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  • Sarah Mervis

Game of Homes

Updated: Aug 11

Before we stayed inside, first we had to leave.


Unexpectedly, my husband and I became first time homeowners last month. Our wild ride into real estate began in early February, the same week San Diego Home & Garden Magazine featured the century old abode. Our landlord surprised us with news that our charming rental home would be listed on the market... in a week.


So there we were, somewhere between renter, homeless, and homebuyer. Making a giant leap, we decided it was time to look into homeownership options. Wishfully thinking we could purchase our cozy abode from the owner, we made an offer on it, only to be painstakingly informed that it was out of our price range. Back to square one.


It seemed fate had a sense of humor, but I wasn't laughing.


We officially became players in the Game of Homes; continually attempting to manage our current living situation while balancing our prospective home search. I'm almost positive I blacked out somewhere along the way, as the game propelled my husband and I into a dizzy real estate spiral. The aggressive San Diego market was a beast we were unprepared for!


With the help of our friend, a fellow SDFD firefighter and part time realtor, we began the search for a place to live. After being ushered out of the first open house for mentioning our service dog, we chose to take our chances at another open house down the street! This second home was too good to be true. Knowing this, my husband and I submitted what we thought was a strong offer at $50,000 over asking price. Naively feeling hopeful, we anxiously waited for a response from the seller.


Three days later, news arrived: Our offer was lower than eighteen others submitted in the last 72 hours, resulting in nothing but well wishes on our continued house hunt.


Was this game for real?


Immediately following our rejected offer, I opened my Zillow app and located a brand new market listing posted an hour prior. This time I made sure my aggressive side was awake and caffeinated! I sent the house information to our realtor, scheduled a tour, and texted my husband at the fire station to prepare for round three.


At the third open house our schmoozing was on point: my husband told his best jokes and I flashed my brightest smile. Our game strategy was assertive and tactful, successfully concealing our beginners learning curve.


We submitted an offer. Then we waited.


The night of our yearly basketball battle: the Miami Heat vs. the Portland Trail Blazers. Like every year, we spent the game drinking beer at a local dive bar. Forty-five seconds left in the game, and fate decided to laugh at us again: our realtor was calling. My husband and I exchanged looks, glanced back at the too-close-for-comfort basketball score, and ran out of the bar to answer the phone.


Our realtor gave us the scoop: from the looks of it, our offer was the one they wanted! Excited, nervous, and slightly cautious at celebrating prematurely, we ran back inside to catch the last ten seconds of the game as two giddy potential homeowners.


Portland won, Miami lost :)


Knee-deep in the finalities of escrow, COVID-19 made its debut into Southern California. As my husband packed extra gloves and masks into the firetruck, I packed boxes at my office and our beloved bungalow. Wondering how we were going to make this move happen, we knew a call for reinforcements had to be made.

For the price of a few California burritos, almost a dozen San Diego firefighters loaned us their trucks, tools, moving muscles, and renovation skills while the world around us was shutting down. My husband and his fellow firefighters relocated furniture, installed floors, framed walls, and ate burritos like it was their second job. Everything our townhouse transformed into, we owed to them and their selfless spirits!


As the dust was just beginning to settle, fate made one final play.


Alzheimer's was the second illness that caught me by surprise that week: my sweet grandmother lost her battle with it. Setting fear aside, I grabbed my husband's medical mask, took the next flight to Oregon, and left our new home in the hands of the firefighters.

Since funeral gatherings were prohibited, we instead shared memories with my grandfather over a pizza at his kitchen table. Old stories and pictures found their way into the conversation, and one by one black and white photos passed through my fingers. I found myself unable to put down some of the photographs, forcing the question of why these caught my eye.


The photos were of my grandfather as a Navy recruit in Point Loma, San Diego. The old Naval training center has since been restored and transformed into restaurants, shops, and galleries; now known as Liberty Station. Explaining this to my grandfather, we made the connection that the townhouse my husband and I purchased sits on the edge of the historical Navy base next to his old barracks. We both laughed at the beautiful irony, and for the first time all weekend there was joy on my grandfather's face!


Fate had played her last card, and the result had brought me to tears.


His photographs now fill the walls of our new house, a constant reminder that home is truly where the heart is. Every day we walk out the front door with our golden retriever and stroll the same streets he did as a Navy sailor. In uncertain times where hardship seems to surround us, somewhere within it all there is beauty waiting to be found.


If it's up to us, we won't be playing the Game of Homes again anytime soon. My advice to those of you who are currently playing the game and taking on the San Diego housing market is simply this: Fate's sense of humor may be questionable, but her results always end up in our favor :)


Oh, and don't forget the California burritos.