The First-time Buyer Chronicles

The First Time Buyer Chronicles: One Spring Buyer’s Quest to Put Renting Firmly Behind Her

Anna Marie ErwertMy man and I moved from San Francisco, CA to Portland, OR in part because we don’t want to rent anymore. Together we make decent, middle-class income, but that income wouldn’t buy us a kitchen-less box in the most famously crime-addled neighborhood of San Francisco.  Yet we are both professional people, both adults; you can probably imagine how it made us feel when our land-lady left the building garage unlocked and our bikes got stolen, or when she moved the mailbox without alerting the post-office and we lost three weeks worth of mail. Each month, our rent check—easily enough money to support a mortgage in a less expensive city—got harder and harder to write.

Portland appealed to us both for its focus on ecology, art, nature and a kind of unique, unapologetically nonconformist DIY spirit that defines the city. Portland’s like an intellectual revisionist, a rebel with a cause, and the feeling of possibility, of potential, excited us both. That and the fact that homes were selling for about ¼ the cost of their San Francisco counterparts!

When we arrived, we were exhausted. A cross-state move will do that to you. But our commitment to rent-no-more survived the stress, and though the last thing we wanted to do was think about moving again, we saved all our boxes. This place we’ve rented in SE Portland will be temporary! We want to be homeowners before our year lease is up.

Since we arrived in the late fall of 2011, the pickings were slim. Portland, like many an American city, had been slammed by the nation’s real estate crisis.  But we took this as a good sign for buyers. Sure, less inventory, but in this case, also less buyers in the chilly months before Christmas. We didn’t want to wait for better weather and with it, a potential uptick in competition for those entry-level homes we could afford.

I started my search, like most any young homebuyer of this century, on the internet, with Zip’s  Portland, OR MLS listings. My husband and I both want a very walkable location- as in, we want an easy walk to the grocery store, the library, our veterinarian’s office, cafes, bars, restaurants, and ideally, the bank and post office too.  We like open space, and established neighborhoods with the old charm of early Portland bungalow and farmhouse architecture. We thrill to wide streets with multi-generational trees that turn gold in autumn, flower pink with the spring. We also want to be close (by bike, bus, and car) to the Portland’s downtown.  That means, to us, inner-southeast Portland.

Using Zip’s polygon feature, I was able to define exactly where we wanted to look, avoiding neighborhoods we didn’t respond to, areas too far away from the vibrant community culture or the outdoor spaces we wanted to make integral to our daily lives.

From this search, rather than being overwhelmed, we got just a few very interesting possibilities. Because I was able to narrow the listings further: number of bedrooms, a yard for the dog, the walk score, and of course, our price range, there weren’t any homes on the list that weren’t potentially “our perfect home.”  And that, readers, is a very important feeling—and an exciting one.

But a search like this is a digital process, and buying a home is ultimately analog. The next step for us was to find an agent and start visiting these homes. And we did both, but those a processes I’ll detail in future  First Time Buyer Chronicles (stay tuned!). In the meantime, I’d love to hear from other first-time buyers who are thinking about where to move, what kind of home they want, and why all the work and stress of buying is worth it to them. Share your stories in the comments.