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The “Oh-S**t” Moment

Nicholas and Kitty Cifuentes


Bought: 3-bed, 1.5-bath in Ingleside Heights
Asking: $850K
Final: $1.09M
Realtors: Drew and Heather Wilkerson, Vanguard

Ignorance is bliss—until you need a new place to live in San Francisco. “Going into this you think, ‘Oh, I’m going to put all this money down for this house, and they are obviously going to accept it because it’s so much money,’” says Nicholas Cifuentes about those early, blissfully naïve days of house hunting. “You don’t realize you are up against 15 other people.”

And for Nicholas and his city-born wife, Kitty, who were committed to raising their two young kids in San Francisco, the lessons were hard to swallow. “You get so emotionally tied to these houses—when you go through the bidding process, you start to imagine your life in it,” he says. “And then you don’t get the house and it’s this feeling of rejection that is really hard.” Where others would simply turn back to their spreadsheets, refresh their Trulia app, and hit the open-house circuit, the Cifuenteses needed more time to lick their wounds. “We would have to take a break. We would take a month or so off between seriously bidding and looking again,” Nicholas says.

The couple also had to recalibrate their financial expectations along the way. Nicholas runs digital strategy for a healthcare company, and Kitty handles client relations at Sephora. They had been saving for a number of years and were feeling confident that they had enough squirreled away to make a 20 percent down payment, but a meeting with a mortgage broker brought them down to reality. “We did the math: 20 percent, yes, we have that,” Nicholas says. “Then your mortgage officer will remind you that you need closing costs, which is about $13,000, then you need reserves. If you take a mortgage out over $1 million, you need roughly $80,000 to $90,000 in reserves. Just sitting in your bank account, available, after the down payment. It’s absurd.”

They started to get creative, looking into alternative loans that required less money down. But thankfully, some family members stepped in to cover the gaps. “They helped contribute that last little bit, which ended up putting us over the edge.” They credit their realtors, Drew and Heather Wilkerson from Vanguard, for wheeling out a few tricks of their own, such as hitting open houses on holiday weekends, when inventory was low and not a lot of people were out looking. That’s when they found the one they wanted—a three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom home with a yard in Ingleside Heights. “We went in, we saw it, we thought about it…it wasn’t perfect, but honestly no home is perfect in this market,” Nicholas recalls.

They decided to make an offer: $1.05 million. As usual, theirs wasn’t the only one. The seller came back, asking the Cifuenteses and one other potential buyer to submit counteroff ers. Instead of waiting for the deadline, their realtors encouraged them to be aggressive. “Our realtor was like, ‘Listen, if you want this house, I say we come back with a counter immediately and we say that’s it, we are coming back once, take it or leave it.’ So we came back with a little bit more, and that oh-shit moment happened—they took it.”

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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