real estate

How Waiting to Buy a Home Paid Off for This California Family

Biding their time to buy the home of their dreams took some strategic planning.

Then:

Caught in the overheated Southern California housing market of 2006, Paolo and Lediya Beltran sought guidance from the Portfolio Doctor (a Kiplinger's feature at the time) on how to buy their first home. Should they take the plunge, even if it meant assuming a staggering mortgage, or save their money and bide their time? They followed the doc's advice and stayed in a rental, where they took on maintenance tasks in exchange for a break on the rent.

Now:

While many of their friends stretched to buy, Paolo and Lediya, who are both 39, stood firm and socked away every dollar they could in safe bank accounts and money market funds, reckoning that the housing market had to break. It did. After the birth of their son, Lucas, 9, they began house hunting. And this time they were in command, with rock-bottom interest rates and fewer competing buyers.

In 2011, the Beltrans closed on a freshly improved detached home in Seal Beach, Calif., in a choice neighborhood that's near the beach and has top-rated schools. They made a low offer to an owner who was motivated to sell, paying $665,000 for the three-level, four-bedroom house. They came up with a hefty down payment and got a 3.375% fixed-rate mortgage for $525,000.

It's just a 20-minute drive to city hall in Lakewood, where Paolo is a municipal administrator, and a five-minute hop to Lediya's office at a nonprofit domestic-violence agency serving Orange County. Because their mortgage is manageable by California standards, Paolo is grateful that he wasn’t forced to make a career change just to make the payments. "This is a story of luck and great timing," he says.

The Beltrans are now a family of five, with daughters Leila, 6, and Lara, 2. A disciple of Vanguard founder John Bogle, Paolo remains a cautious spender and a saver who socks away what he can in retirement and education accounts. Lediya's mother lives with the family and helps with day care, and there's enough money to pay for the kids' sports and occasional vacations to national parks, Florida or the Caribbean.

With the California housing market on the upswing, Paolo figures he and Lediya have at least $200,000 of equity in their home, though he doesn't watch sales prices because he can't imagine another move. And what made it all possible was patience and planning, both of which were clearly in short supply during the late, unlamented California housing bubble. If more people had followed their example, there would have been fewer books -- and no movie -- about the financial crisis.

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