My O.C.: The Battle Between Current and Future Selves Reaches a Tipping Point While Househunting

Illustration by Faye Rogers

“Do you see yourself starting a family in the next few years?” my real estate agent asked, one hand on her hip. We stood on the sidewalk, having just toured a condo in Costa Mesa. She was asking for practical reasons, trying to finally nail down whether we should be looking at one- or two-bedroom places, and if she should narrow it by school district. I stood there, wide-eyed, suddenly sweating. I was 25 and fulfilling a lifelong dream of buying my own home in Orange County. I’d thought the process would be quick; I’ve lived in O.C. all my life and know the area. Just a couple of tours and then … Sign here. I hadn’t expected big questions about my plans, or lack thereof. I realized I needed to make some real-life decisions, and fast.

It was the middle of summer, and the rent at my apartment had increased again. O.C. is beautiful—it’s where my job and school are, it’s safe, and most important, it has always been my home. But it’s darn expensive.

As I contemplated my lease renewal, I punched in some numbers on my phone’s calculator. I realized my new rent was almost the same as a mortgage on a modest condo. I’d received an unexpected inheritance, and perhaps if I saved a little more (less Chipotle, more Del Taco), this could be a chance to get my own place.

That night, I decided it was time to invest in my future. It was time to take a chance. It was time—to go online.

I managed to get a handle on home-buying sites like Redfin and Zillow, and that weekend I got to work. I drove all over Orange County, from Irvine to Brea, searching for open houses and scheduling tours with a real estate agent.

I’d always known that each city has its own personality, but as I toured homes, I started to get an idea of what it might be like to live in those cities. Everyone knows Huntington Beach for its beautiful, sunny beaches, but who knew it had so many amazing Italian restaurants? I always thought of Fullerton as a college town famous for its nightlife, but it also has some great antique shops.

I was having fun pretending I was on HGTV, using terms like backsplash and original floors when I looked at homes. Until one day, when I met up with my friend Liz, who had purchased her first home a year earlier.

“As a homebuyer, you’ll want to live in a place for at least five years for the investment to make sense,” she said between bites of pancake. We were at brunch, flipping through pictures of my potential homes. “Try to imagine what you’ll be doing then and what you’ll want.”

In five years I’d be 30. But that seemed so far away. At this point, my only plans were to finish graduate school and eat that leftover pizza in the fridge.

I left brunch feeling dejected. How could I shop for a home I’d like five years from now when I didn’t know what I’d want then? When my real estate agent initially suggested I get a place next to a park “just in case,” I shook my head. A child was the last thing on my mind. I needed to focus on things that were important to me now like school, my career, and re-watching “Gilmore Girls.”

And yet, I knew everything could change in five years. My boyfriend and I had been together for a while and were toying with the idea of getting married. What if, in the next few years, we decided to have a baby? Just because I didn’t want kids now, didn’t mean future me wouldn’t want them.

Suddenly, I was no longer just trying to find a good deal on a home; I was planning my life.

After countless home tours, and a lot of searching online, I managed to select two great places within my budget—one in Irvine and another in Tustin. But each pulled me in a different direction.

The home in Tustin was older but had a lot of square footage for my budget. It had two bedrooms and a large living room, but it lacked air conditioning and one bathroom needed major updates.

On the other hand, I couldn’t stop thinking about a condo in Irvine. It was small, only one bedroom, but it had a beautiful kitchen, a laundry room upstairs, and it was close to Irvine
Spectrum Center (my favorite place in the world). Between the purple living room walls and a cozy reading nook upstairs, the condo seemed perfect. I could see myself toasting to birthdays on the veranda and staying up late to binge-watch Netflix in the living room with friends.

But which was right? Would I be happier in the family starter home or the bachelorette pad? Even after hours of deliberation and making pro-con lists, I couldn’t decide.

Soon, I started screening calls from my real estate agent. I had stress dreams of getting lost in strange houses, wandering around rooms I hated. I was anxious, exhausted, and still undecided. To add to it all, I knew there was a time limit. If I didn’t make a choice soon, someone else might swoop in on my dream home.

At one point I considered forgetting about the whole thing and staying in my apartment forever, or at least another year or two. But owning a place was the dream, and now I knew it was actually possible. I’d come this far; I couldn’t just forget about it now.

Still not sure what to do, I moved forward. With both places.

I learned how to apply for a loan (thanks, Mom) and found out that I needed a co-signer (thanks, Mom). I put in offers on both homes, ready to leave it up to the universe to decide where I would live. The owner of the two-
bedroom house in Tustin countered with a fair price right away. Seeing the counter-
offer in my email, I realized I could have the place if I just said yes.

And then I knew.

That day I sent back a polite note, rescinding the offer.

I didn’t want to buy a house for a potential future version of me. I wanted a place I loved now.

At the end of the summer, I moved into my one-bedroom condo in Irvine, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve already hosted a bunch of Netflix marathons and logged countless hours in my reading nook. I feel so at home, and I know that’s exactly what I want.

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