Trevor and the Straight Path

by Tony Chavira

Trevor’s first—and only—job, right out of UCLA, was for a technology company in West L.A. Though his family lived in Huntington Beach, he figured that driving to work every day wouldn’t be too bad, considering he occasionally made the trek while in school. But eventually the drive began to take a toll both on his car and on his psyche, and he started trying anything he could think of to keep from going insane in traffic: leaving early, taking different roads, buying a motorcycle to zip in and out of lanes on the crawling 405 freeway. At some point, reality finally set in: he would just have to move closer to work.

Trevor’s goals had always been clear to him: graduate high school, go to college, get an internship, get a job, and buy a house. Many others plan the same progression; it actually worked for him. In fact, the same company that hired him for an internship ended up hiring him full-time, and by the time he decided to buy a home he had been working there for seven years. So finally, after living with his parents in Huntington Beach and making that ridiculous daily journey for a year and half, Trevor knew it was time to make a change.

Oh, and crashing his motorcycle really helped reinforce that decision too.

After about a year and half of saving while living in an apartment near his job, he applied for his pre-approval letter. Unsure of how to begin, he called his mother who guided him to a family friend who happened to be a mortgage broker, and the friend recommended a seminar where he would able to meet people who could clearly explain the home-buying process. A session or two later, he was able to sit down with a broker to begin discussing options. After having dealt with so many people, Trevor quickly realized that he could actually negotiate his mortgage rates (where before, the option hadn’t been presented to him at all). It clearly wasn’t in the interest of the broker to tell Trevor that he could negotiate rates, but how else are you going to know to do things like that unless someone tells you? Clearly, the informational sessions were paying off already.

So between providing every shred of financial information he could muster (bank account balances, receipts, credit card statements, credit score, and everything else he could think of that would provide a clear financial image of what kind of person he was) and $11,000 gifted to him from family members (which is the maximum amount you can receive from another person without being taxed for it), he was ready to roll. And just to prove that their gifts were actually gifted (and not laundered, stolen, or generated by shady, back-alley deals) he also had to provide letters stating from where that $11,000 magically appeared. Between his family friend and a credit union, he was able to pull together a couple of very appealing offers: one at 6% and another at 6.5%. When he finally approached the party he favored (who had offered him 6.5%), they were able to pull down their rate to 6.25% during the negotiation process.

Trevor's building
Trevor's building

Here’s where Trevor’s homebuying journey hit a brick wall: he couldn’t actually find a home. Like anyone in the market, he had a list in his mind of all of the things he wanted, and he told himself that he wouldn’t negotiate on any of them. So naturally, every new space came with its own set of frustrations when one of those things was missing, and between scouring websites, spending whole weekends with his agent, and sometimes driving around alone, months were spent searching in vain.

He even felt that the Internet had made his search worse. When visiting his agent, he would list off several homes he was interested in viewing after reading their specs online. His sense of defeat was compounded by the fact that he spent so much time researching, but was always disappointed with the actual location. After several months, house-hunting began to mean time-squandering, and Trevor started to consider reducing his list and just accepting something he didn’t really want. Maybe the house he wanted didn’t exist in his search area. After going through the hassle of getting his finances in order, maybe this would be his search’s tragic ending.

Were it not for his agent’s diligence, he wouldn’t have found his home. As much as Trevor was ready to pull the trigger on the next somewhat interesting place just to end the process and finally move close to his work place, he was surrounded by family and friends who begged him to take the extra time to find exactly what he wanted

And the moment he walked into the condo, he knew it was what he wanted. As soon as he went to the balcony and saw the view of the lake, he knew he wanted to buy it. By the time he left the building, he knew he wasn’t settling. And by October 2008, he had officially moved in to his new condo in Culver City.

Of course, Trevor’s experience is unique to him, and (strange as it may seem) also reflects his life path. He went to college, got an internship, started a job right out of college, stayed there for nine years, applied for a loan, got it approved, searched for a home, and found it. From the moment he decided to apply for a mortgage to the moment he stepped foot in his new home, Trevor had spent about eight months. Though this seemed like a long time while it was happening—especially since his loan had been approved so quickly—it all came together like clockwork.

What makes Trevor’s story unique is that it is so straightforward. It worked out as well as anyone could probably have planned it. I haven’t spoken to a single person who had as easy a homebuying experience as Trevor, and that’s what makes it fascinating: though all homebuying experiences should be as simple and straightforward as Trevor’s, so few are. Instead, many are influenced by factors so far out of the control of the homebuyer that he or she may as well give up before they start.

Still, buying a home is part of the American culture, and many Americans plan to one day do it. Trevor openly admits that he’d go through this stressful process all over again to buy another home someday. In fact, he’s planning on it.

But then, wouldn't he? If buying a home were this straightforward for everyone, more people would probably still have their homes. But the past five years have reshaped the homebuying market into something different than it has ever been. Some good advice holds true no matter the circumstances, like comparing and negotiating rates. Other issues, whether legislative, personal or financial, can drastically change your homebuying experience, for better or worse.

Luckily, Trevor’s was clearly laid out for him. But how much of his experience had to do with his personal background? How much was affected by local, state or federal legislation? How much was affected by his mortgage broker, whom he highly recommends? How much was affected by the involvement of his family?

As each person’s situation is unique, so is the experience of buying a home. Next week’s article will present that case across town, with the trials of buying a loft in downtown Los Angeles.

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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