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Caitlin’s Roller Coaster House Hunting Saga Continues…

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HI, I’M BACK WITH A LIFE UPDATE. Please settle in and grab some coffee because you’re in for another long read! You may remember me from this massive missive, but let me catch you up quickly: in August, I stumbled upon a .68 acre piece of land in the hills of Los Angeles that happened to contain a “teardown” house.

The hill house in question was being offered at $299,000 and let me tell you: that is a GOSH. DARN. STEAL. (I’m about to provide some context below). She had been sitting vacant and unfinished for over a decade so she needed some work – a contractor quoted me $300,000 to $400,000 for a builder-grade renovation – but comparable homes in the neighborhood with *no* views were selling for an average of 1.1 to 1.7 million dollars, so I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics (and math, as detailed here) to convince myself that this was 100% worth pursuing.

And pursue it, I did!!! It’s been two months. She was a diamond in the rough, and I was going to fix her! HERE’S THE UPDATE.

The Honest Numbers

Before I really get into anything else, I just want to have a quick and open chat about the financial situation that brought us to this day. WHAT IS THE INTERNET FOR, if not revealing incredible personal information about yourself and your bank accounts??? If you only care about the house details, you can scroll down to the next section. If you read the last post and you were like, “hey, how the heck are you affording this?,” then this overview is for you!

I’m 29 (as of today!), I’m debt-free (as of August!), I’m single (please send me your cute sons, I’m so tired of Tinder), and I’m looking for a house in East Los Angeles while trying to stick within the $400k to $500k range. (Trying is truly the operative word here. We’re going on a full ride today, folks, and of course it involves going over budget). In a dream scenario, I’m hoping to find a place that’s fairly run down (aim high, everyone!!!) but livable enough that I can manage a $100-200k renovation over a year or two (or three, or four, or forever).

But I know the real question from the last post was “how do you have enough in savings to pull this off?” so I need to digress for a moment and introduce you to my very smart, very fun, VERY FINE mother. You may recognize her from her contributions in the last post – mainly, offering to lend me a bananas amount of money when I couldn’t find a land loan (I later discovered the lovely people at U.S. Bank, who were willing to lend me a bananas amount of money instead! Crisis averted!) – but I wanted to put a face to the name, so here she is. THIS IS BRENDA.

I discussed this a bit in the comments of the last post, but I wanted to put it front and center: I owe literally all of this to my mom’s careful, brilliant planning, to her tireless and incredible work ethic, to just straight up dumb luck, and to some unfortunate losses. I am a lifelong beneficiary of the framework that this genius woman laid for me.

When I was born, my mom started a brokerage account for me to use. FOLKS, DO THIS FOR YOUR KIDS! HURRY! 29 years of compounding interest on holiday gifts, inheritances (a sad personal note that I normally don’t talk about: I got to bury my whole family with the exception of my mom before I turned 17, which was not awesome!), and personal contributions have swelled into around $80,000. There is truly no way on God’s green earth that I would have anywhere NEAR $80,000 if left to my own devices and I still transfer $100 every Thursday into this account. THANK YOU MOM, FOR YOUR INFINITE WISDOM. (Unfortunately, we do have one blind spot when it comes to finance: novelty photos. I cannot tell you how much money we have dropped on these types of photos of us over the years, but I can tell you that we have HUNDREDS. Also, last year we got a little wine tipsy on a cruise ship last year before buying EVERY. SINGLE. PICTURE. they had of us. We are a fun time!!)

ANYWAY – I honestly do not look at this brokerage account and only set up an online login in July, when I started house-hunting seriously. I still have a regular savings and checking account so I love that this brokerage exists separately, particularly because I won’t have that big “holy crap, I just spent *everything*” moment when I wire my downpayment.

And finally, I just got dumb lucky in the stock market and cashed out a couple thousand dollars of stock to free up extra funds for closing costs. When I boil it down, every $1,000 I put into my portfolio turned into $11,000. I can’t be like, “ah, yes, buying a house is SIMPLE! Just invest in stocks with high returns!!!” but Robinhood – used responsibly, with stocks held for the longterm – really worked for me.

And while sure, I take home a salary and do my best…I really still owe it all to my mom. I wouldn’t be here without her setting me up with solid financial infrastructure or without knowing that I could always go home if I failed miserably. When I wanted to quit an incredible job at Apple to start a startup, she was on board. When I needed a year to recuperate between 4 years at the startup and joining EHD (that sh*t was HARD, y’all!!!), she was always there to give me a pep talk. I’ve been very, very privileged enough to be in a position where I could take fun and weird risks with my work because I knew I could always run back to Delaware, which I realize is SO SO SO SPECIAL. We are pretty stoic in person but I hope she knows that I am absolutely obsessed with her and I gush about her to anyone who will listen. MOM, YOU ARE FUN AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. I’m so grateful for you.

Is this an essay about my mom???? No? Should it be??? OKAY ANYWAY THAT’S HOW I’M PAYING FOR THINGS, NOW HERE’S THE HOUSE UPDATE…

The Context

Back to business! My favorite comment about the hill house wasn’t even posted on the blog – it was on an anonymous message board. It was biting (albeit accurate, if I’m being honest!), but it ended with a two sentence quip that made me laugh: “The house is clearly a nightmare, and is being left alone for logical reasons. The lady is delusional.”

I had to laugh because this person was so right. The hill house IS clearly a nightmare – it has foundation issues, the neighbors who aren’t thrilled about having her fixed up, there’s not even a road leading to the property, and that is still only the beginning of a laundry list of permitting issues – and because of these things, yes, any logical person would leave it alone! But when it comes to delusional, I’d like to present an alternative…

here’s a cutie!

I think the listing says it best: “MAJOR FIXER, YET DREAM VIEWS ON A DOUBLE LOT NEAR THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN…Yes, the exterior is rough and the interior even rougher and is likely a complete raze to the ground, but priced to sell for an amazing development opportunity that likely only comes around once in a lifetime!”

And admittedly, this house has A LOT OF CHARM. But you know what this house doesn’t have? A ROOF. Or a salvageable interior. This teardown went on the market for $499,000 in August and sold to a cash buyer last week for $567,500. THAT’S ALMOST SIXTY. NINE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. MORE THAN ASKING PRICE. In cash!!! How could I not be enthusiastic about a house that’s twice the size, half the price, and in workable condition…albeit requiring A LOT more bureaucratic legwork? It didn’t seem delusional to me (at the time…) to save hundreds of thousands of dollars when faced with comps like this. SO ONWARDS, I TRUCKED.

The Math Hits

i’m about to get punched in the head by reality

On the day my last post went live, I finally got an email from the Bureau of Engineering. It had been weeks and I had needed their feedback: could I just build a driveway, or would I need to extend the road in front of the property? The answer wasn’t great: they wouldn’t know until I had taken full possession, but they warned that I should budget for 30 feet of frontage.

In Los Angeles, if you need a city road built, you can submit a request to the city and if approved by the neighbors, you can submit a waiver that will cover the costs. But this home was different: I had been warned by city planners that neighbors had historically blocked waivers and that yes, if I wanted to live here, I should be prepared to pay for a road (and to potentially pay for updates to the entirety of the road leading up to the property). And like…ok! That felt doable. I’ve lived in houses with long driveways. It’s the same, right?

IT IS NOT THE SAME. Rough estimates I got from the city were all over the place, but they were all in the six figures – $100k to $400k. This felt like a VERY BIG leap to take without the buy-in of the neighborhood council, which still hadn’t responded to any of my frantic emails.

annnnd there it is

While I was noodling on that problem – am I charming enough to talk potential neighbors into helping me get a waiver worth nearly half a million dollars? – I stumbled on some more FUN NEWS. Ah, yes – lumber prices have soared over the past several months. Maybe this isn’t a huge deal for some renovators, but it’s an enormous hurdle for me. This place is 2,200 square feet and because it’s been exposed for a decade, the whole house basically needs to be reframed or reinforced.

I know that my original $300k to $400k estimate was on the low end, but this lumber shift alone bumped it up to a $450k to $600k renovation estimate (and that’s BEFORE any major issues). I ended up digging up a statistic that made my stomach drop: a sheet of plywood that cost $8 in February now costs $20. This was so specific and digestible and I could feel my whole heart sinking.

While this was happening, my realtor Francine was still in communication with the seller’s agent. They were actively handling some of the major permitting issues (like a tree report for Urban Forestry, a Hillside form for the Bureau of Engineering, and a new Environmental Assessment form). These were huge, expensive hurdles that stood in the way of even starting a renovation and I had anticipated buying with all these issues still in tact, so despite the never-ending barrage of new issues, the seller was providing enough value that I seriously started to think about putting in a lowball offer and extending the contingency period.

And then, on August 28th – my mom’s birthday! A day that should have been great! – I got a Redfin email that it was under contract. Welp.

The Interim House Hunt + A Surprise Dealbreaker

I considered putting in a backup offer, but I also figured that it would work out if it was meant to be. The additional bright side: Brenda (a lady we now all know and love!) could enjoy her time and retirement savings without worrying about me running back to Delaware with my tail between my legs after making an enormous mistake. I’m a generally a fan of the “you get to pick your a few of your own problems” way of thinking, but I’m still not crazy about the idea of bringing anyone down with me. Maybe it was a good thing???

Three days later while I was still feeling glum about missing out and in the midst of licking my wounds, I got an email that this tiny house in Highland Park – right near Bowser’s! – had just hit the market $438,000. It was a one bedroom and only 616 square feet but OH MY GOSH, it was CUTE. And more importantly, it was within budget. It was a real gift from the universe to a girl who was feeling a little lost!

This place was on a great street and it had parking, a semi-shared garage, a really big backyard outdoor space with a lot of privacy, and the sweetest front entrance. I spent the night playing with the 3D walkthrough (it’s actually still up, if you want to get the full experience) and mentally sketching out potential renovation plans.

Despite being itty bitty, the description mentioned a basement and I discovered on the 3D walkthrough that the bumped out area to the right of the front door actually contained a pretty large closet. (I mean, still tiny, but large for the space). I figured that if I closed on this place, I’d take some space from the living room and from this closet to put in some stairs, I’d finish the basement, and I’d double the living space. EASY PEASY, RIGHT?

But of course…NOT easy peasy. When I got to the showing, the listing agent hit me with a whammy: the basement is sloped, so my stair dreams and my hopes for a livable basement were off the table. This gal was 616 square feet and she was going to stay that way.

That was okay, though, because the place was SO. FREAKING. CHARMING. The light was beautiful and for the most part the fixes seemed primarily cosmetic. It needed a totally new bathroom – despite a pretty weird layout, the room was actually 5′ x 8′, which is a pretty standard bathroom size – and an updated kitchen, but I still saw a ton of potential here. I could loft the ceiling and expose the beams! I could open up the wall between the kitchen and living area! I could build a deck with french doors off the one bedroom and make a sweet indoor/outdoor space!

Then, listing agent slipped in a few more disclosures: he didn’t have a key to the basement which was padlocked shut, but we could peek in the windows to take a look at the washer and dryer. The garage straddled the property line and was split only by a tiny wall in between, and maintenance of the joint building had historically been shared by the two homeowners. The family had recently done an inspection and had discovered some foundation issues. (And seeing as I was considering a home that may or may not be in danger of sliding down a literal mountain, this foundation revelation did not deter me at all.)

And then, a final doozy: the last homeowner had recently passed away of natural causes inside the house.

I DO NOT KNOW WHY THIS BOTHERED ME. I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHY.

Here, I had found the cutest property that checked a lot of boxes. It was within budget, it was a manageable first-time renovation size, it was close to everything in Highland Park, AND it was an ideal size for one! But learning about the passing just made me feel weird, for reasons I still can’t really wrap my head around.

I even put it out to my friends in a poll on Instagram, asking if they’d consider buying a very tiny, very cheap (again, comparatively for LA!!!) home in a great area if the last owner had recently passed inside…and the answer was YES, by a landslide. I had a grand total of 8 (eight!!!) pals who shared my reservations, and learned that I know 103 people who are braver than me.

It still bothers me that I can’t pinpoint the root of why this gets to me – enough that I had to text my mom again today in an attempt to unpack it. I’m not particularly religious or spiritual (though I appreciate all the folks who offered up their bibles and sage!) and to make it even more hypocritical, my own father passed away at home, per his wishes!!! (If you’ve gotten this far and you’d like to give me a birthday gift, might I suggest a small donation to the American Cancer Society?).

I know that there must be something really special about a place if someone chooses to spend their last days there – and apparently, this neighbor was much loved!!! The agent told me about how nearby folks had set up a little memorial on the porch – but at the end of the day, I think what got to me was the size. At 600 square feet, I’d always feel like someone had just died *right there.* After sleeping on it, I decided to pass. (And for what’s it worth, this place ended up selling for $482,000 — $44k over asking).

It’s True: You Can Fall in Love Again

And then, my realtor Francine sent me this place. I actually opened the listing while FaceTiming with Jess (as a side note, I think Jess and I have a codependent FaceTime relationship. We are working together via FaceTime ALL DAY. EVERY DAY. All the time. If you send me anything, I can guarantee that I am FaceTiming Jess while I’m looking at it) and she will testify in a court of law that I cut her off mid-sentence and my initial reaction verbal reaction was “Oh. Sh*t.”

Francine had sent me a 2 bed, 2 bath home in El Sereno. It was VERY, VERY VINTAGE and a 1,466 square foot home on a huge corner lot (again, LA huge – 7,605 square feet). I loved it immediately. The only problem: it was listed at $549,555, which was about $50k more than I was hoping to spend…but OH MY GOSH. Big heart eyes. I emailed my loan officer Andy the link with a subject reading: “can i afford this?” and once he said yes, all bets were off.

This place was built in the 1950s, but last updated in the 1970s. I was *obsessed.* I knew I was toast from the second I saw the ceiling beams, huge fireplace (it’s massive in person), the swagged pendant, the sunken living room, the Palm Springs-style double doors, and the vintage wallpaper. I made an appointment with Francine to see it the next day and of course, I fell even more in love once we actually walked in.

This place was WEIRD, and I didn’t want to change a thing. There was an enormous dining room with a movable wall installed for some reason. There was a breakfast nook/bar area with faux beams that coordinated with the swinging saloon doors and extended into the galley kitchen. It was a full-on time capsule with so much personality and life – the opposite of a lot of the monochromatic flips on the market – and I was so sold.

I’m actually pretty sure that Francine thought I hated the house, because I think I swore every. single. time. we walked into a new room. CURSE THIS OVER BUDGET HOUSE AND HOW MUCH I LOVE IT. It needed a lot of work – there were a lot of dangerous looking cracks and it was hard to discern whether they were structural problems or just old, cracked plaster (a contractor I consulted said it could have gone either way), and the leaning retaining wall in the backyard didn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

By the time we hit the pink bathroom on the left, I knew I was going to make an offer. After going home, analyzing the retaining wall on Google Earth (it must be fine if it’s been leaning at a 45 degree angle since 2006, right???), sending my contractor a million photos of cracks in the wall (“It sounds like you already know what you’re going to do” – my contractor responding to my very leading texts), and getting a pretty restless sleep, I texted Francine that I was ready to make an offer on this place.

My mom’s response was my favorite: “One room looks like it has mold. Other than that, it’s a fixer.” ENTHUSIASM! (For what it’s worth, after learning about my enthusiasm, Brenda admitted that she also did like the bathroom and that she supported my decision to put in an offer, too.)

And I almost have to laugh now, sharing these photos with y’all who don’t live in Los Angeles. I submitted an offer at asking – $549,555 with 10% down and a conventional mortgage to get my greasy little paws on the bathroom on the right. I briefly considered a 5% down offer, but I really wanted to be as competitive as possible while maintaining some cushion for initial repairs. As someone who grew up in a pretty normal and fairly-priced town (Wilmington, DE – anyone else?!) where $550k would buy you a nice, fully-finished house without cracks or mold (but also without so much wallpaper and green carpet – I knew i had to move to LA for a reason!), putting in an offer for this much was pretty surreal.

Which leads us to some more honest money talk: I’m a single lady making a normal salary. The mortgage on this $550k house with current interest rates would run me a little over $3,000 a month, which is more than I bring home in one paycheck. I know all the Dave Ramsey fans out there are like “AHHH, don’t do it!!! That’s too much!!!”

But as context, I present the following: I currently pay $1,900 in rent on my one bedroom apartment and up until the pandemic, I was spending between $1,000 and $2,000 a month on competitive synchronized skating. I am fully aware that the latter number is ludicrous. (Buuuuut my team is ranked third in America! It’s fun! I can’t seem to retire!)

After six years of juggling rent with these exorbitant bills – my first EHD post was actually about how I flip furniture to fund skating! – my monthly spending is pretty much on lock (and I’ve managed to pay down all my credit card debt despite this weird cash flow situation!), so I felt pretty comfortable about committing to a monthly mortgage payment that was this large. ANYWAY. When I think about this house as a place to live and as a hobby that would replace skating, $3,000 seems like a steal to me. And for what it’s worth, my current apartment is about 1,100 square feet and has absolutely no insulation, so I’m also well-adjusted to paying VERY HIGH utility bills.

Putting in an offer felt scary, but it also felt right. After submitting about a million signatures on Docusign, I spent the afternoon pinning inspiration photos in an attempt to manifest an offer acceptance. I knew the market was going to be competitive and I was trying not to get my hopes up, but UGH, waiting is SO HARD. Solidarity to all my pals who are also going through this right now!

The Brief Pause

so much yard for los angeles, though. what a treat!

It took a little over 24 hours to hear back, which made me feel hopeful. Bad offers get rejected fast, right? They must be at least considering it if it’s taking this long, right? IT’S GOTTA BE MINE, RIGHT?

In case my decision to post numerous sweeping and identifying shots of the home didn’t make it clear, the universe had other plans. My dreams were crushed (melodramatic, but that’s how it feels!), my Pinterest board was rendered useless, the home ended up selling quickly for $600k, and I have never wished I had a boyfriend more. A joint income woulda made it possible! DOES ANYONE WANNA DATE ME SO WE CAN BUY A HOUSE TOGETHER?

But on the bright side, I learned something about my tastes! After looking at so many houses (THANK YOU FRANCINE FOR GOING TO SO MANY HOUSES WITH ME), I realized that both of my two big house loves have leaned more contemporary/modern/70s. I’ve also learned that I care a lot about maintaining the character and ~vibe~ of a house. There are a lot of places on the market out here with a ton of traditional details – built-ins near the fireplace, arts & crafts woodwork, china cabinets dividing the kitchen and dining room – and I’ve realized that since those features aren’t super *me*, it’s okay for me to pass on them without taking time to go to a viewing.

House hunting is so hard – things go from 0 to 100 in a matter of hours, there’s a real scarcity mindset, and the voice in my head is reciting a constant monologue on a loop that sounds a little something like, “what if I don’t go and that was THE ONE?!” I’m sure that anyone in this market can commiserate that losing out on something you love stinks, but the clarity that comes from finally finding a place that fits your taste is pretty freeing. I no longer feel the need to frantically email my realtor EVERY home that comes on the market in my price range – the right one is worth waiting for. (I don’t mean to sound like I’m writing copy for a dating website or like I’m fresh outta the self-help book aisle, but that’s truly where I’m at now.)

The Future???

i promise, we’re wrapping it up

Speaking of the one…that brings us full circle to this little beauty. The hill house. After the offer on my ’70s reno dream was rejected at the beginning of September, I was pretty sure that the universe was teeing me up to make an offer on this place. (For someone who likes math and relies on data as much as I do, I sure spend a lot of time relying on the universe to give me signs. There’s something funny in there.) I spent a solid month catching my breath – after sprinting straight from working with bureaucrats and banks to putting in offers on other houses, I needed a second to relax – so I decided to sit and wait for this baby to fall out of escrow.

And she didn’t. On Friday, I got the email that the sale had closed for $340k – $41k over asking. It was an abrupt end to an unfinished story.

It’s kind of bittersweet to take everyone on a full ride and then to close it with a “and then I lived happily ever after in NONE OF THE HOUSES I WROTE A HUNDRED PAGES ABOUT,” but that’s what really happened. Buying a house is hard and not glamorous and I’m still trying. Maybe one day it’ll work out! In any case, I’m grateful for the experience – sure, I now know enough about permitting and black walnut trees and hillside engineering to win a very niche, very boring game of Jeopardy – but as a pretty independent, self-sufficient only child who grew up with an “I can do it myself!!!” attitude, I feel really lucky to look back on the past two months and to realize that WOW, a whole bunch of folks came together to support me as I tried to solve an seemingly unsolvable problem. 2020 has been a crap year, but this will always be one of my favorite stories.

In the meantime, as I resume the house hunt out here, I just wanna thank all of you for indulging me and for coming along on this weird journey with me. The outpouring of support from the last post was overwhelming in the best way and I wish I could have made it work, both for myself and for the blog! I’d be happy to keep y’all updated on the next offer, if you want. TIL NEXT TIME, OKAY?

PS. Did I miss out on that 616 square foot house in Highland Park, though??? All this chatter about the hill house and the ’70s dream…but is that cottage the real one that got away? I still can’t figure out why I couldn’t put in an offer, but boy, I definitely felt some regret while uploading those pictures. WHAT SAY YOU??

PPS – EMILY HIGHJACKING THE POST HERE – ITS CAITLIN’S BIRTHDAY!!! WE LOVE YOUR VOICE, MAD SKILLS, AND INCREDIBLE ENTHUSIASM. SHE WAS HIRED TO MANAGE PARTNERSHIPS, AND NOW HANDLES ALL REVENUE (AND BEYOND) AND STILL HAS THE TYPE OF BRAIN TO WRITE THESE INCREDIBLY ENTERTAINING POSTS, TOO. WE ARE ALL VERY VERY LUCKY TO HAVE HER. HAPPY BDAY CAITLIN!! AND GOOD JOB, BRENDA 🙂

Fin Mark

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Martha

I was so excited when I saw this pop up on Feedly on my phone, I opened a browser window to read it ‘on the big screen’! 🙂 I share your love of that funky house you missed out on, it is literally perfect and one weeps to think of what will happen to it in the hands of the wrong people, that original character lost. Crossing my fingers for you that something perfect comes along!
The financial stuff is so interesting. I am an American living in Ireland and here our mortgage is limited to 3.5 times our salary (lending limits introduced after some very bad lending in the early 00s), which means that I can’t buy anything in this very expensive market on my remarkably average wage, we are a single income family with three kids. Never in a million years would I get a mortgage where the monthly payment is more than my take home pay!!
And thanks for the advice on brokerages for kids – been meaning to do that for ours and this is a good reminder, going to do that today!

Laura

Thank you for the journey. It was drama and fun to tag along on.

Reanna

Love the update; it’s a roller coaster, and all the more relatable because it’s not neatly tied up with a bow! Feeling hopeful that the Universe and your due diligence will combine to put you where you need to be 🙂

Evelin

Wow, what a journey. And I can feel it so much. Been there.
Kudos for your openess and real life talk.
A curious question from Europe: here, for an employee, a monthly paycheck is the normal. the monthly payment on my account is already net, meaning after tax, after health insurance and retirement (both are mandatory here in Germany), etc.. Hence a monthly net income and for my disposal.
What exactly do you mean with “more than one paycheck”? A weekly one? bi-weekly one? monthly? Is this a gross income and you have to pay tax and all afterwards? Are there varying rythms for different companies or states? Is there a kind of “normally”?

Caroline

In the States, most people get paid every two weeks and paychecks are net of taxes and health insurance/retirement (if available through your employer). So “more than one paycheck” means more than about 50% of her take-home pay. A lot of “financial experts” will suggest that housing cost be ~30% of your take-home pay, but in big cities, it’s not that uncommon for young people’s rent/mortgage to be closer to half. Curious what housing typically is as a % of household’s take-home pay in cities in Europe?

Giulia

I think that it changes in the different states. Here in Belgium the law states that your mortgage shouldn’t be higher than 33% of your netto income per months. (But there’s the possibility of exceptions when it comes to really high salaries)

Evelin

Here banks recommend and offer in general 30-33% of net income, but it depends on your securities. In case you offer a capital life insurance or a 2nd home, as additional securitiy, you can get a higher mortage. Or if you are on a temporary part-time job with a signed/ secure contract to get more hours soon, eg. due to childchren or maternity leave etc.
But same, for expensive capitals or high costs cities like Paris, London, Munich, Milan, Frankfurt etc. mortgage (and rent) can go up to 50% or even more.
Thank you for teaching me 🙂

Victoria

Depends where you are. London is expensive and I live on the outskirts (you might call it suburbs but is still part of London). Rent/mortgage can be half a salary, but you won’t get banks lending unless you have “affordability” and you need 20% to get a not ridiculous interest rate. It’s also normal for a mortgage to be 25-30 year term as standard.

Dee

In the US most people get bi-weekly paychecks. So its two paychecks per month.

Isabelle

I’m American but every job I’ve ever had has paid me monthly, except hourly retail/service industry jobs. That tripped me up too!

Paula

I’ve never had a monthly paycheck (I’m American, too), and I’m retired now after many jobs. My pay has always been biweekly, and I prefer that.

Jessie

This is totally different from company to company in the US, and sometimes even within the same company. I’m an accountant and have had clients who pay their white collar workers bimonthly and their blue collar workers weekly, or some where certain executives will get monthly pay – it’s just up to the company. The most common thing I’ve seen is for blue collar workers/industries and retail/customer service (typically hourly employees, but not always) to get paid weekly on Fridays and for white collar workers to get paid either every other Friday or on the 15th and last day of the month. The idea being that an hourly worker (especially a union tradesman) is working at will and can choose to leave a particular job whenever they’d like, so more frequent paychecks make them free-er to move from one company to another – I think some trade unions even mandate that their members must be paid at the end of each week.

Diane

Here’s what I say: no looking back and no regrets, lady! Full steam ahead and positive vibes only! You’ll find the house meant for you, and it’ll all be worth the wild ride. Plus, as you already know, you’re racking up some great stories that will entertain people at every cocktail party you attend for the rest of your life. I’m enjoying every crazy twist and turn and can’t wait to hear what happens next!

Karen

I agree – you will end up with the right house! It always works out in the end. Great read, and house hunting is cray-cray – it hits you on a monetary, logistical, and emotional level – a perfect storm for total life take-over! My husband still jokes about the time we were in negotiations for our (my dream) house, and we were on speaker phone with our RE agent, and I ended up yelling “we’ll go up to whatever!” (that’s how bad I wanted it)….LOL, and that did not happen. Our agent (and my down-to-earth husband) steered the ship right.

Also, a loan broker/bank will almost *always* tell you “can afford more” (pending your finances), but you do not want to be house-poor. Revisit your max budget figure and don’t bother with houses that go beyond that. Closing costs and moving along will be a chunk of change, and then of course once you get in the place you’re gonna make so many changes (yes, over the years, but it will still all add up!).

Tarynkay

I agree with this- in the excitement of finding the perfect house, spending half your income on just on your mortgage (and cutting into the other half for utilities, repairs, renovations, decorating) sounds reasonable.

But being house poor gets old really fast. Right now with the shutdown, I think it’s easier to say, ok, I’ll never travel, I’ll never want to return to skating, I’ll never go out, etc, I’ll just work on the house! All the time! But when things open back up, maybe you will want to do other fun things as well. It’s just nice to have the flexibility to make different decisions in the future vs committing to decades of these payments.

Regarding percentage of income spent on housing- I think you also have to look at your other fixed costs. For instance, we pay a completely ridiculous amount through my husband’s employer for mostly pointless high deductible insurance. If we lived in a country with universal healthcare coverage, we would probably be more comfortable with spending a greater portion of our income on housing.

Ilaria

I’ve enjoyed reading your previous post and even more this one. House hunting is really mentally demanding. Thanks for taking us on your journey! Good luck for the one that it meant to be. (I would love to get mom-advises for your mom! )

Herselfindublin

Wow, what a roller coaster. But I think you also learned something else very important, that a lot of people overlook – buying a home, especially your first home, is an *emotional* decision. If you’re bothered by somebody having died there, it really is a deal breaker for you in a way it may not be for somebody else. So don’t beat yourself up about it.
On a side note, my uncle literally bought his house *by mistake* and he and my aunt lived there for 35 years and raised two children there, so the right place will find you. And you’ll have all the research in place to be ready for it. It’ll be worth it.

Rachel

Please elaborate on the story of your uncle buying a house by mistake! How does that happen? It sounds like a great movie plot!

Katie

Whathavewedunoon on Instagram accidentally bought a derelict Victorian in Scotland, and are just now starting with putting it back together. I think he thought he was bidding on a reasonable sorta fixer in Edinburg… and he was not. THAT would make an amazing movie.

Margaret

Ah, the ones that got away.
I’ve found these two stories fascinating. I’m seriously impressed that someone your age has so much financial savvy.
I’m also Every. Single. Time blown away by the cost of real estate in LA. My 720 sf house is assessed at less than $50k, and that’s after a gut rehab. Half a million would buy you a mansion here. Would you consider Indiana?
And yeah, your reaction to the house whose owner had died in it was illogical. So you’re not a Vulcan.
All the best, and keep us updated.

yasmara

Every. Single. Time. That tiny house sold for more than my suburban Raleigh 3300 square foot house!

Lucia

It’s super funny because I live in the bay area and I dream browse L.A. real estate all the time because it’s “more affordable”. A house that size and condition would be $600,000+ in my neighborhood.

Annabelle

Same in NY 😄

Karen

Thanks for your witty honesty, though I think it stinks you had to lay out where you earned your billz to curious gaspers. The housing market is bonkers right now and I appreciate you sharing your experience.

I laughed a lot- “i would like to live in this goldenrod-colored ’70s/western film set, thanks for asking“

Seems like you’re enjoying the hunt! Good luck!

Tara

I love these sagas so much – I read them like a mystery novel and my eyes cannot get to the next word fast enough.

Rachel Quednau

As someone just beginning the house hunting process (albeit in a much less competitive market) I have really enjoyed this journey. Keep the stories coming! Your dream house is out there.

Annie

Omg. I LOVE this post. Thank you for being so honest about your house hunting “journey.” I think you were 100% right not to buy the house someone died in–not because it isn’t a cute house but because once you have those heebie jeebies, they don’t go away. As for the other houses, well, honestly, I’m really glad you didn’t get the house that was about to collapse down a hillside. The other one–damn, you really missed out and that sucks. But it seems like you’ve figured out a lot of what you want and so you’re in a much better place to get the house that will be yours. After all, it’s not like LA is lacking in 1970s/80s fixers with a weird past. I can’t wait to read the next chapter!

Natalie

I just assume that most houses older than 20 years have had someone die in them… we all die somewhere, right? Daniel Kanter talks on his blog very candidly about the dead body that was in his bathtub… worth a read!

Lori

Ahhh, the corpse tub! If I had Daniel’s house, I wouldn’t care either! But that said, it would take a really amazing house to get me over the dead body thing.

Rusty

Thing is … we usually don t know and aren’t told!
I looked through a house once and felt/knew/had a moment that someone had recently died in a specific room.
I asked the agent and ge ignored my question. I looked him directly in ghe eye and told him to answer and … yup! The male owner had chosen to die at home.
Now, is that why I didn’t buy it? No. Because…there are things to be done about moving energies on. But, had I not sensed it or pushed for a direct answer, I most certainly would not gave been told.

Isabelle

In some states the agent is required to tell you if it happened within a certain time frame (the last three years, etc.)

Carol

In CA, disclosure is required. I sold my mom’s and my brother’s homes after they died in them, and had to disclose both deaths. They sold anyway.

Kimberly

Caitlin, love, love, LOVE these posts. Your a Dora d writing style keep me enthralled. Definitely want more posts. Keep at it. You will find the one. Good luck. (And your mom rocks. So savvy and awesome.)

Renee

Love being taken along on your house hunting journey! And, for what it’s worth, I don’t know if I could buy a house knowing that the former owner died in the house either, especially if I got a bad feeling when being told about it. I just don’t think that was the right house for you. Good luck with your continued search!

Kelly

Hang in there! The perfect house is out there waiting for you – it just needed you to see all the others so you would know it is the one when it shows itself to you! Thank you for taking us along on this magical house journey with you! I feel a super entertaining renovation series to follow.

Bekah

I totally get this. My husband and I lived in DC for five years and thought our dream of home ownership was just that – a dream! One bedroom in a decent neighborhood for $600,000 – yeah that’s a firm no from me! Then the universe took over and I am typing this from our dreamy, renovated 3 bed, 3 bath Baltimore row home. I believe in you and I feel the angst and heartbreak. The right thing/house/job/city is right around the corner!

Kim

This is comforting. I feel the same way about my current situation in London, and when I think of potentially moving back to the US, probably to the DC area. I went to college in DC and my dad lives in Maryland so know your context well). Maybe we’ll consider Baltimore if/when we move back to the states. There is hope!

Susan

Caitlin, email me re: my cute son in LA. [email protected]

Alice

Now wouldn’t this be a fun turn of events.

Rusty

Hahaha!!!
🤣👀😂

omg yes yes yes. she’s a serious catch!!!

Emily

This is the happy ending to this story we need! “I tried to buy a house, wrote about it on a blog and instead found my soulmate.” haha

Heidi L. McCuddin

I enjoyed reading all of this and hope you’ll keep us up-to-date! I know your house is out there!

Rachel

Thank you for this – loving these updates. Just one question – is there a reason you are not looking at apartments? Most first home buyers where I live (Australia) would buy an apartment or unit or villa (like a duplex but with 3 or 4 cute little houses on the same block/lot). Do people buy apartments in LA or are they all rentals?

Rusty

Yeah, my first place was an apartment, but not skyscraper, more riverside, staggered into the side of a hill type thing in Perth.
I’m still mortified by first home buyers here in Australia, wanting a 4×2 (or more) as their first home!!!! And then, they still wanna have avo on toast!
LOL!

Janean

Like dating, each one is wrong until it’s right. Your house (and partner) will happen in due time. Keep the faith!

What a journey. I’m honestly just thankful I don’t live in LA…

Alice

Re the cottage somebody died in…something stopped you. Maybe the death is a cover story for something your subconscious mind wasn’t liking about that house. It doesn’t matter…the takeaway is that you were right to hold back when feeling strong resistance. Don’t doubt yourself or you’ll become more likely to invest in something your gut tells you is wrong in the future.

DeniseGK

living this now. this is good advice people.

Rachael

Hey fellow Wilmington gal! My life long tax free Delaware brain spins when I see these prices. But oh-california is 😍.
(Side note: Isn’t it very Delaware to get excited about a Delaware shout out? Lol)
Fun to read your house hunting adventures. Good luck on the next leg of your hunt! 🙂

Bec

This fellow Wilmingtonian says yes lol – and also I thought housing prices here were bananas!

G

So Delaware of me to get super stoked to see Wilmington called out! Lifelong Delawarean, current North Willmington resident LOL.

Jenna

haha, SUCH a Delaware thing! I get downright giddy!

Jana

I really enjoyed this post. We just finally went under contract on a house in the Austin market after looking for months. Not as competitive as LA, but I can relate so much to this roller coaster. Thanks for sharing your journey.

Maria

Hahaha I laughed out loud and gasped for air when I saw the wallpaper in the 70s house! The house was charming but so overwhelming.

Thanks for sharing, Caitlin! I’m sorry your hunt hasn’t been successful yet, but your posts about it have been incredible! I’m a sucker for these stories, I’ve read Bowser’s post three times at least!

Maria

Oh and I don’t think the small house was the one that got away. It’s too small and I can understand that the fact the previous owner died there feels more spooky in such a small space, especially living alone.

And I’m relieved the house on the hill is no longer a possibility, I was getting really nervous haha!

I just have to say, I LOVE going on this journey with you and can’t WAIT to find out what awesomeness you end up with and see you transform it!

Rusty

The fact that you said “a whole bunch of folks came together to support me as I tried to solve an seemingly unsolvable problem” shows a whole bunch of gratitude and that’s life experience right there. I bought my first property when I was 22, without any luck or great advice or investment from a parent…or did I? My dad died when I was 15 and life got tough. Really tough. Uni was below the poverty line and I couldn’t stay at home with my mum coz it was 2 hours each way on the bus (and no, you cannot study on an unairconditioned bus in Australia when the person ne t to you is often falling asleep ON you!) and my landlords let me babysit their kids when I was behind in rent = HELP. I was teaching in the wild west (trust me, this school was nicknamed “Home of tge Knuckledraggers” for a reason!) when an old business associate and buddy of my dad tracked me down and offered to sell his investment property to me, because my dad was a great human being and he’d like to give me a helping hand. = HELP. I paid a… Read more »

Julia

Wow, Caitlin!!! Just thank you for writing this for us. You seem like a super cool gal (synchronized skating — didn’t even know that was a thing!!!) I was one of the ones who was a little too interested in your financial situation last time, and I so appreciate your honesty (not necessary on the internet, but as a 25 yr old single lady, I love feeling like this is a community where we can share stuff like this). Just looking at homes on Zillow gets me amped up with adrenaline — I have no idea how you can seriously house hunt like this for months. But I love reading about it! Thank you thank you!

Roberta Davis

And again today- could you please post this on the insider site?

is it not? so sorry. there has been a glitch. we’ll do now!

Roberta Davis

Thank you! This happens fairly frequently.

EVERYONE WISH CAITLIN THE HAPPIEST OF BIRTHDAYS!!!

Amanda McCullough

I’d say house hunting is HARD and you hang in there, lady! We went through this and it was just as much of a roller coaster with all the unknown. Hard to know if a house is “the one” but I think you will. We did and I still love my forever home.

Roberta Davis

I would have no problem buying ahouse where someone had died of natural causes. There’s an episode of Million Dollar Listing where there was such a house, and the buyer brought in a medium to clear the house of the dead person’s spirit! Then she bought it!

Dee

Hi Caitlin,

I know this is not something you want to hear right now but please consider not putting in all of the nest egg money your wonderful hardworking mom built for you on a questionable property especially, in the financially volatile environment we are living in right now.

Instead, consider buying a bland, run of the mill, builder grade, but “safe” property and turn it into something truely special with your design skills! That would create a great investment property if you ever decide to sell it at some point and will teach a lot of people how to turn something boring and basic (which is all most of us can afford) into something truly special.

This is your first home, trust me there will be more to come! Don’t get into something you will find hard to get out in case of a need!

Only my two cents!

Rachel

I think this is great advice anywhere else except I don’t think those builder grade houses exist in LA for her budget …

HAPPPY BIRTHDAY CAITLIN! You are a dream and a true gift to this earth! ILY!

Rebecca

Ugh, I love this! I am the same age as you and feel like something happened during this time that I just have to buy a house now; not a condo, but a house. I’m in Chicago and while I’m used to a decently quick real estate market, LA is just wild.

Definitely in the camp of the cottage being the one that got away. All the yard space! The charm!

kai

Wow, Caitlin, you have received a valuable education during this process. Continue to hone in on what you want and don’t rush into something by dismissing major issues as something that can be easily remedied. But I think you have already learned that. Best of luck in your search, it is time consuming to say nothing of the emotional roller coaster. You can do it!

Happy birthday!! Whew what a journey! I can’t wait to see where you end up – when you find the one it’ll be perfect for YOU.

Faith

So, why do you want to own a house? And that sentence is voiced in a kind tone, not an aggressive one:) My husband and I have owned 6 homes (not all at the same time, thank God! Have just moved a lot for work) and my unsolicited advice is to rent, keep saving, have fun, and spend your very valuable time on living. When it’s meant to be, it will happen. Also, through all of our homes I’ve learned some lessons: Keep your nut small. Live in the smallest number of square feet possible. This leaves so much time and money for all of the other things in your life. Also, when repairs or renos need to be done, it is always less expensive and you can almost always opt for the more expensive finishes. Location IS important. Spend more money to live in a smaller place in your preferred location instead of less money to live in a bigger home with a long commute. The top three things I think of when buying a home are location, light, and ceiling height. Everything else can be changed. Live in the home for a while before you do any renovations.… Read more »

Rachel

This is all great advice! We when bought our house we had the floors replaced and the whole place painted within 6 months of moving in but due to poor planning/indecision not at the same time. We had to effectively move all our stuff 3 times in less that six months in the same house! 🤦🏼‍♀️

Suzanne

Yes, we had our floors done and walls painted prior to moving in. So worth it! 13 years later and the floors really need to be refinished, but the moving of the stuff is such a deterrent!

QT

This is good advice but its also condescending af. Not everyone wants the same things out of life. Maybe she’d rather spend her time and money on a bigger place. Maybe someone wants to own for security and not be renting and potentially thrown out. So many things go into the decision to buy a house.

Em

I sort of agree but after living in 3400 sq ft with a giant pool for 12 years I cannot wait to move to a small cottage Where maintenance will be a breeze.

Jessie

I firmly believe everyone has an ideal house size, and it’s different for everyone. My husband and I lived in a 750 square ft apartment for almost 2 years after I lived there by myself (with my 2 cats 🙂 ) for a year. In the year by myself, it was the perfect size, but once he lived there too, it was way too small for us – he’s tall and loud and just takes up space, and even though I’ve loved him with all my heart for 12 years, I’m an introvert who needs my alone time to recharge sometimes. We now live in a 2500 sq ft house (3 bedrooms, finished basement) and its the perfect size for just the two of us – we use every inch of this house. Could we survive with less space? Yes. But I don’t want to. In fact, we’re planning to build a house with one more bedroom out on land that we recently purchased so that we have more space before we have kids. Small house living just isn’t for everyone, and if you can afford the space you shouldn’t feel bad about “wasting money” on it.

Happy Birthday Caitlin! Also, I empathize with you on the highs and lows of house hunting and planning and I too know the one that maaaaaaybe got away but not really sure feeling. All I can say is, the universe is weird and just when you think you’ve hit a wall, The ONE shows up. Hang in there girl, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you!

Alexis

I really enjoy reading about your experiences, and look forward to hearing what’s next for you! I have a small suggestion to offer. The text of your posts is very difficult for me to read because of the sheer number of CAPS LOCK phrases, periods in between each word in a phrase, multiple exclamation points, and parenthetical statements. It’s pretty jarring to my eye and makes it tough to read through things smoothly. Sometimes less is more 🙂

Joan

I’ve found that this is the writing style of this whole site/team. I personally find it jarring and tiring to read as well, but I think it’s a preferred writing style of many, particularly on social media.

Em

Oh, please she’s young and excited.

John J Sykes

Ok this is strange; your Bday, today 10/14, is MY mother’s bday; and your mother’s bday, 8/28, is MY bday. 🙂 Good luck on your search!

alexa

I love your tenacity. Personally, I’d be wary of purchasing a home in the current climate. While interest rates are great right now, folks seem to be moving out of these high priced real estate markets in droves. Who knows where you’re going to want to live in the next 2 to 3 years or what those houses are going to be valued at once the great COVID19 migration levels out? Home ownership can be a great feeling, but once you’ve decided to relocate (to be closer to family or for a new job, or just because it strikes your fancy), it can also be an albatross hanging around your neck! I bought while I was still relatively young and, if I had to do it all over again, would probably keep the cash in that brokerage account and give myself the freedom to wander, unencumbered. Just something to think about if none of these houses are really clicking for you right now. Might be the universe’s way of saying its not the right time!

Cherri Porter

Such a good point. Moving in this political, financial, and public health chaos might create more chaos for you. It’s worth thinking about.

Suz

Such a well-written, honest testimony to the trials of house hunting. Hang in there & Happy Birthday!

NSL

“And I almost have to laugh now, sharing these photos with y’all who don’t live in Los Angeles.”

I just want to say, as someone else who’s in LA and only recently began considering buying a house here, I FEEL YOU ON THIS. The bones of that house were so cool, that bathroom was incredible, and I would die for a sunken living room (my friends in the midwest who are buying giant houses for less than half the price of a fixer-upper here just don’t understand!).

Don’t beat yourself up about not putting an offer in on the cottage; if you got a weird feeling about it, you gotta trust your gut. And for what it’s worth, 600 sq feet is pretty tiny. I live in a 500 sq foot apartment now, and while I don’t need a *ton* of space, I do think it’d be pretty nice to have a spare bedroom for guests (think of Brenda!). Your perfect-for-you house is out there, and I’m so excited to read about when you find it!

Michelle

Oh wow! I am also a single lady dipping my toe into first-time home buying and your posts are AMAZING! Thank you for sharing all the ups and downs, all the budget talk, the emotions, the steps, all of it. I freaking love your updates and read every word! Thanks for being so open with us.

Michelle

almost forgot – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Aimee

Thanks for sharing and happy birthday!

Just a quick thought about not wanting to live in a house that some one passed away in:
That makes a lot of sense based on what you shared! It sounds like you have had an overwhelmingly high amount of loss in your life (I am so sorry about that), and that can leave lasting trauma. I had 2 friends pass away in the same week and it made me irrationally afraid of losing people in a big way for a very long time.
A new house is a symbol of life, hope, and new beginnings. Have your “new beginning “ associated with loss can be very upsetting especially if loss had been a shadow over your life.
Anyway, I’m very sorry to be so personal/over analyzing, but I just wanted to affirm you that you were making a lot of sense with your feelings. I wish you much luck and that whatever home you find will be a place of profound joy and peace ❤️

Loved reading this! I’m single/mid-30’s and of course one of my hobbies is Zillow, but I live in Brooklyn…just keeping my eye out on the market and options right now. Your journey is extremely relatable and helpful. Thank you!

Maybe the universe is sending you a boyfriend that lives in a contemporary/modern/70s fixer. And then you can live happily ever after in your dream home (that you didn’t have to pay for 😉) .

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

Isabelle

But if you didn’t pay for it you don’t own it, and have no legal rights to it if things go downhill…..

A

CAITLIN I LOVE reading these posts!!! I love process posts!! I love your voice!! I love your mom!!!

I live in a house that I was only able to buy because the previous owner had died in it, after my husband and I specifically told our realtor that we would 100% like to look at houses someone died in (learned from our realtor that our market is apparently flooded with international buyers who feel strongly negatively about buying a house someone has recently died in). She was a 98 year old from Ireland, and as we are of Irish heritage we thought we could adopt her spirit as an ancestor, haha.

That said, 600sf is too small! Buying a condo would be better for that size, and you don’t seem like a condo gal. Best of luck to you as you keep searching!!

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