Last week, we moved into our house.
Our very own home, with a big kitchen, plenty of space, a little garden, an atelier for me, a studio for Chris. A bathroom all to myself. Putting down roots.
Here I am, sitting on boxes full of my previous lives, and there’s only one thing I want: to take my time. Savor this big moment, listen to the birds singing, the schoolchildren playing in the distance, Lulu turning over in a ray of sun.
There’s also a guy screaming into his phone outside. Just a second, I’m going to go beat him up. Be right back.
We landed in Los Angeles on January 1st. I had been keeping an eye on houses for sale in Venice for a long time. To be honest, I didn’t really believe it was ever going to happen. It was like it was out of my reach somehow. You know that feeling?
I don’t know how to explain it, but having my own house has been one of my dreams all my life.
I could tell you the story like a fairy tale.
I actually started writing this post like a fairy tale.
But I almost fell asleep as I was writing, that’s how boring fairy tales are.
Because even though it’s a fairy tale to me, the real story is that life always delivers a little dose of yin with the yang.
And honestly, that part is a lot funnier.
So I’m going to tell you about buying our house by sharing the strongest moments.
It’s also a good time to share what I’ve learned about the ups and downs of buying a house. If you dream of one day owning a home, consider this to be a public service post!
Chris and I are fresh from New York with alabaster skin and stars in our eyes. We’re riding in Jessica’s (our real estate agent) BMW convertible and we happen upon a house whose photos I hadn’t liked, but which actually looks pretty promising in person.
We step into the house and immediately, I love it.
I mean, I love it like… When you love something at Valentino. Love it like I’m going to touch the fabric for two seconds then put it down as delicately as possible because otherwise I’ll start dreaming about it and…
I ask the price again, and of course it’s over our budget, but not way over.
So we decide to go for a drink in Chris’ brand new Honda (“OK, it’s not as exciting as a BMW, but Honda’s last forever”)(and I totally agree)(we’ll have to talk about cars really soon because I’m about to get my driver’s license since I am getting my LIFE IN ORDER) and I tell him, in my very emotional 2016-2017 way (very weepy, the trend of the moment) “Babe, if we buy this house, or a house like this, it will be a very important life moment for me. And when it happens, I’d really like us to celebrate it seriously.”
You have to understand that for me, having a house is a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl and I’ve waited patiently, totally idealizing the concept, of course, for years and years and years. Probably too much, but that’s just the way it is. To me, it symbolizes accomplishment, security, happiness.
And plus, I love, I mean LOVE decorating, and I’ve been biding my time renting apartments “waiting” for years.
I don’t know what I said to set him off, but we launched into a whisper fight (we were at a restaurant, you know those ridiculous fights where you’re trying to speak quietly the whole time and you end up throwing down your money and getting out of there, then once you get to the parking lot, you have to wait to get into the car, then drive in silence – you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
Find a house, and have a fight.
It was probably raining because Los Angeles decided to greet us with the rainiest January since 1823 (I’m making that up, but I’m sure it’s something like that) and as if that weren’t enough misery, I’m starting to have what any future owner of something must feel at some point: DOUBT.
Maybe the house is too expensive.
Maybe the house is too modern.
Maybe the house is too good for me.
Maybe the house was a big mistake.
Maybe it is way, way too early to make a decision like that.
Maybe the house doesn’t get enough light???
What if tomorrow, let’s say if we bought it, a better house goes on the market????
And that’s when I totally lost my cool. I’m usually pretty relaxed about things in life (not naturally, but I’ve learned). But this time I went into completely-hysterical-show-me-the-house-200-times-every-moment-of-the-day-google-everything-googlable-and-can-I-just-see-it-one-more-time-Jessica-sorry-thank-you-sorry.
I couldn’t sleep at night.
We finally made an offer, figuring if the house was meant to be ours, the offer would be accepted and everything would work out smoothly. Jessica said to me, with her big smile: “Don’t worry, it’s a long process buying a house, and the offer is just the beginning. You can retract your offer up to the very last day.”
The offer was turned down.
Which annoyed me cause I’m a proud Corsican. So I made another offer. Just like that, from New York where I was traveling at the time, over the phone, in “pffff it will never work but might as well try” mode.
The offer was accepted.
I started regretting it before I’d even bought it.
After the offer is accepted, in the US, that’s when you go into escrow, which means you begin all the formal procedures that go along with buying a house.
At the end of that period, they give you the keys. In LA, it takes about one month.
EXCEPT FOR ME, as you’re about to find out.
My problem? I’m French, ladies and gentlemen!
I am sitting across from my loan broker.
I arrived in her office, feeling easy breezy in my ballerina flats (?), ready to choose my bank and my loan like you pick an ice cream at Salt + Straw, ready to embark on my great mortgage adventure, adulting big time, basically, when suddenly, I realize the constipated expression on my loan officer’s face wasn’t from her lunch (??) but because there were no banks willing to give me a loan.
No. Banks. Willing. To. Give. Me. A. Loan.
Hmm, that’s a nice confirmation.
I wasn’t ready to be a homeowner, that must be it. It wasn’t possible. I had dreamed too big, it wasn’t something that was within reach for me. I was having horrible imposter syndrome.
But after I let my emotions go for two seconds, I decided to fight back. No banks want to give me a loan? We’ll see about that!!!
Oh, by the way, why wouldn’t a bank want me?
It’s very simple, and any French person living in the US has run into this kind of problem, because we don’t have the same culture. You see, in France, we are taught to have the least amount of debt possible. The day you go to the bank to ask for a loan, the bank congratulates you for never having needed a loan before, it’s a sign of being very responsible, how many millions do you need, ma’am, please sign here, have a great year.
In the US, to get a loan, you need to have already had one. Or like, at least three. Having money isn’t as important. I’m not kidding. The culture here is about living on credit, and you aren’t judged on your finances as much as on your ability to pay off your loans (for school, cars, healthcare, that Valentino dress, it can be anything.)
So if you’ve never had any small loans, you can’t get a big loan.
So not only did I feel like a total imbecile with my “healthy bank account” but on top of it all, my constipated loan officer had me waste a lot of precious time in escrow, and then I had to extend the escrow, which cost even more money.
Chris and I felt defeated, and we tried to figure out how we could pull the money together as quickly as possible, but it seemed too extreme. So we went back to our little Airbnb, telling ourselves that’s all we deserved since we didn’t have enough credit to have credit. It was raining, of course, and even Lulu was looking at us with teary doe eyes “no yard for me, then?”
(We’re a pretty dramatic family)
But deep down, I knew it didn’t make sense. I was sure there must be a solution. Banks dream of lending money to a young (ok-ish) couple, right?
And just like every time I feel lost about money (which is always), I called Walter Schupfer, my agent who understands everything, EVERYTHING about finance.
And he told me, G, call this number.
Brad answers my phone call. Smooth voice, impeccable sense of humor, absolute confidence in himself that you could feel on the other side of the line. Feeling that with him, anything is possible. In three minutes, after sending two documents, he said, of course I can do this.
We’re going to find you a great loan, and we’re going to do it fast.
It was like Starsky from Starsky & Hutch had come to my rescue.
The only thing missing was the 70s music in the background.
I couldn’t believe my ears.
Baaam! Another mission accomplished by Walter Schupfer.
Lesson No. 1: Never give up
Lesson No. 2: Sometimes, you come across mediocre people (my constipated agent) and when that happens, don’t lose courage. Just call someone else, preferably Starsky from Starsky & Hutch.
Lesson No. 3: Always ask someone who knows.
In three phone calls, our problem was solved.
I had a great rate, a great loan, and I was going to have a great house.
I still had my doubts.
At one point, I even called Brad (I tend to turn everyone who enters my life into my therapist, yes, but I’m aware of it)(I’m getting better)(by seeing a therapist) and I unloaded my millions of concerns on him. I’ll spare you most of them today because I don’t want you to think I’m insane I respect your reading time.
Okay, okay, if you insist. I’ll give you one example: does the house get enough light? Is the neighborhood a good neighborhood? Is it really a good time to buy with Trump and the world falling apart? Is this other house better? Etc., etc., etc.
I was making Chris dizzy with all the questions. He loved the house.
I think it was just the shock of accomplishing a dream.
And that’s why it’s important to not always talk about things as if they were a fairy tale.
Every story, every project, every dream we accomplish is filled with its own obstacles, whether they’re emotional, physical, financial…and those obstacles make us appreciate the accomplishment even more, and teach us who we are.
“PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS”
Is what Brad said to me. Stop analyzing. Your house is great, the neighborhood is great, you’re afraid because this is all new for you, that’s all. Brad, can you become my life coach?
February and March were a blur of endless waiting.
The house passed all the inspections, and believe me, I put it through every inspection possible and imaginable, but each one took a crazy amount of time.
First of all, because of my loan issues, I had to ask for an escrow extension which pushed back the closing date (the keys, come on, the keeeeyyys!) to mid-February.
Then the owner ended up pushing the date back because the city was supposed to come set up the water. Then they pushed it back again because the city needed to install the electricity. Each time, we had to extend our rental (thanks to Sharon, the best Airbnb owner to ever set foot on this earth.)
I started to get superstitious about it. Why didn’t the house want to give itself to me, maybe it’s not the right house…
PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS
Maybe it’s better if I keep looking at other houses. Hey, what about that Spanish-style house, for example (it’s a very pretty style that’s popular in California). It needs a lot of work, but it could be so beautiful if…
PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS
And what happens if we don’t end up liking LA, maybe we should just rent for a year and take our time, yeah, but in a year all the houses will be more expensive and we won’t be able to rent anymore and…
PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS
Well, why don’t we go back to look at the house. The backyard is kind of small, no? And aren’t those neighbors a little sketchy? And this…
PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS.
But Jessica didn’t even flinch, not for a second.
She always had an ultra bright smile, always ready to show me the house again for the hundredth time, and even the day when I called her and said “I give up, no, we can’t do this. It’s not the exact perfect ideal dream house.”
She said, okay, no problem. Let’s keep looking.
Two hours later, I changed my mind again. I got lucky finding Jessica because she had the patience of an angel. When she said to me one day: “I have clients who buy houses after seeing them only one time!!!” I admit I didn’t believe it could be possible.
It’s hard choosing a house. A house is like a person. It’s never perfect. There are always one or two things that are off, that you need to fix, or that could be better. No matter what your budget, it’s always like that because you want the thing you’ve invested in or saved for over the years to be out of this world.
And just like a love story with a person, you just have to go on feeling, and not think too much. Improve what you can, and learn to love the rest. I spent weeks talking to homeowner friends about it, and they all said the same thing.
One of them adores her apartment but it’s noisy and a little bit out of the way.
The other adores her house but it doesn’t have a yard and there’s never any parking.
One adores her house but it’s tiny and she has to come up with ingenious ideas to make it functional, but she wouldn’t leave it for anything in the world.
The list could go on for hours.
Personally, I’d like to add a window in the kitchen, and break down a wall to make the living room bigger. My house is brand new, which means it’s spacious and very functional, and the kitchen is to die for, but I’m going to have to find ways to give it the charm that an older house has naturally.
The house is a soft gray color, when I was dreaming of it being all white.
I could repaint it, but that might not work with the style. I’m thinking about it.
The yard isn’t huge, I don’t have a pool, and no, Mom, I don’t have a view of the ocean. Haha, the questions moms ask, sometimes.
After looooong, very long months of waiting and putting our relationship to the test (but we made it out intact, woohooo!!! Challenge of living in close quarters: successful!!!) in a charming but tiny Airbnb, the day finally came. The close of escrow.
We sat down with a notary, and we signed pages and pages of papers. And just like that, at a café table in Venice, we owned a tiny piece of California. I was very quiet, I didn’t know what to say. Chris said “I’m going surfing” and I started to cry (I told you, I’m in a weepy period) and we got in a fight, like with every big moment in our lives.
On April 18, Jessica was waiting for us in our house, with a bottle of champagne and her big smile. I was so moved I was speechless. Such a big life moment.
We took a photo in front of the house, Chris, Lulu and I, with the “SOLD” sign in our hands. It was cute, in the photo, we look like a couple from another time, with our huge smiles, a couple ready to begin a life full of promise.
I feel like I’ve accomplished something big and wonderful, and most of all, something deep and reassuring. We’ve been living in our house for a week and I feel like the walls are protecting us, surrounding us, and taking us in their arms.
We’re going to take our time investing in it, decorating it, bringing it to life. Filling our kitchen with delicious smells, filling our bedroom with love, our yard with noisy dinners, our studios with creativity. We’ll live out our dreams there, our daily lives, our fights, our explosive laughters, and everything else life has in store for us. Okay, I’m going to go cry a little (I warned you) and unpack another box.
And I hope all of your dreams come true.
Translated by Andrea Perdue