Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The House-Hunting Chronicles: LA Landing

i have been reading this LA real estate blog published by the LA Times, LA Land, for about a year now. i became a frequent reader when i first began researching real estate prior to my house hunt. the editor of the blog seemed terrific and provided tons of timely and useful stories about the local market, and though the blog’s regular commentators are not nearly as fantastic as the commentators here, they are — how you say? — rather colorful, and staunchly anti-buy.

after closing on my new buy, i wanted to shout from the rooftops, so i sent a pitch to the editor, asking to be a guest blogger and write about my home-buying experience. it would be a contrarian viewpoint to dispute the greek chorus of commentators who constantly piss on the housing market. he has had guest bloggers in the past and agreed to publish my essay, first asking if he could publish a few lines from the email i sent him, with the full essay later. i agreed, thinking nothing of it as it was a short post on recent homebuyers, profiling two others in addition to me.

so he published. and then... well, you can read the comments for yourself. in short, i came under heavy fire for my decision to buy, my ability to afford my house and for things i’ve said on this blog. i had all sorts of insults hurled at me, ranging from the always creative “you’re DUMB!!” to accusations that i was subprime or without steady employment, would be in foreclosure and going to be living in a barrio. and my personal favorite: “Milla will be in a world of hurt - shortly.”

funny that i was taught to say “congratulations” when people tell me they bought a house. not to say there weren’t many kind folks who offered their well wishes for the future, which i appreciated, but sadly the bitter trolls outnumbered them. also interesting were all the angry demands i received to reveal my annual salary and monthly mortgage payments, which must be the tackiest question of all time. people were literally sitting there with calculators and throwing out their expert estimations of my financial situation, complete with “Assume state and federal taxes, SS, medicare, unemployment lop off 30% of Milla’s check...”

all i can say is wow. WOW.

i understand this is the internet, which Mo always reminds me is the bathroom wall. having a blog for the past four years has made me less sensitive to the judgment of others, which i know i invite with each post. it’s the cost of doing business and i accept it without complaint. it’s just shocking to me that there were so many armchair experts on my situation. i can understand someone’s decision not to buy in the current market — prices will likely fall more, loans are hard to come by, LA is a tough market — but i’m disappointed that my decision to buy was not met with the same understanding. and not just lack of understanding, but outright cruelty.

because many of the commentators have revealed themselves to be well-paid people unable to afford a house in LA, i imagine the anger stemmed from the viewpoint of “why do these poor people qualify for breaks that i can’t have? why am i punished for making too much money?” part of me can understand this viewpoint, as i one day hope to be better paid. (and my desire to buy a house is in many ways preparation for that day.) but the bigger part of me, the immigrant part who saw my parents work multiple jobs to afford our little starter home in Van Nuys can understand that sometimes people need a helping hand as they work their way up. because, truly, the reward for having money is having money. and i refuse to believe that those six-figure earners cannot afford a house. they probably can’t afford the house of their dreams — the one they desperately want to impress all their friends and coworkers — but they can afford a condo in a decent area, and to claim otherwise implies that they’re doing a poor job managing their money.

if i can afford, they can afford. i know i went in as a lower-income person, which is comical to me seeing that i’m not exactly a single mother raising three kids on a minimum-wage salary, which is my impression of low income. instead i’m a nice jewish girl from the valley with a master’s degree and a good job in finance. perhaps i’m the new poor: the type of educated, struggling poor one finds in metropolitan cities like LA and NY, where the cost of living is alien when compared to the rest of the country. maybe we’re the suckers who value location over lifestyle (though for me, the two are one in the same). in any case, i consider myself middle class and know i played by the rules — strict ones — when receiving my government assistance.

and personally, i’m happy with my decision to buy. i can honestly say that these haters have not pissed on my parade in the slightest. for me it’s a matter of whose opinion i value. if these people were all friends or regular readers who questioned my judgment, i would perk up and listen. like all humans, i want to win the approval of the people closest to me, who i know have my best interests in mind. but the opinions of strangers, not so much. so i’m able to dismiss the vitriol as standard bathroom splatter motivated by people wanting to justify their own decision not to buy. still, it was a shit storm i did not expect to be caught in the center of, however entertaining.

and it WAS entertaining: “she says she doesn’t make six figures, and has to beg money off her parents, that really is too much money for her to handle” and “You’ll be sending in the keys within 18 months I bet” and “Milla’s story is just another example of creatively stretched financing.”

wow. i will say that my house cost $410K, which is a public fact anyone can easily find on Zillow. it appraised for more than i paid for it, and the comps were excellent. i took advantage of terrific first-time homebuyer programs offered by the city and state, which i will sing the praises of until the end of time. the income limits of those programs are published online, and will reveal that i make — gasp! — under six figures. i understand if you want to delete me from your Blackberry now.

my only goal in all of this was to prove that you don’t have to be rich to afford a house in Los Angeles and that the housing market is more alive than people might imagine. and i’m proud of my house, i’m excited by it and see it as far more than a money-making machine. but these people would not have it. no sir, they knew better. i was a fool who would be in tears, in a world of pain, and shortly. ok, sure.

i must be a masochist, because i still sent in my full essay for publication, knowing full well that i would open myself up to all sorts of criticism. the comments are already quite rich, very good for a laugh. don’t worry about me taking them to heart — i’m still smiling. and i’ll be smiling wider when i’m finally moved into my new house, sitting on my deck with a glass of wine after a long day, appreciating my view.

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