to begin the process of moving out of our rental and over to my parents while we worked on the new place.
Want to know what my favorite part of a renovation is? Dreaming up the space. I love creating renderings and sourcing materials the most, especially when there’s not much that needs to be done in a space. These things were just cosmetic, just to bring life back into an outdated space. I started with sourcing floors. I had found two options for the kitchen and the rest of the house, I just needed a way to save on shipping. Jon ended up being my save-on-shipping man. I found a store in Los Angeles that had the majority of the floors in stock, so we loaded up the car and Jon did a turnaround trip to drop off the floors.
When Jon arrived to unload the floors… I should let Jon tell you this part, I wouldn’t do it justice.
“Hi friends! Jon here (Ajai’s husband)! I’m happy to be included in this part, especially as it was so gut-wrenching. Hold onto your seats (or sofas) for this one.
I was so excited to be driving up to our new place. I love long drives and this was a nice one. I was cruising, listening to my podcasts, and figured I would grab the keys from the realtor, check out the place, facetime Ajai and Jack from inside of the place, and get some food after. What I didn’t expect was to walk into a place with hundreds of roaches… There were so many! So many roaches that when I was approaching the front door, they were running out of the place. They were on the walls, the ceiling, all over the kitchen and bathrooms, the bedrooms, everywhere. I was shocked, disgusted, and completely bummed.
I inspected the home, hopping from one room to the next, trying not to stand still for too long – to avoid any possible hitch-hikers and after about 4 or 5 minutes, I left. I immediately called Ajai and told her the news. She could sense the defeat in my voice and gave a little pep talk. After our discussion, the next thing I had to do was swing by our local home improvement store and get some roach traps and bait. I bought all of the bait they had, a couple of grenades, and a flamethrower, then headed back – this was war! No, but seriously I did bring back a lot of roach traps and bait.
I facetimed Ajai from inside the home this time, and her jaw dropped. Apparently, she could see teenage and adult roaches crawling on the wall directly behind me. I showed her all the fun I was having and then began laying the traps and bait. To be honest, I can’t remember much after that (it was too traumatizing). I got out of there so quickly. However, I do remember the buyer’s remorse I felt during the drive home.
Hi Friends, it’s Ajai. I’m back hoping you’re still here after that horror story my husband just shared.
A week passed, I had my mother look after Jack while Jon and I headed back for round two. This time we had hazmat suits, masks, gloves, and shoe covers on along with some more premium roach bait gel, bait arenas, and a genetic mutator bait to prevent any more mating between the insects. Ironically, when we arrived, whatever Jon had done before had worked. There were maybe 5 or 10 live buggies running around, but the rest were gone. It almost felt like Jon had made the whole thing up, until I discovered all of the carcasses everywhere.
Demo day had finally arrived, and I was all too thrilled to see the old floors being torn up and the place being prepped for new floors. We learned there was a nice amount of water damage to the original floors – so they had to go. I love a clean slate anyway, and demo day provides just that. A fresh new canvas for paint, and boy was I looking forward to painting. We received the color “Whipped” from Clare, and thought it best to paint the entire house this color. We wanted it to feel fresh and warm. Whipped was the perfect choice, as our home now feels delicate and soft (a long way from the cold gray). We had the house painted just in time for the holiday, and were able to move in a couple of weeks before Christmas.
Now let’s talk about living through a renovation with a 1-year-old. Jon and I have created little barriers all over the house, to keep Jack from getting into any of the construction areas, and we’re basically always at the park, or going on a walk so that he can walk and play. Oh yes, Jack is walking now! Our little guy seems to like the energy of our new home so far, and that’s what keeps us going – we just want him to be happy. We want to be able to leave him something in the long run, and we are thrilled this place will be a part of that something. Though the bathrooms are up and running, the hardware still needs to be swapped out in both tubs/showers, and we still don’t have a functioning kitchen. The good news is, our kitchen should be completed at the end of January (in about a month). Our appliances are set to arrive December 30th, and I can’t wait! It’s been way too long since I cooked a homemade meal for my family. The next project we’re working on is the living room! Stay tuned and follow me for the entire journey. I’ll also be back with an update soon!
Opening Image Credits: Design by Ajai Guyot | From: Ajai’s Neutral Living Room Refresh + How Her Design Choices Parallel Her Journey Becoming A Black Interior Designer