Wednesday, January 03, 2018

leaving the O for the 'Jo

Back in the spring of 2015 I wrote about considering leaving Oakland, and California altogether. Well, it's done: my husband and I have left Oakland. We managed to buy a place on the outer edges of the Bay Area in Vallejo, and the last 2 months have been a scramble to work on our little fixer-upper (virtually nothing actually got done) while packing up our lives in Oakland. As my husband likes to say, we have left the O for the 'Jo-- pronounced "ho". We spent our first night here on New Year's Day.

How the hell did this happen? My husband has been chomping at the bit to buy something for years. I have always been reluctant because I hate anything that rings of adult responsibility-- having children, dogs, and mortgages being my top three things to avoid at all costs. On New Year's Day last year, I asked my husband is he had any special goals for 2017, and he said, "I want to own a piece of property by the end of this year," and I nodded my head to look supportive while thinking to myself that there was no way that was going to happen. 

A month later, my mom died, and when I was finally able to come back to Oakland in the early spring, I suddenly felt done with it. I literally said to my husband when I was getting out of the car after driving home from Washington, "I don't want to live here anymore." It's hard to describe how I was feeling. My mom died, and I felt like my old life was just over, and I didn't feel any sense of attachment to it anymore. Every small thing that had been grating on me in my life-- my jackass landlord, my inconsiderate upstairs neighbor, our cute but falling-apart apartment, and a host of other things-- suddenly was completely intolerable. I needed to make a change, I couldn't keep coasting on my current situation. 

By chance, we had a project in Vallejo a couple of weeks later, a town I have driven through on the freeway a thousand times but have never stopped and visited. I was immediately intrigued by the town-- the waterfront, the views of the Bay, the downtown with beautiful old buildings and not a lot going on, which recalled Oakland in the 90's. It also has the same rough edges that Oakland used to have before it got all upscale. Then there were the sweet neighborhoods and cute homes: Victorians, mid-century bungalows, pre-WWII stucco homes, Spanish Mediterraneans, and cottages. My radar went off when I realized that many of these homes were for sale in the $350,000 range. Now $350,000 is a shitload of money, I am aware of that. But my brain has been bent by living in the Bay Area for too long, so to my mind $350,000 for a home is CHEAP. I found a realtor and we got to work.

As it turned out, about a thousand other people had the exact same thought. We looked at house after house, every single weekend, putting in offers, writing letters to home owners telling them how much we loved their home and what good and interesting people we are, trying to get someone to sell us their house. People who live in normal housing markets are shocked that this is a thing in California, that potential buyers basically have to sell themselves to owners by writing letters about why they should sell their house to us. Yes, it's thing and this is the ridiculous world I live in.

Finally we found a house that no one else wanted. A home that did not photograph well in real estate listings and full of junk from the previous owners. There was a catalogue of wallpaper samples in one of the rooms from the 1940's. It smelled funky and the bathroom was scary. It had not had anything significant done to it since the 80's. The yard was overgrown and wild. No one had lived in it for years. It was also tens of thousands of dollars less than anything else we looked at, so we casually put in an offer, which was accepted. My first reaction when our realtor told us they took our offer was not joy, but "oh shit". OH SHIT WHAT HAVE WE DONE?! My natural disinclination for adult responsibility kicked right in.

I could write a whole blog post just about going from the "pre-approval" phase of a home loan to actually getting a loan. I thought getting pre-approved meant something, that the hard work of proving you are worthy of a loan was done. WRONG. Pre-approval basically means that you have been assessed to be alive, employed, and in possession of a bank account. That's it. For real and full loan approval there are a hundred hoops to jump through, and I had to jump through hundred more because of my self-employed status. My loan officer has a name any porn star would be proud of, and we talked daily for weeks. And I did not flip out once, except at the very end when I squeezed out of few tears of frustration, but I got us that fucking loan. At 47, I am now officially an adult.

I'm going to tell you about our house now: it's one of the cute little stucco homes on a street with
almost identical homes, all built around 1934. It has fantastic light, hardwood floors, great ceilings, and a sweet archway between the living room and the dining room. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. The kitchen has the original cabinets and tile work. The living part of the home is on an upper level, and then the garage and a whole unfinished downstairs is on a lower level. My studio is going to be there. I'm not even going to start in on the whole moving-my-studio thing right now, because I'm trying to stay sane. The yard has persimmon, pomegranate, avocado, fig, and an orange tree. Our mortgage is less than what we paid in rent to our former landlord.

I'm writing this on my second full day here and my sense of disorientation is still very high. My closest friend is a 13 minute drive away, which is far for me. I don't have a single friend in Vallejo yet, though I've met some very nice people. Also, today would have been my mom's 70th birthday, which is adding to the overall weirdness of the day. But I also feel like I belong here, and this is going to be a fantastic home for us, and I'm excited to start this new life.