How we managed to sell and buy a home
in a competitive market
by Mimi and Jon Torp
Having lived over 18 years in a townhouse in Santa Monica our family of three (four, counting our beagle, Rocky) decided it was time to pursue our long-desired dream of buying a house. With our daughter less than a year from starting college, our timing may not have been ideal.
Crazy, in fact.
At a time when most people downsize, we wanted to take a different direction, so we were ready to pursue our goal of owning a home.
Our first step was to prepare our townhouse for sale.
Painting, making minor repairs and de-cluttering were the first items on our list. We took the exact advice we’d given to our clients because we knew how important it was. We weren’t looking forward to the inconvenience of patching, painting, and polishing, but freshening up our condo after so many years made a huge difference.
And, it honestly felt good to donate so much of our unwanted and unused stuff. By de-cluttering we opened up so much space that our closets looked like nice room extensions instead of compost heaps.
Another big step in the process was getting pre-approved for a loan on the purchase side.
If we couldn’t obtain a loan, there was no sense going forward with our dream. Luckily, the pre-approval wasn’t as difficult as we thought, so we were ready to start our home search.
One big challenge we faced was selling our townhouse before making an offer on another property. We knew in a “hot market” environment we were in that sellers wouldn’t seriously consider an offer from us if we had a contingency on the sale of our home. It was imperative that we be solidly in escrow on our townhome before making an offer on something else. This was the hard part, or so we thought. Finding the right buyer took a little longer than we expected, but we were patient.
Our condo preparation efforts paid off. After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only a few weeks, we ended up with perfect buyers who really loved our townhome and they were willing to work with us on our closing date. They also paid the price we absolutely needed in order to make our home purchase feasible.
Luckily, the transaction went smoothly. All we had to do was wait for the buyers to remove their contingencies then we were ready to make an offer.
The only problem was, by the time we were ready to move forward, there was even less inventory in an already low inventory market. Everything we liked while we waited had sold. We were approaching the end of the year and new listings were sparse. This ended up being the hard part of our process. Time slipped by as we searched and searched. We didn’t consider ourselves picky but had a list of adamant “must-haves”.
On top of that, we imposed an almost impossible deadline on ourselves of:
1. Finding a single level house we could see our ourselves living happily in for a long time…
2. Closing escrow and moving before Christmas.
It was already early November.
What were we thinking?
At times we felt we were on a ride in Fantasyland.
Time continued to dwindle. We knew we didn’t want to lease a house while we searched for one to buy. Not only would that mean two moves, but it might also have made us too comfortable to want to move again.
Prices were rising and we had a feeling if we didn’t jump now, we might be priced out of the marketplace. We were under so much pressure we made the cardinal error of making an offer on a house that was all wrong for us in too many ways to mention.
After a number of dead ends, we eventually found a house that checked off a lot of what we wanted, except it needed more work than we were initially hoping to do.
It was in a quiet, charming Mar Vista neighborhood where we’d sold homes in the past and had always admired, but frankly never really considered living there.
The 1940’s house had been on the market a while. Other homes in the neighborhood were selling quickly, while this home lingered. It did not show well. Was a bit funky. Certainly not for everyone. The backyard couldn't fully be appreciated do to the presence of a massive built-in planter box that blocked any kind of flow. The furnishings were an odd mishmash and at very least needed the input of a stager to tie things together.
We had to make compromises somewhere to tap into our dream, and after taking a deep breath and long look around realized that a lot of the necessary improvements were merely cosmetic.
Yielding to our years of experience helping people buy and sell homes, we shifted our focus to the many positive things the house had to offer. It was light and bright with large windows and skylights. Had the right number of rooms. Wonderful wood floors in varying condition ran throughout the house. The front and back yards had great potential with an ample amount of TLC. And Jon loved the idea of being able to escape to a back-yard office/man cave.
With the creative input from a wonderful, very affordable designer, we could truly begin envisioning ourselves in the house. The only hesitation was that the price was a bit above our max. Luckily, we were able to make a much lower offer and negotiate our way to an acceptable price. We were quite blessed that the house did not show well and could see beyond it. Staying open-minded is the best way to house hunt.
It took a good deal of imagination (and a new-found respect for a crowbar and power washer) to create our style and personality. A basic bathroom remodel (no walls moved) then the master bath was crisp and comfortable.
Dirty brown grout around the kitchen floor tile was replaced with a gleaming white coating, wonderfully freshening the spacious kitchen area. Dated sliding closet doors were tossed, replaced by white curtains which charmed up and contemporized the house immediately. Prying off the intrusive planter boxes attached to the outside walls ramped up our appreciation of the terrific backyard a thousandfold.
The addition of a vibrant bougainvillea to the front of the outside office added a much-needed burst of color and personality.
Painting the cabinets white and adding updated hardware immediately lightened and charmed up a drab kitchen.
A little re-imagining and replacing a very dated door, really brought out the charm of the living room.
We are now a year and a half into the smartest “crazy” move we’ve ever made. After many wonderful birthday, prom and grad parties, we’ve grown to truly love our home.
What was our biggest take-away from the experience?...
"When walking a mile in the shoes of a home buyer or seller it’s best to wear sensible footwear"...