The house that Sandy bought

#625 in a series of true experiences in real estate
July 2011, Hills Newspapers

What houses do real estate agents buy for themselves? Because they’re looking at houses every week all year long, do they get there first and get the bargains? I’m going to tell you in a series of columns about houses that agents we know bought and live in and why they bought them.

Our friend Sandy Parker who is an agent with Thornwall Properties in Berkeley bought her little house on Evelyn Avenue in Albany 7 years ago. She has learned all about the neighborhood since living there, the nuances that come with experience in a place, especially all that she can easily walk to. She goes to the farmers market at El Cerrito Plaza and the new one on Solano at San Pablo on Wednesday afternoons. Just last week she and a friend walked to the movie theater on Solano, then picked up tacos for dinner at a stand that’s behind the Hotsy Totsy Club.

She says the neighbors are lovely. As a single woman she feels completely safe in her neighborhood and house and for this she is grateful. It’s a good place to live.

This is not Sandy’s first house. When she was married and raising her children she and her former husband owned several houses and for a time they lived in a fancy part of Orinda. But before this house, Sandy was living alone in a beautiful apartment she was renting in Berkeley near Live Oak Park.

Her rent was reasonable and she was happy there but she wanted her own place. While out looking at houses for her clients, she sized up places for herself. The ones she could afford were mostly condos and after looking for months, maybe years, a condo she found particularly interesting came up for sale. It was one of 4 condos in a 1920s building. Advantages were an affordable price, old style woodwork and oak floors.

A bunch of us agent friends went to look at it. There was a yard but it was in back of the building so access to it wasn’t great. There was no off-street parking and not much storage. It was on the second floor so Sandy would have someone living below her. We noted all of these things. She decided not to buy that one.

Not long after the little house on Evelyn came up for sale. Sandy called us one Thursday morning while we were out on tour to ask us to go look at it. It’s a single family house, not a condo, and we liked that. There is a detached garage and a small fenced yard. The house is small. There is only one bedroom and one bath but it has a decent size living room with a cozy-making gas-log fireplace, hardwood floors and beautiful old plastering on the ceilings and walls. The kitchen is a walk-through room with windows along one side. There is good storage, nice tiled countertops and a beautiful old chrome-top gas stove from the 1950s.

We liked it. We got together with Sandy that day at lunch – 5 friends – and talked and talked about the advantages, the costs, how Sandy would feel about living there. It was at the height of the mad real estate market. We knew there would be multiple offers. How much would she have to pay over asking price? What would make sense to pay?

Offers would be presented to the listing agent the following Thursday. Sandy talked to her loan broker and figured what loan she could qualify for and what her overall costs to buy would be. She wrote up her offer with great anxiety and longing.

We all went with her to the presentation. All 5 of us squeezed into a small conference room at the listing agent’s office. There were 4 other offers to compete with. In unison, I think, we winced when we heard that. Sandy talked through her offer stating the price she was offering, the short length of her contingencies and her fast close. The rest of us sat and listened, then we cheered for her. We said that this was a sure thing. Sandy loved the house, she would close the escrow, the seller really truly should accept her offer.

I guess we were convincing because, although she had to raise her offering price some, it was Sandy’s offer that was accepted by the seller. We have no idea who the other offers were from or what was in them. Sandy had the house inspected and found out some things that she’d have to fix. The garage needed a new roof. The floor furnace was old. Some windows have rot in them.

Welcome to home ownership. Houses are never perfect. But it’s different to own what you live in, and that’s a good thing. Sandy lives well in the little house. She has comfy furniture, nice curtains, a light and bright kitchen. The house is small but it works. When a friend comes to visit, she sleeps on the couch. It’s fine.

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