I woke up this November morning feeing grateful. The day before marked one of the most momentous
occasions any person can experience. We moved into a home that we could truly call our own.
Buying a home is on that checklist of living the American dream. A house in suburbia, 2.5 kids, a dog… These are all outward signs that we have our lives together and are happy, comfortable and prosperous. But my family doesn’t have 2.5 kids. We have one. And we didn’t move to a suburban street like Wisteria Lane. We moved to Oak Park, on 35th Street, to be exact.
When we first began to look for a home we could call our own, we immediately noticed our price range was not going to buy the size house we needed in the neighborhood we would have preferred. My fiancé, having grown up in Placerville, had been slightly uncomfortable with the area where we had been renting, Power Inn and Florin Road. The neighbors on both sides seemed to get into altercations frequently. The ghetto bird was heard almost every night. And we couldn’t quite convince ourselves the frequent shots throughout the night were fireworks.
So when we decided to buy a home, we were hoping to get into a less crime-infested area. We also wanted at least two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a back yard, a two-car garage, and over 1,200 square feet of living space. And we wanted a mortgage payment of $1,000 per month or less. That’s a tall order to fill.
It was also an impossible order, especially in the Sacramento area. All of the houses I found that fit our specifications were in neighborhoods notorious for their crime rates. Del Paso Heights, North Highlands, South Sacramento, Oak Park, West Sacramento (Broderick side). None of those areas appealed to us. So I ultimately refused to even look at the listings. We put an offer in on a duplex, not far from the place we had been renting but in a neighborhood that was off the main drag, and we waited. It was a short sale, so we waited too long by my standards. I got antsy and began looking for other places. That’s when I found it.
The home was beautiful on the outside. Large porch. Well-manicured lawn. Fresh paint. The interior was like a dream with newly resurfaced cabinets, tile counters and floors, celling fans in all three – count them! – bedrooms, and sand-colored walls to accent the new carpet. The backyard was a dream: lots of grass, a finished concrete patio, and a large, relatively new shed in the corner. There was even a fenced garden box. After reviewing the pictures and the price, I sent the link to my girlfriend, hoping she would see what I saw and overlook the fact that this home was in Oak Park. She immediately returned my email with a response saying, “That’s the one, that’s my home. I want that one.” I told her where it was and she promptly replied, “I don’t care.”
Oak Park definitely has a stigma here in Sacramento. While it has undergone some serious gentrification, it’s still one of the rougher neighborhoods in our city. I cannot tell a lie; I really didn’t want to live there. Having been a victim of burglary and auto theft in my lifetime, I have qualms about living in areas where this type of activity can be a nightly norm. Especially buying a house, as this action suggests a level of permanency. All that being said, we went to look at the place anyway, that very same night.
We drove in the black of the fall evening to see our potential new home. The owner had recently passed away of cancer and her daughter, Stevie, was staying in the home while they went through the sale process. She was gracious enough to let us in at 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday.
The pictures did it justice, and all of us were immediately in love. We began planning where the furniture would go, what to do with the shed and the distance from home to work. We began to dream of the ways we could make this space our own. We immediately put in an offer. And we waited.
There were brief discussions about the locale, whether or not it would be a decent street to live on, but nothing was going to keep us from living in this home if we could help it. Sure, my dad looked up the crime rate and tried to convince us to look elsewhere. At the same time, lots of people made comments like, “The Oak Park area isn’t as bad as it once was.” Or, “The safety varies street by street.” And, “There have been considerable efforts to revamp the area.” Honestly, we were so in love with the house itself, we didn’t care much what anyone said, including our own inner pessimist.
When they responded to our offer with a counter offer and we found out that we were up against some other potential buyers, our prospects looked grim. We had offered all we could afford, had no idea what our competition was, and we began to worry we wouldn’t get our dream home. But our realtor explained we could offer $20,000 over asking and still be in our price range, and that a personal letter might make all the difference in the decision for the selling party.
There was an emotional attachment to the house by Stevie and her uncle. The previous owner, Dee, had loved this home with all her heart. She invested lots of time and money into it before she became sick. So we talked in our letter about how this was the perfect place to raise our family, how we could finally get a dog, how we wanted this to be our forever home. Appealing to the emotional side of the seller, we explained that it already felt like home, from the moment we saw the listing pictures, to the instant we stepped foot inside. We sent the counter offer and the letter and waited.
It was the longest weekend of our lives. Not knowing what our future would hold, we continued to dream of living on 35th Street. When we got the call that the seller had accepted our offer, we cried, laughed and celebrated. We were going to buy our very first home.
The following weeks were a whirlwind of paper signing, document retrieval, packing and planning. The seller accepted our offer in early October and, with lots of diligence and even more help from our friends and family, we were moved into our new home within a month.
We met our neighbor, Luis, the night prior to our move in. The nicest fellow you would ever want to meet, Luis told us that he used to maintain the front and back yard for Dee and would be happy to do the same for us, no charge, but if we had any recycling we could give him, that would be appreciated. We could hardly believe his kindness and immediately took him up on his offer. Perhaps the neighborhood isn’t so bad!
After having lived here for the last few weeks, we have decided that we like our street, we love the location, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with living in Oak Park. We got a dog a week after moving in, and we take him for walks around the neighborhood, just like we would if we did live on Wisteria Lane. We are proud to show our home off to all our friends and family. No one really thinks twice about the location, least of all us.
I never thought I would buy a home in Oak Park because I fell victim to the belief that it’s a neighborhood I could never feel safe in, that it would never appreciate in value. This type of thinking might be Oak Park’s biggest problem. Our home is perfect. Our neighborhood is perfect. And if there’s a lesson to be learned from this whole experience, it’s the adage, don’t judge a book by its cover.