We have been trying to buy a house for six months. It's our first time, and we don't have a down payment of our own, so it has been complex. We weren't convinced we were in a financial situation to buy. Then a seminar at the high school changed our minds, and we began the process.
Did you know the City of Alameda offers down payment assistance to first-time home buyers based on income, from $50,000 to $80,000? Layered in with the $15,000 WISH program, this meant up to $95,000 for a down payment. Alameda is one of the few cities still funding down payment assistance. (To find out more, contact their vendor HomeBricks.) It was this information that gave us hope. It turned out we are perfect candidates. Our income is spot-on, we're first-time home buyers and our credit is impeccable. We have very little debt. It seemed like everything was lining up.
We wanted to stay in Alameda. Our children have friends here and are involved in many activities specific to the Island. We bike everywhere. It was our hope that our children would grow up here. Now we're not so sure they can.
We rent an apartment and a quick glance at craigslist shows us that while our rent was comparable when we secured this place a year and a half ago, it is now significantly lower than the average rent for a place like this one. Rents have gone up. We can't move from here to another place in Alameda unless we buy. Rents going up in the way they have (the average comparable is about $600/mo. higher) is disturbing, especially given the economic situation we are living in.
Our payments on a house, even at our maximun loan amount (including property taxes), would be lower than our current rent and much lower than the rents being charged out there now. So we set out to buy using the programs designed to enable people just like us to buy their first homes. We were full of hope.
We had an excellent, active real estate team working with us. I watched the listings like a hawk. We viewed every one on the Island and made multiple offers. Many offers were above the list price. In some cases, we never got to make an offer because a cash buyer came in and took the house. In every case, our offer was refused. Never even countered. We wrote personal letters to the sellers, we were looking even at houses too small or in need of serious repair. One bank-owned house we loved didn't even respond to our offer. The house is still listed and stands vacant, apparently not actually for sale (227 Central, if you're curious). I have never worked so hard in my life as I have on Project: Stay In Alameda. Still, I have failed.
What we have seen is upsetting, and not just because we haven't bought a house. Almost all of the houses we missed went to cash investors. We can't be the only family unable to touch a house here. What is the City's program worth if it can't even merit a counter to an offer already over the list price? I spent a day at the seminar, but many days of work went into my paperwork and application, everything I did in good faith because the City wants to help us buy here. It's hard to accept it was all a waste.
I am sad we have to leave Alameda. My husband and I had our first apartment here, above Ramiro & Sons taqueria. Our first two children were born while we lived there. When our firstborn was little we walked Park Street in the evening to calm him. I remember passing Pacific Fencing Club and wondering if Tristan would want to fence someday. (He does fence there. He is almost 10 now.) Our daughter studies ballet at ABA. Three of our children study art with Patrice Hinz at StudioTime on Santa Clara. We bike to the beach in the afternoons. We check out our weight in books at the library. We spend all our allowances at D20 games. (Well, Tristan does.)
We continue our house search tempered by failure. The occasional house pops up here and we look into it, often only to see it go before it's been listed long — cash buyer, oral offer acceptance, something like that. It is sad to see the vacant houses among us, owned by banks who would rather see them rot to the ground than sell them to a family like us at a market price. We would buy any one of them if we could. What are they worth to us? Whatever we can offer, because a home in Alameda is priceless to our family.
Our letter from the City, our Down Payment Award, sits on my desk. It is unlikely that we will get to use it. We intially didn't believe it was possible, then we were shown hope, but now we realize we were probably right at the start. I don't discourage others from approaching HomeBricks and trying to use the programs. I hope it can happen and that we have just had bad luck.
We sure want to stay here. If the family that wanted the house the most won out, no one could hold a candle to our "offer."