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A Gift from Grandma

Sarah and James Dorsey


Buyers: Sarah and James Dorsey
Bought: 2-bed, 1-bath in Temescal
Asking: $699K
Final: $857K
Realtor: Jamie Lawrence, Zephyr

“I think it’s disingenuous to say things like ‘We’re really lucky, we searched for a long time,’ when the real answer is ‘family money,’” says Sarah Dorsey, 36, who with her husband, James, bought a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood in April 2017. “If I think hard, I don’t think any of my college friends in the city would be homeowners without family money.”

For the Dorseys, that meant $270,000 in stocks and bonds that came their way after Sarah’s grandmother died in 2014. “I just let the money grow with the bananas stock market rise over the past two years,” she says. But despite having the funds for a down payment, when they approached banks to get preapproved for a home loan, they were denied. At the time, Sarah, a former magazine editor, was working as a freelancer, making six figures doing content work for various companies. James was a self-employed craftsman, making and selling custom leatherwork. Although they had a steady, sizable income, neither had a salaried job, so no bank would lend to them. “Which influenced my decision to take a full-time job,” says Sarah, who accepted a position as a content producer at Facebook. With the job offer letter in hand, she and James were approved for their loan immediately—although like Julia Roberts stomping out of the snooty boutique in Pretty Woman (“Big mistake!”), Sarah chose not to go back to the bank that had jilted her the first time: “You won’t get the chance to say no to me twice. So we ended up going with First Republic.”

They had zeroed in on Temescal, in Oakland, although they were dubious that they could afford a single-family home there with their budget of $863,000. They had already lost out on one place nearby when another popped up. The previous owner, an elderly woman, had died in the home. “We walked into the bathroom and there was a half tube of toothpaste and towels askew,” Sarah says. “It was as though she just manifested out of the house.” The large backyard included a winding wheelchair ramp, and the basement was stocked with medical supplies. “But it felt right, so we immediately went outside and called our realtor,” Sarah says. The house was listed for $699,000, but the couple decided, against advice from their realtor, to go all in. “We said, ‘We are giving them everything,’ and we offered $857,000, no contingencies.” Plus they offered to take the house as is, used toothpaste and all.

The Family Business
Broker, Lawyer, Designer, Mom
To the Locals Go the Spoils
Tell a Story, and Make It Good
The Lottery Winners
Riding Out the Recession
The Soul (and House) Mates
Three Boys and a Dream
Not in Texas Anymore
A Reward for the Faithful
A Gift from Grandma
The Grateful Educators
Chasing the Dream
The Renter No Longer
The Data Optimizers
An Accidental Homeowner
The “Oh-S**t” Moment
All Aboard in the Marina


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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