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'Now I Feel, Peacefully, at Home'

Tales From the Trenches: Second Two Parts

May 11, 1997

In search of my first home, I began scouring the lowest end of the depressed Southern California housing market in 1993. I walked through at least a hundred broken dreams measured by foreclosures, VA repossessed properties, short payoffs and, later, earthquake-damaged houses.

Buying a house as a single parent can be a frightening experience, but this was tempered by sitting down with agents and writing up numerous offers. I quickly learned there would be another property, another agent and another contract. I bid on property based on where I thought the market was heading (down). My bids fell well short of the mark, but I stayed true to my formula of affordability and value.

One day last winter, when mortgage rates briefly hovered around 6.75% for a 30-year fixed, I walked into a "short pay" property in West Hills and heard a loud boom--the sound of the real estate market hitting rock-bottom.

I knew this was it--a great house, terrific schools, a quiet neighborhood.

The owners had bought the house at the top of the market in 1989 and were "upside down"--they owed more on the property than its current market value.

But short pays can be a nightmare. I endured a 4 1/2-month odyssey that took me to multiple banks and enough second guessing to exhaust even the most determined buyer.

Yet there were numerous heroes helping this deal work. The escrow agent navigated through property liens, agents initiated commission cuts, compromises were made on closing costs, my loan officer pushed to make a critical deadline and the bank that held the mortgage clearly defined their bottom line.

And I became a homeowner.

As I helped my two teenage daughters pack for the move, I found markings on their bedroom wall where I'd measured their heights nine years ago, when we first occupied our two-bedroom apartment. Measuring them again, they'd each grown 2 feet taller.

Now they have their own bedrooms for the very first time in our lives together, and I feel, peacefully, home.

ERIC AUGUSZTINY

West Hills

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