Still Shopping For a Home—Will We Ever Buy One?

Nine weeks pregnant with number two. Wide awake at 4am due to some pretty bad nightmares and a moderate amount of dehydration. I would go to the kitchen to get a water bottle but I can’t because I live in a one bedroom apartment my son sleeps in the living room, next to the kitchen.

I feel so ridiculous to consider my problems problems when the real problems in this world and in this country are so, so much worse. Anyone reading my story, especially without context, would think—man, what a crazy rich woman who is afraid of spending money. Maybe I am. Maybe I shouldn’t be. But my mental health issues make it really hard to know what my life will be like in a year let alone a day. So what do I do?

Looking at houses here that are under $2M and you wonder why anyone buys a house. If they cosmetically are acceptable then there is something wrong with their bones, if their bones are in good shape they are three bedrooms in a space only slightly larger than my current one bedroom apartment. With my husband’s mission to have his dad live with us (which I support IF we could find a place that worked), it makes it all the more difficult.

Part of me says — rates are so low right now, now is the time to buy your forever home. It will hurt financially for the first 5-10 years and then not be too bad. But that is if I can maintain employment for 30 years. I cannot imagine doing what I am currently doing for 30 more years. I desperately need a career change. Without a clear vision of what that is or the income on the other side, I really don’t know how to plan at all. And my husband mutters how I make unreasonable requests of him like try to earn $150k in 5 years (he is at about $80k now but works part time, and he is 38.) I try to tell him I don’t care about his income but if we are going to buy a house that changes things. I need to know we can afford the mortgage or at least most of it on one income—mine OR his.

I know many families have one SAH parent and buy a house. But around here the only families like that I know are one engineer households. If you are a good engineer at a good company you are pretty much set for life unless you massively fuck up. I’m not in a position like that. My job is a weird one that in some companies would be considered a junior role and in companies where it is paid anywhere near what I’m making it would require a lot more management experience.

So I am in this weird spot. I am earning more than I ever thought I would and my networth is climbing (it is realistic to think, if I can keep my job, I’ll have $2M in 2-3 years saved up pre tax, unless the stock market crashes) but I still don’t feel at all stable or accomplished. Yes living in the Bay Area is living in lala land — anyone reading this post from anywhere else would say leave! But my husband grew up here, our friends are here, I am better mentally without my typical seasonal depression in most of the country, and we really want to stay.

I just wish my husband would step up a bit. I know he is tired since due to COVID we lost our part time childcare and now he is watching our son all day while also working part time at night or whenever he finds time to do his work. So maybe I am asking for too much. I would like him to take an online class or something—just to move in the direction of building a career. Like my job, his doesn’t really make sense outside of his company. Some skills would translate but since he has worked for one small company his entire 13 year career, it’s harder to show variety or new learnings. I still think he could get a better paid full time job if he tried, but he never has been interested in having a career.

And some days I think—maybe I can just work my way up to VP and consistently earn, say, $300k a year. For others in my position, that might be doable. But I’m no VP. I do not like managing people or hiring or firing people. In my creative field, I find it very difficult to give feedback without redoing the work myself—and even then I don’t like what I’ve done so how am I supposed to guide someone else to do better?

All of this is to say, here I am, 36, pregnant with #2, with a good chunk of change in savings, and I feel more vulnerable and scared than ever. Up until now I’ve lived with no debts. Some of that is due to fortunately having parents who footed my bill for college (and I really want to pay my mother back for that one day!) But I’ve also bought my cars used with cash and live in small apartments that are less than I can afford based on any housing to income cost calculators.

It’s hard to go from NO debt to $1,500,000 in debt.

But isn’t that how wealth is acquired? My friends who 11 years ago paid $800,000 for a small house, probably with $180,000 down, now own a small house valued at $1,700,000. Maybe $2,000,000 in 10 years will sound as cheap as $800,000 sounds now? Though it’s hard to imagine these homes being worth $3M let alone the $2M they are going for today.

On top of all this, I dislike the real estate business as a whole. Sure, if you know what you are doing and buy the right investment properties you can do very well for yourself. But when you are buying a home for yourself, you are in it on your own while all the people who are supposed to help you don’t really have your back —

your lender — well they want you to be as low risk as possible and any small risk they say you have gives them a reason to charge you more for it. This makes sense for actual risks — but my latest finding from one lender is that we qualified for 3.125% 30 year fixed except when they realized my husband is self employed it jumped to 3.85% (clearly they don’t care that my husband has worked for the same one non profit for the past 13 years and has always made the same annual income with them plus raises while in that same time I’ve had six jobs. Whose income is more stable???)

Then, since you can’t do contingencies in the Bay Area if you want to buy a house, you apparently have to risk 3% of the price of the house (your “earnest money deposit”) and pray to god your loan closes in the allowable amount of time. If not, bye bye $30k! Well, none of these lenders are giving me much confidence our loan will close with no hiccups. With my husband’s self employment status and some new rules around that, not only will our rates be higher, they also will need to see some crazy things like a deposit within 10 days of close. Maybe that makes sense for someone with ongoing business income, but my husband gets paid four times a year for each quarter of work. That is not a big deal—to hold a check and deposit it, but only one lender told me this. What other weird rules will pop up during our closing process that we don’t know about?

your realtor — she drives a nice car, always. And she is an extrovert and smiles and sells you on why to buy a house. She may look at the disclosures and warn you of major risks, but she isn’t really an expert on that stuff, that’s what inspectors are for. But you don’t need an inspector to see that this house built 60+ years ago has issues. There are tiny cracks here and there. The floor is uneven. A tree looks like it’s roots might be going under the house. Everything creeks when you walk upstairs. The layout is nonsensical which is a cosmetic issue but still will you regret having to walk a weird way to get around for the hundredth time? What other issues are lurking in the foundation and in the walls?

The sellers, at least here, pay for their own inspections. I’ve read plenty of reports. Termites. Water damage. Fungus. Liquefaction zones. Flood zones. Seismic hazard zones. Environmental hazard zones. The list goes on. In any area where we are considering a $1.8M home (that will probably go $2.1M anyway) the ground water apparently is 0-10ft deep. That’s not in the inspection report, I found that online! But two “tanks” with one leaking(?) is in the report. What does that mean? My realtor said she would be comfortable with that risk. But we don’t know what’s leaking.

I’d feel so much better buying a 3/2 for under $1.4M. If it turns out to need work we would have the money to do that work. Husband refuses, wants a large home on a large lot with an in law where his 76 year old dad (who can pay $2000 a month until he goes into assisted living) can live. I want that too—but without me knowing I can maintain a mid-senior role in public tech companies every month for the next 30 years, well, that seems like a horrid idea.

your inspector — ok, they are going to try to find issues to help you out (that is their job after all) but given no inspection contingency is allowed in most cases, you won’t actually have your own inspector.

Ok, so maybe we should rent-forever. It is difficult to find rentals I want to live in (at a reasonable cost) and I can’t fight the nagging feeling that if we don’t buy now we will be priced out forever. I certainly know most people would recommend we rent for a few years then move to an area with a lower cost of living. But we really plan to stay here forever. At some point, into the far off future, buying becomes a better financial Option than renting. Emotionally, it is a better option day one.

The reality is that houses that really check all the boxes are around $2M-$2.5M. Y’all think I’m crazy but look at Bay Area listings on the Peninsula and in the nicer areas of San Jose. Can we get a house for less than that? Of course. It’s even possible to get a dump for $1M! But if we get what we want — 1800 sq ft, 4br/2ba with an in law or ADU on 7000 sq ft in actual good shape, in a half decent school district, that’s easily $2.2M. So then I question should we just wait until we can afford $2.2M? Will we ever be able to afford that? And by then I won’t that house be $3M and the mortgage rates will have gone up?

i know I know first world rich people problems. But most rich people have either trust funds or faith in their career and ability and skills and value, and often two parents who are earning a good income. What do I have? A few crazy good years of income thanks to RSU growth then back to earning $150k a year, if that?

I feel like I can’t buy a house until I figure out my career but at 36 that now seems like it’s never going to happen. I want my son and tbd child 2 to grow up in a house. It isn’t necessary, it is a want. But when I’m making $600k a year (what I will likely earn this year if I keep my job which is absolutely insane) I feel so confused about how I should think about my “class,” my risk tolerance, and my home purchase price. A few more years at this income and I can afford that $1.8M house. Heck, I can afford that $2.2M house. But in 2 years my income drops to $300k, then $210k, as my stock isn’t being refreshed enough since I am not a very valuable employee. I should get some small stick refresh this year so I’ll probably hover around $210k if I stay in this company in this role forever (last year I got a 1.7% raise so I’m not expecting any big salary growth here.) $210k isn’t bad either, but with my husband’s $80k that is not enough to afford $2.2M or $1.8M.

AND that $210k is IF i keep this job forever. It is good for now—I am going to stay at least to get all of my initial grant as long as I don’t get fired or let go, and maybe one more year, but then I need a change. Maybe I need to make $80k for a few years (or less) while I figure things out. Maybe I need to go back to school. Maybe I want to take some time off to spend with my kids while they are young and consult part time, I don’t know what I want but I know I don’t want to overbuy and close doors to whatever out there could make me happy, if such a career exists.

So this is where I am. We’ve agreed it we don’t buy a house by October we will rent a bigger place for a while. We are considering putting a $1.8M offer in on this 5br listed at $1.875, which I am fairly confident we wouldn’t get. I’d prefer to lose out on a bunch of bids then overpay. The house is far from my current job but I won’t have to go back to the office this year and in 3 years I can change jobs. But it’s also far from SF which most jobs I’m qualified for are. If I change careers, maybe that doesn’t matter. But it’s scary to think I might get stuck with some crazy San Jose to SF commute one day to not lose our house.

we are looking at another two coming up—not as nice, both $1.8-$2M, both with built in laws. The inspection report on one was pretty scary though most old buildings have issues so who knows.

I wonder at what networth I will be able to relax a bit and enjoy life. I have the $5M number in my head. It’s arbitrary, as all my numbers are, but I think that’s it. That’s enough for a $2.5M basic house and enough to stay in the stock market and grow as long as we keep working and at least pay our living expenses each year. That’s enough to pay my mother back for college and my wedding and help my sister out a bit if she is still earning minimum wage or close to it. And to start giving to charity in substantial ways. I mean, $10M sounds better, but more realistically I want to aim for $5M. I guess that’s my FAT FIRE number. I don’t know how I’ll get there (unless I manage to keep getting jobs at rocketship companies where my RSUs go up in value.) I mean, realistically I’m looking at $2M by 38 or so. If I don’t touch that and get 5% on it YoY, in 20 years we will have $5M. Of course, in 20 years $5M won’t be worth $5M today. The real question is how do I get to $5M by 45? That’s saving about $400k a year for 8 years in a mix of interest, stock growth, and new earnings. It seems impossible. But my first $100k also seemed impossible. So maybe it is possible. Maybe it’s only possible if I buy a house. Maybe it’s only possible if I don’t.

 

 

 

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