Buying a home in the DMV can leave you feeling battered and bruised — even when you emerge victorious.
It was March 2021 when we began to seriously consider selling our Columbia Heights rowhouse — our home of 16 years — in search of a place that felt more chill and offered a bigger yard. We loved our neighborhood, community and memories there so much that it was incredibly hard to say goodbye. But being stuck inside during the pandemic gave us the final nudge we needed and we were ready to try something new. Here’s a brief history of how it all went down. Hopefully our story will help others navigate the maddening process of homebuying in the DMV right now.
THE DREADED HOUSING LIMBO
According to my buyer’s agent, Shannon O’Farrell of Compass’ Mandy and David team, homebuyers generally fall into two categories: those who have a downpayment available either from savings or a pricey loan and those who are offered a rent-back from the buyer, giving sellers a month or two to find their new home.
We fell into an unfortunate third category: We didn’t have a downpayment and our buyer wasn’t able to offer a rent-back. Because we couldn’t buy until we had money in the bank from selling our house, we entered a sort of housing limbo, needing to move out of our old home months before we had a new home nailed down.
“That specific part of your situation was more unique,” O’Farrell recalls.
Some kind friends and family were going out of town during the summer and let us stay at their places, but in this super competitive area where things go on and off the market on the same day — and with the beginning of the school year closing in on us — we knew we needed a place where we could hunker down ‘til the right home came along.
We found a short-term, furnished rental in Cleveland Park through a company called Zeus — in perhaps the weed-smoking-est building on earth — and settled in as best we could while we worried about where and when we would find a home (and dabbed the occasional tears of my kids who were equally tired of moving, Covid and the lady singing karaoke upstairs).
About that competitive market? It was crazy last year and O’Farrell says it’s even tougher this year thanks to a record low inventory of homes for sale.
“I’m trying to guide people more and more about how competitive it is,” O’Farrell says. “They might need to do a few inspections and they might not get the first house they bid on. And they need to be ready to move fast if they want the house. I find a lot of it is managing expectations and adjusting the neighborhood or the type of house you want.”
LANDING OUR DREAM HOUSE
After missing out over and over on houses we wanted in our preferred neighborhoods, we decided to follow her advice and cast the net wider to see if something in Northeast could work for us.
We did finally find the perfect home in mid-September and then it was like the Indie 500 — it went from the slowest process imaginable to the fastest. We saw our dream house on Zillow on a Tuesday, scheduled a showing for Wednesday, got it inspected on Thursday and put in an offer on Friday.
We gave the sellers 24 hours to decide so we could nail it down before the open house scheduled for Sunday. It was the first time we felt like we had some sort of control over this insane process. We felt great we were able to take all the tough lessons we learned during all the losses and use them to secure a win.
In hindsight, I was pretty naive about how hard the whole process would be, from getting our house ready to sell to putting it on the market and finding the right place for our family while living in a series of temporary spaces — without most of our stuff and the comfort of being settled.
If you told me in April 2021 by the end of the year our family of four (plus pooch) would have lived for two months in an apartment that smelled like weed 24/7, moved five times before that for various summer house-sitting gigs, and landed in a neighborhood we were barely considering, would I have gone through with any of it? I really don’t know. But I’m so glad we did.
It was exhausting, painful, exciting, adventurous and scary — but, as our agent assured us every step of the way, it turned out to be worth it in the end. We found the perfect spot for us in Brookland on a sleepy street with a massive yard but still close to all the things we love about living in the city.
And, finally, we are home.
THREE IMPORTANT HOME-BUYING LESSONS:
Consider other neighborhoods
If you can’t be top dog in your preferred neighborhood, look at a less pricey neighborhood where you have a better shot of winning a bidding war. You might think you’re settling, but expanding your criteria can put you on a fast track toward something you didn’t know you would love.
Take measurements + photos
Measure and photograph bulkier items before they go into storage. That way you’ll be able to figure out where the piano and sofa will fit before the movers arrive at your new home with your old stuff.
Make a tight offer
If you feel strongly about a particular house, go in with a very tight offer before the open house and force the buyer to accept or reject within 24 hours. It’s one of the few ways to shift the power dynamic in favor of the buyer in this market.
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