Rémi and Kristen’s Three-Year Home

by Tony Chavira

The year was 2009, and Rémi was a project manager for a large company and part-time political consultant in New Hampshire, while his then-girlfriend Kristen was (and still is) a museum curator living in Massachusetts. Because the economy had collapsed and they both had relatively stable jobs, they decided that they should buy something quickly in Massachusetts as an investment in their future together. If everything went according to plan, they would one day get married and buy their dream house. Until that day, their future would have to be built alongside their credit.

Before they sealed any deals, they went out of their way to collect as much information on homebuying as they could. Alongside doing tons of research, they reached out to every experienced person they knew, including family friends who were very homebuying-savvy and a good friend who was a real estate lawyer. Upon strategically picking some brains, they discovered that as long as they were diligent, they wouldn’t necessarily need to work with a real estate agent. They figured that they were smart and capable, and by cutting out the middle man, they could maybe eliminate some overhead. It wasn’t rocket science.

Since they were employed full-time, their credit scores had finally reached levels where they felt comfortable paying back a realistic mortgage. This had been no simple task: they had worked for years to get their finances in order. Rémi had just recovered from a long bout of questionable credit, and was told to open a new credit card to re-establish himself in good standing and then make a purchase right away. The day he got his card in the mail, he went out and bought himself a new tie. But only a tie.

Despite their trying to manage the process one step at a time, buying their home seemed like a whirlwind event. Suddenly, an offer failed on the house they liked and it was back on the market. Suddenly, the owners’ agent contacted Rémi and Kristen and wanted to sell the house as quickly as she could. Suddenly (before their mortgage pre-approval letter had even arrived), they were swept away to check it out before someone else could swoop in on the deal. Suddenly they were putting down an offer. Suddenly it was inspected, and then somehow it all fell into place.

They think that not utilizing a broker or real estate agent was a big part of the reason it all worked out. Though—as it happened—this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Knowing that they weren’t using an agent (and that she could take the entire commission for herself), the seller’s agent tried everything she could to speed along the sales and inspection process without consulting Rémi and Kristen. In fact, she put a time limit on when they could do their inspection after they made their offer—which is illegal. But at least they knew to look out for it. Having friends who are real estate professionals and lawyers really helps.

Rémi and Kristen’s place
Rémi and Kristen’s place

Aside from the shadiness on the part of the seller’s agent, the actual process of homebuying seemed predictable up until they applied for the mortgage. They were originally told that they would be able to use Massachusetts’s First-Time Homebuyer’s program, but found they couldn’t when they finally sat down with the bank. The problem was simply that they made too much money: only $1,500 more than what it would take to qualify. Of course, that slim difference frustrated them, especially when the government was willing to provide downpayment and closing cost assistance for people who were in the red. It seemed particularly unfair when Rémi and Kristen considered that they had worked so long to improve their credit and financial condition just to be kept from receiving assistance on their first home loan.

So they went through the conventional loan process, which still worked out nicely. It meant not having assistance and not getting all the benefits of the government program, but as Rick’s story has shown, first-time homebuyer programs can be slow and complicated. Maybe it was a good thing that they didn’t utilize a program like MassHousing or the FHA loan program. Knowing now what happened to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae over the course of the recession, they might have come out on top.

They were still able to get the first-time homebuyers tax break. They just had to agreed to live in the home for three years. Seeing as it was only meant to be a quick investment on the way to their dream home and that it was a little further from work than they would prefer, the idea of staying there for three years seemed a bit taxing. But at the same time, they both knew that this would just be an investment. Despite being built in the 1930s, the house didn’t require much upgrading, and most of the changes they’ve been able to make have been simple or cosmetic. Much like Erin and David, Rémi and Kristen only bought as much home as they needed and are doing what they have to do to keep it in great condition. In any event, both figure that three years will pass quickly.

Happy that things came together and knowing that they got the home for the best possible price, Kristen and Rémi began moving the day their keys fell into their hands. And that night, their first night in the home, Rémi proposed to Kristen. She said yes.

A week later, Rémi was laid off from his job.

Not that his skills aren’t transferable. As scary as the situation was, they knew they could manage their payments and make things work out somehow. And though the house wasn’t entirely what they wanted, it was a great investment. Despite its age, the previous owners had kept it in great condition, and Rémi and Kristen have often been told to give their friends a heads-up when they plan on selling it.

Similarly to how Reid and Trevor viewed their purchases, this house is a means to an end. Regardless of how pretty and well-maintained it is, they still need to sell it as soon as the tax break ends. They just can’t live so far away from work for much longer. But it’s increased in value more than 10% since they had bought it, so they can’t be too disappointed with it.

It’s hard to live in a nice place and not get at least a little attached. It’s their first home, and Rémi proposed to Kristen in it. They spent their first night as a married couple there too. As much as they try to view it as just an investment, both of them can already feel how sad it will be to say good-bye to their first home when that time comes, in just about a year and a half.

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Next week, we’ll come back to Southern California, where a young couple with a couple of kids bought a home in Ontario ... the place that once included a massive Tent City for the homeless.

Tony Chavira is the President of FourStory, a nonprofit organization that promotes fairness and social justice through strong writing and storytelling. He is also the Program Developer at RACAIA Architecture, writes and posts comics at Minefield Wonderland, and teaches Business Report Writing at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
tony@fourstory.org

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