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House Envy Almost Drove Me Crazy

How one buyer overcame envy and ended up in a modern-day real estate fairy tale.

My husband and I moved from Washington, DC, to Boston so he could attend graduate school. It was 2007, we were in our later 20s, and our biggest problem was where to have brunch on Sundays.

We found a two-bedroom apartment that included everything I love about classic New England architecture: a built-in china cabinet, wood cabinets, and a fireplace. Better still, our landlords let us use their washer and dryer and a great sushi spot was just around the corner.

I figured that we’d live there for a couple of years and then, once we turned 30 and my husband finished school, we’d buy a house. (Isn’t that what people do when they turn 30?)

But then came the Great Recession. My husband graduated and finally found work just as his student loans came due. A month later, I was laid off from my magazine job.

Oh, and the following week, I discovered I was pregnant.

House envy takes root

Boston is one of the toughest housing markets nationwide. Bargains could be had farther out, but moving away felt like cashing in our identities. Smugly, we told ourselves that we wouldn’t settle.

So we adjusted. But with a baby on the way, the apartment that I was once so proud of started to resemble a Fisher-Price fun house. Our landlords graciously let us store things in a corner of the basement, and the pile looked like B-roll from Hoarders.

It seemed as though everyone had bought a home except me. This wasn’t true, but envy is to facts what department store mirrors are to waistlines. I spent evenings looking up how much acquaintances had paid for their houses and trying to figure out how they managed it.

I was the J. Edgar Hoover of online real estate records, and it was making me miserable. Where was my fairy godmother benefactress?

Not ready to give up (yet)

I began to make excuses to pre-empt pity. “We just can’t find the house we want!” I’d say. Or, “It’s so much easier to rent! We can move at any time!”

The truth? We were priced out of our favorite areas. Houses in our range were dilapidated, minuscule, or stank of Vicks VapoRub. In our market, bidding wars with cash offers were the norm and the traditional 20 percent down payment seemed quaint, even laughable.

It was just a matter of time before we would have to give up and move to the ’burbs, defeatist pioneers nudged into the great exurban abyss. Our agent sent us listings and we tried to get excited about sensible homes in “up-and-coming” towns. But none of these places were home. So we kept on renting.

A real estate fairy tale

I had to believe that patience and saving could pay off. I tried e-mailing my college alumnae network and our town Listserv, asking people to let us know if something was about to come on the market.

One day, the e-mail came. A friend of a friend was about to sell her house, situated in our favorite neighborhood. Would I like to see it? Hell yes.

We’d looked at hundreds like it and were priced out every time. But we’d been saving — one big benefit of renting — so this time we could swing it. We made a competitive offer before any other buyer, put down the requisite 20 percent, and moved in July. (I’m writing this from a cozy sunroom that I now own.)

It was a modern-day real estate fairy tale: Hard work, disciplined saving, and patience really did pay off. We held out for what we wanted, and we got it. And my favorite sushi place is still just down the road.