In Search of One Desperate Seller

In Search of One Desperate Seller

In Search of One Desperate Seller

Our family's search for a house
Feb. 2 2009 4:43 PM

In Search of One Desperate Seller

By Nora Krug and Michael Newman

For our entire adult lives, whether in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, we have been among the most discriminated-against minority in America: We are renters. Now, finally, we are ready to join the two-thirds of Americans who own a home. So while most of you may have been dreading the day the bubble burst, we have been anticipating it. We are hoping there is at least one desperate seller—that's all we need—of a big beautiful home just waiting for buyers like us: a 1.5-income household with great credit, enough savings for at least a 20 percent down payment, and, best of all, no home of our own to sell.

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In this blog we'll chronicle our quest for our first home in post-Bush, pre-stimulus, late-bubble Washington. Before we begin, a few salient facts about us. We're the Newmans (hence the blog's title, not to be confused with the Newmans behind these delicious cookies ). Michael's the politics editor of Slate , Nora (whose last name is Krug) writes the paperbacks column for the Washington Post , and Joseph is a 17-month-old who's running out of room to run in our two-bedroom apartment in Northwest Washington . And despite our years of saving—some of it dating back to Nora's bat mitzvah!—we can't really afford to stay in our neighborhood, which we like a lot.

So we start with that compromise. And we're prepared for more, the most unfortunate of which may be leaving the city for the suburbs. (There is a chance we could hang on to urban life by buying in Capitol Hill, but more on that in later posts.) Houses in our neighborhood start at about $800,000; three-bedroom apartments in our building are about the same. Other desirable neighborhoods—convenient to parks and public transportation, feeding into a decent D.C. public school—are simply out of our reach. We're holding out a tiny bit of hope, if that's the right word, that things will get so bad that a neighborhood like this will become affordable. But our real estate agent, Denise Verburg , has done her best to crush this hope. But hey, Denise— the economy could get worse! Then again, if it does, we might be out of our jobs.

Truth be told, our house search predates this blog. In fact, a few weeks ago, we were very close to making an offer on this very house , in Silver Spring, Md. It's a lovely house that fits many of our criteria: at least three bedrooms (this one has four); two bathrooms (including one on the main floor); a decent-sized but not-too-decked-out kitchen (granite is so over) with space for a table; a good-sized backyard (this one even has a sandbox); a basement playroom (this one was a bit dreary); good closet space (a great walk-in on the second floor); central AC (D.C. is horribly humid in the summer); and, if possible, a fireplace. And we were told that there were two offers scheduled to be made on the house the very next day. No fair, we thought. The bubble's supposed to be burst!

So wait: Why didn't we buy this house?

Several reasons, really, but the most important one is that it violated that most cherished and clichéd principle of real estate: location. The owners said that they walked to the subway every day, and we don't doubt them. But it is a 1.3-mile walk along a grim, busy thoroughfare. Neither of us is averse to walking a mile and a half to the subway. But isn't a nice walk one of the things you move to the suburbs for? There was also the issue of that dreary basement, the tiny living room, and more important, the fact that the neighborhood high school isn't one of the county's better schools.

Why move to the suburbs just to live in a smallish house with a long, unlovely walk to the train and be able to send Joe to an underwhelming school? But you'll move before Joseph goes to high school , Denise, our gung-ho agent, assured us. But hey, Denise— the economy could get worse! In fact it almost certainly will. We may have to stay in this house till Joe goes to college.

In the end, we decided not to make an offer, despite Denise's advice to make one with an "escalation clause." (To her credit, she allowed that it was a "counterintuitive strategy in this market." That's one way of putting it.) Neither of the two other allegedly interested parties actually made an offer. Nearly a month later, the house is now under contract. And we're feeling maybe a slight amount of nonbuyer's remorse. Until Friday, when this house came on the market. Joe and Nora are off to see it now.