Buying a house is like getting married. You venture on some first dates (visit open houses). Maybe a second date (a second showing). Maybe even make a proposal (put an offer in). Sometimes you even get engaged (go into escrow). And sometimes that engagement turns into a marriage (you own a house).
And, like love, usually you know right away whether or not this house (or person) could work for you. Whether it holds the something special that will be make it home (here the metaphor works for both the lover and the house).
With my house, it’s a marriage of convenience. I bought it two years ago. My divorce was just final. The house I was renting was on the market. I had a month to either rent another house in the insane rental market that is the Bay Area or to find a house to buy that I could afford (even more difficult).
I saw my house on a Saturday evening. Within an hour, I put an offer in. By the next morning I was in escrow. Did I love this house? No. It’s a little box on a hillside; nothing special, esthetically speaking. But somehow I managed to get into escrow at a price I could (barely) afford. And the house not only had bedrooms for each and every one of us, it also had an in-law unit (which made the whole endeavor suddenly doable).
We have grown to love each other, my house and I. I helped the house through some issues; ants, termites, rats. It has provided me with not only a (semi-leaky) roof over my head, but also acts as a hub of the small community I have built on my hillside; my neighbor-family, my tenant-friends. It is the launching pad from where we walk into open space, to the lakes, to the mountains. It is home.
When I went into escrow on that Sunday two years ago, I wasn’t approved for a loan. I had forty-eight hours to get that approval. Within twenty-four, it was clear that I wouldn’t qualify for a conventional loan - banks don’t love former stay-at-home moms turned artists. I needed to either find someone to loan me four hundred grand (be my bank) or co-sign my loan. Ultimately, I asked my friend, Mark. Mark was my boyfriend in college and into my twenties. We were elemental in forming each other and we’ve stayed friends. He has gone on to have enormous success in his career. I barely had the question out of my mouth before he said yes, he would co-sign my loan. He is a good human.
With that signature, I bought my house. I skidded into home-base once more, dusty and sweaty but safe.
My plan was always to refinance within two years to get Mark off the loan. Once I had the work history under my belt I could get a conventional loan. This month I started that process and all went according to plan. Until my phone rang last night.
It was Priscilla from the title company. She had a small question. Since I wasn’t on the original title, only Mark was, this loan wasn’t a refinance but a sale - Mark would have to sell me my own house. Wait, wait, wait, back up. Of course I’m on the title. No, she informed me, the slightest oh-honey creeping into her tone. I’m looking at the title right now, she said. It reads only “Mark Anderson, a married man”.
My first thought was: Impossible. Clearly someone in this current loan process has screwed up. It’ll be fine. My second thought was: Fuck, maybe? This was my first house purchase on my own. I didn’t read every word of every document. I tend to live life in broad strokes; the only way to do big things is to not sweat every detail. It seemed impossible that I could have overlooked that significant bit - the fact that I wasn’t on the title. But it had seemed impossible that I could buy the house at all. I had barely pulled it off. I was Liz Lavoie, an unmarried woman. Maybe I hadn’t pulled it off at all. Maybe I had spent the last two years living in - and fixing up - a house that wasn’t even mine.
Again, Mark is a remarkable human. There was no way that this mistake couldn’t be rectified, one way or another. But it shook me. My grip on the money end of my life is so tenuous. Every month that I survive financially is a triumph. Somehow it felt like because I’m this single woman, this girl without a man, of course I wouldn’t be allowed to own a home along with all the marrieds. That I could twiddle along, believing that I was playing with the big boys, but in fact I was in the sandbox alone.
Ten minutes later, Priscilla called again. So sorry, she said, there was a mistake in our documentation, you are on the title, la, la, la, have a good weekend!
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. One more question, Priscilla said, are you still unmarried? Yes, I said, emphatically. Oh, just checking, she said, because, you know, you could have remarried. No, Priscilla, I said, I will never - ever - marry again. Um, ok, she chirped, have a good weekend!