Going from a rental to their first Bay Area home during the pandemic
George and Jonathan moved to the Bay Area from San Antonio, Texas, for work. George is a leadership trainer for Southwest Airlines and Jonathan is Head of School for a Marin private school that does one-on-one education for kids with learning disabilities.
The couple previously lived in a San Antonio fixer upper for five years, fixing it up themselves with the help of some of George’s uncles. They sold that house in March of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic.
At that time, they were renting a third-floor apartment in Alameda.
“When the pandemic hit, we stopped taking the elevator. You had to start being really mindful of what you were touching,” George says. “Our priorities changed. We wanted a home where you’re not literally touching the neighbor next to you.”
In addition to creating more space for themselves, they wanted to stop paying rent and start building equity in a house again.
Thinking about having a convenient commute for at least one of them, George and Jonathan started searching for a home in Oakland because George flies out of the airport there every week for work.
Their priority was price over perfection. Squeaky floors aren’t a problem if you’re not afraid of some TLC. Having put sweat equity into their old home, they wanted to find another home that they could make their own.
They started looking at listings. When one of George’s friends told him about Flyhomes, they started working with their Client Advisor, Zumana.
“She stayed in touch with us nonstop,” George says. “She’d call us on the weekend. It was a nice surprise that we were treated as if we were the most important clients, as if we were buying a multi-million dollar house. It was more than customer service. It was hospitality.”
George and Jonathan download the Flyhomes app to search listings and request tours. They liked being able to schedule with our team and have someone available to meet them at the time that worked for them, even if it had to change.
“Everyone’s so busy, the last thing you want to do is talk to someone all the time,” George says. “Scheduling on the app is a great solution.”
They got to know Rose, a Flyhomes Tour Agent, well.
“I’d feel bad because we toured so many homes,” George says, “But Rose just told us not to worry because touring homes is her job!”
Before requesting a tour, they would drive by the house to be sure they liked the neighborhood and that the house looked worth their time.
“The pandemic made us more cautious to tour,” George says. “It was really interesting experiencing contactless showings. The new norm is wearing a mask and using Clorox wipes on everything you touch.”
Local restrictions during that stage of the pandemic also meant that George and Jonathan had to tour separately because only two people were allowed in a home together, and one of them was required to be a licensed real estate agent. Taking turns was difficult.
“You want to talk about things in the moment,” George says.
After that experience, he recommends recording your own video while you tour. His idea isn’t to get a perfect tour, but to be able to check things later and remind yourselves what you liked or didn’t like about a particular home.
Aside from touring, the overall experience of buying in the Bay Area was different than in San Antonio.
“Zumana told me that people in the Bay price low to get a bidding war,” George says. “So you’ll think a price is great, but it’s going to go up a lot.”
They ended up putting offers on several houses and experienced bidding wars firsthand. The third house, a 1900 Oakland house built in a combination of Tudor and Craftsman styles, was one they really wanted. They put in a Flyhomes Cash Offer, but another cash offer came in with a higher price.
At that point, George and Jonathan broadened their search area. As the pandemic continued and protests for social justice picked up steam, they realized that they wanted to live somewhere less densely populated than Oakland.
When they found a 3,400 square foot home in Benicia, they loved that they could have water and mountain views in a quiet neighborhood with a cute downtown area. They originally wanted a smaller home, but decided to go for it to make it easy to have friends and family stay with them.
Once again, the home’s sellers received multiple offers. However, the competing offer’s financing fell through, so George and Jonathan were able to get the home for $20,000 under list price with a traditional (not cash) offer.
Securing their own financing was the most stressful part of buying the home. They were using a jumbo loan, which became very difficult during the pandemic. Their original lender’s ability to offer jumbo loans was changing day by day and eventually, the lender said they couldn’t fund the loan.
“I was devastated because we were so emotionally invested at that point,” George says. “They said we’d have to put twenty percent down. But with renovations to do on the house, we couldn’t do that.”
That’s when Zumana used her own network and put them in touch with a credit union, which turned out to be the only source of jumbo loans for the county.
Because George and Jonathan are very organized and had all their financial documents in order, they were able to secure the loan and close in under three weeks.
Their best advice for other homebuyers is to get organized from the start so you can act quickly when you find the home you want.
George says, “We thought we were going to lose the house and only because of Zumana, we got it!”
Benicia reminds them of their old Texas home in some ways.
“There’s an ordinance where all the homes are on top of hills,” George says. “You can’t build on the side of a hill, so you end up with acreage bhind you. You see deer and hummingbirds. It feels like you’re in the country but with a view and only 30 minutes from the city.”
Since moving in, they’ve finished renovating the upstairs and are about to start on the kitchen. With their own hands and the help of one of George’s uncles, they’ve taken out popcorn ceilings, installed new floorings, and rewired because older homes have light switches that go to plugs rather than overhead lighting.
They’re also making plans to enjoy the home with friends, including new ones like Zumana.
“Once covid is over, we’re having her here for brunch!” George says. “Getting to know her was just awesome.”
Here’s hoping that day comes soon! In the meantime, all of us at Flyhomes are here to help from our own homes.
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