- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

It Takes a Village to Buy a Condo in San Francisco

New America Media, Commentary, Andrew Lam Posted: May 31, 2009

It is an understatement to say the real estate market in America has been in upheaval since the bubble burst last year. But while foreclosures due to unemployment and subprime borrowing have been the scourge for many homeowners, and while the economy is in a stumble, for others, it is the perfect storm to start buying.

I am a first time home buyer. And I just bought a brand new condo in downtown San Francisco.

If I gained something akin to the American dream from the American economy going south, I dont particularly take joy in it. In fact, having gone through the trials and tribulations of buying a condo, I can say with certainty that if it werent for my family and friends, it would never have happened.

First, here are the facts:
a) For first time buyers, theres an $8,000 tax credit, part of the new stimulus package.

b) For those buying newly constructed homes in California, theres an additional $10,000 tax credit. (The catch is that theres a limited amount, so it's first come, first served).

c) The interest rate has been the lowest in decades, according to a Freddie Mac Survey.

d) Many San Francisco Bay Area homes are being sold 30 to 40 percent below the listed price from two years ago, and the new condo builders, caught at the tail end of economic boom, are willing to bargain. At one newly built condo with few buyers, a sales agent offered me $35,000 in home owner association credits if I bought a condo at the listed price, and that listed price has been reduced twice since its been on the market.

But perfect storms or not, it was hard going. Part of the problem was my own mentality. By any American standard Im middle class, but I long ago resigned to the idea that Id always be - as long as I refused to leave San Francisco - a renter. I lived for so long in the economic bubble that I was conditioned to believe that I could never own a home here. I took pride in having a rent-controlled apartment that was within walking distance of work. I watched as relatives and friends moved to the suburbs in order to buy something affordable.

Then my older sister, who works in finance, told me, Youre stupid if you dont buy now. The window of opportunity is open, so take it.

A few more lectures later, and I went condo-hunting. But the listed costs, even though they had fallen 30 to 40 percent, were out of my price range. Sister was not discouraged. She brought in an ex-boyfriend of hers, whos into real estate development and property management. "You can go 30 percent below the listed price in some cases," he told me. "Bargain like mad.

Are you kidding me? Theyll laugh in my face.

Its just business," he said. "And they desperately need yours, Mr. First Time Buyer." By walking in without an agent, he added, I would be able to shave another 5 percent of the asking price.

Then he gave me the real estate prophecy: San Francisco and New York are the last to go down, and will be the first to go back up. This was why, he said, investors from China are on a real estate shopping spree here in California.

That did it. With my sister as my de facto agent, I negotiated for a day or two (the whole process was terrifying, not the least of which was having to haggle over something into which I was throwing my entire savings), and I finally got the price range I aimed for.

But there was another problem: How could I come up with 20 percent down -- a sum that would wipe out my entire savings?

This is when my sister called my parents in Fremont. (Were Vietnamese and nothing that has to do with real estate escapes us.) Well help. We always wanted you to buy, said my mother in her usual dramatic way. As long as you are buying a home, I at least can die with my eyes closed.

The next hurdle was applying for a big, big loan.

Well cosign for you, my older brother, an engineer in Silicon Valley, offered. Well throw in a credit line if you need it. You should buy.

Then came the terror of borrowing money: The condos preferred lender offered a one point rate on the loan and when the locked-in contract came a week later, it was up to 1.25 percent, the difference being several thousands of dollars extra. I smelled a rat.

So it was my high school best friend (also Vietnamese), a real estate broker, who walked me through it. Bargain like mad with the loan folks," he said. "Most likely they are making around one point so there is room for negotiation. It's just how thick-skinned you want to get with them.

I got the one point. But three weeks in and my loan was still not approved. Underwriter still reviewing it, was all I could get from my less-than-trustworthy lender, never mind that I have a perfect credit report and a steady job and mutual and other investments. On the fourth week, they said there was a glitch with my 1040 form. A minor discrepancy, which was quickly corrected. Still there was no news. I began to loose sleep. I stood to lose my large deposit and my rent-controlled apartment. My family rallied. Well figure something out. You wont be homeless, my mother assured me. You can come home and stay with us. At this point I began to pray for deliverance.

Finally, on the 29th day, one day before the deadline, the loan was approved. I signed the documents, wired the money, hired the movers.

Now I own a condo. It takes a village to buy a condo, my sister wryly quipped. In this case, she wasnt kidding.

NAM editor Andrew Lam is author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.

Related Articles:

Recession Continues to Curb Blacks' Dream of Home Ownership

Dope Fiend Landlords Thrive in the Housing Crisis

Words From the Wise: Save Yourself From Loneliness -- Adopt a Family

Articles by Andrew Lam

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage