Listen to the podcast on all your favorite streaming platforms!
Hello and welcome to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. I'm Connie Chung.
And I am Kenny Gong, and we are the founders and partners of Willowmar Real Estate.
This is a show for those interested and invested in the world of residential real estate.
Every episode, we sit down for insights, stories, and conversations about all things in the real estate market today, running a real estate team in California, NorCal, and SoCal, and finding our way as leaders and business partners.
And today, we have another episode of a three-part series. We are sharing our experiences of buying our first home, what we learned, and what we wish we could have done differently, and all the insights, especially as insiders in this profession. So, who are we going to have in the hot seat today?
Connie looks ready.
Oh, Connie. Okay, Connie.
Let's get this over with. Okay.
We're going to talk to Connie about the first home that you purchased.
The first home that we purchased. Well, you know how a lot of clients–home buyer clients–are on the spectrum of how many houses that they feel like they need to see in order to feel comfortable and confident in writing an offer. And, usually, there’s ones who can do so in a weekend of touring to those who feel like they need to see fifty, a hundred homes and have their spreadsheets. I will say I fit on the spectrum of needing to see a handful of homes, but not even needing to.
I think I am the type of person who sees potential in almost any home. So, I think Brian and I saw two homes and the first home was in the Dogpatch of San Francisco. I think we wrote an offer on it. We didn't get it. It was pretty competitive. It was a single family home.
And so, Kenny, like you mentioned in the last episode about buying your home, that realtor competitive spirit in me came out, and I wanted to get into a home immediately after, or just start thinking more seriously about getting a home. We were still kind of casually looking, though.
I think we had the idea of wanting a single family home in the city. But one afternoon, we were dogsitting. We were meeting up with our cousins to do a doggy playdate at Alamo Square Park. And Brian saw an open house sign. Even though I work as a realtor and I love going into open houses, sometimes I also do not like going to open houses just because I have to turn it on and do the whole thing.
I was out trying to enjoy an afternoon and not trying to talk with another realtor. So, I actually just stayed outside and Brian went inside to look at the home while I was out with the dogs. And he's like, “Oh, Connie, I really like it.”
And I was like, “Oh, great.” It turned out to be a duplex, which is a two-unit building. And we weren't looking at them. But, Brian, as you may or may not know, can be very picky at times. And I am of the mentality that if Brian likes something, we must go for it because I tend to like a lot of things. So, I didn't even end up going into the open house because I was just, yeah, but when we got home, I pulled up the listing and funny enough, I learned that I was actually in that home.
I remembered this home was on the market two years prior and it sold that time. But my colleague had listed it, and I actually helped her host the open houses two years before, so I remembered parts of the home and it was like, “Okay. I can see this happening.”
We chatted with a few different lenders and the nice thing is, because it's a duplex, although it was at a much higher price point than we could originally afford and were originally looking at.
But, with it being a duplex and having a second unit to bring in income if you're renting it out, our lender was able to qualify us at a higher purchase price because of that rental income for the second unit. So, we worked out the numbers and did things very quickly. Because as a realtor, day to day, we already know the value of homes just being out in the field and helping clients pulling comps for different properties, and having a general sense of what the value is for certain homes.
The tricky part was I was just into finishing up my second year as a realtor. And for those who don't know, realtors are independent contractors. And lenders require two years of tax returns for independent contractor status. So I had not filed for my second year, and a lot of lenders were like, “Nope, sorry, we can't lend.”
So we called up a bunch and finally found one mortgage broker that was able to lend. They just needed more documentation from me to file my returns as fast as possible and do a number of things. So, I was in the mindset to make it happen. I think we saw it one weekend right before Thanksgiving, and I think on the day before Thanksgiving, we wrote our offer.
We were the only ones on the table and then had a little back and forth, but then, we got the home.
So amazing. And it's incredible. What an opportunity because it's a beautiful, beautiful property that is in a fantastic neighborhood. And no other offers.
Because of seasonality and right before Thanksgiving, probably.
Yeah. We got so lucky. I think it was very much the season for this home, and, right, around the holidays, people tend to leave and go on vacation. This was back in 2017, I think. But yeah, we got super lucky. It always helps when you're just negotiating one on one with the seller versus having multiple parties on the table.
Going back to: how did I know if it will, just being able to move quickly, the location, knowing it was an almost square prime center of the city, it almost didn't matter what the inside of the home looked like because I was like, “You know, never did I think I could buy here. But if we're able to make it work, let's make it work.”
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing.
Sidenote, I have a story attached to that because I remember when I first came by your home at Golden Gate. I remember we walked up the stairs and you had that really fancy dining table. And that's when we first started talking about me potentially joining Connie and Kenny. And I remember thinking, Wow, this home is so beautiful. This desk is so nice. Connie's made it. I need to be on my best behavior and interview well and say the right things.
You’ve got to turn it on. That's so funny.
That was a really, really beautiful home at Golden Gate. And funny, I feel like it worked out for the best because I'm sure you would have liked living in the Dogpatch, but Alamo Square is just a nicer neighborhood, more family oriented.
Yeah, kind of mind blowing to think back because it wasn't like, “Okay, these are the neighborhoods I want to be in.” We didn't really have our checklist per se, but instinctively knew what we wanted, just something walkable and with enough space for us, potential to add more value.
And it's kind of crazy to think that we landed on a Victorian duplex, like a prime, quintessential San Francisco-style home. And it was really fun. Really old. Learned a lot of things about home ownership with that home. But really, it came down to location. Just so central and walkable. And we were only a block and a half away from Boba Guys. What more could you want?
That house really represented a lot for you personally and professionally because you moved from Mission Bay, and a lot of your business was also in Mission Bay. So, moving to a central part of town also really shifted our business at the time.
So I'm curious to know: when you think of that house, what are some things that make you think about where you were personally and professionally?
Oh, that's such a good point. Yeah, that brings me back to a little bit of memory lane because I remember having some pause, come to think of it, because I was working out of our financial district office. Most of the business was in the financial district, Mission Bay, the new condominium downtown space.
And, I had a good rhythm. We had a local community shuttle. I had my local gym, all of my rooting was in that part of town. And it's so funny because, for those outside of San Francisco, you think anything within the city is going to be convenient, but I would say you move one town over, and it could be a whole different way of life.
But, I think it was just leaning into adapting and changing, and if I think back to how I grew and learned from that. experience, it was just like, “Let's go for this big change. There's a great opportunity.” I know it's a solid investment given the location and neighborhood even though I was thinking, Oh my God, this is so much money, and it's still the prime of the market in 2017.
Things are so competitive, and you're constantly paying a higher price each time. But trusting that if we can make this work financially, this is a strong buy and we will be okay, so let's figure out how to make it and everything else will fall into its place. And fast forwarding two years later, who would have thought we'd sell it two years later at half a grand more than we bought it for, or half a–
Half a mil.
Kind of crazy.
Yeah. It's amazing.
I would say I am a very instinctual person. I act on instinct and don't think too much. I just follow my gut. And I will say that pays off. And I think the more that I do that on higher-stake decisions, it's a reminder of “Connie, you've got this, keep leaning into it.”
Was it just over two years that you were there? I can't remember. How long were you there? ‘Cause did you have to wait for your two years for . . . no, that was 60th for your exemption.
No, I think it was just a month or so over the two-year mark or we just hit it.
Which is also so wild because–two years, there are so many memories that I have in that house that it feels not two years but significantly longer because so much happened. Not only memories, our memories, personal memories of friendships, and dinners, and hangout sessions, and all of that. But you also put in so much work into it in two years and really added a ton of value too. Do you want to talk a little bit about it?
That's true. Yeah, so much. I feel like so much of our life and pivotal moments in our life milestones and our career milestones happened. So, when we first bought the home, it's on the older end, it's a Victorian. And we did the kitchen, and it was just me and Brian at the time, no kids. And we're like, “Let's just do the kitchen and live in it.”
And I will say, after that remodel, Brian and I said “No more living in a remodel.” As much as we can, if we can avoid doing work and not live in the space, we will lean towards that because–
Was that the downstairs unit or the upstairs unit?
The upstairs unit. Yeah. Although, we've done work to both in different kinds of capacities.
So, upstairs we did all-new countertops. Nothing even too big, but it was still a mess. I think we just got new countertops and new appliances, and that was enough dust to be like, “Never again.”
Downstairs, because it was the older square tiles on the countertops, we re-grouted the tiles, which is so cool because it made that downstairs unit, being a rental, just feel so brand new.
And the tiles were really cute. They were a classic square, so it was nice to be able to keep that. And then, over the course of time, we remodeled our bathroom, we did new flooring and new paint.
Oh, we removed a closet in our bedroom just to open up more space.
Yeah, I changed out some light fixtures. It was really amazing to go through that experience because I will say, this was the first time being able to do some work to see the impact of what changes it can make. So, that's why we always tell clients how painting and lighting make all the difference, and those are probably the lowest-cost things you can do that will have a big impact.
And I'm trying to think . . . I don't think we painted our unit before we moved in, but at some point, we painted it. I will always tell clients, “If you can paint before you move into a home, that's also the ideal situation.”
You also had your floors all done while you were living there.
How did we do that? I'm trying to imagine doing that now with kids, and that just seems impossible. But I think pre-kids, you're more susceptible to pain in that way.
That's really cool to see. Was that your first rehab project that you wanted to do? Because then connecting the dots in hindsight, I think it gave you confidence to do some updates on 60th and maybe do a potentially bigger project and then that gave you confidence for San Marino too, I'm sure, having gone through the ropes before.
Totally, yeah, it was such a good primer for all the bigger projects. And it's so funny because we did some projects on the condo we were living in Mission Bay that Brian had bought. Funny enough, we painted one wall. No, we painted a few walls and that was our project. So to have gone from a few accent walls to–
The blue, right? Wasn't there a blue?
The blue and there's a moody brown in the bedroom. To think those were big things that we had done at that time. It's funny because it gives perspective of, “Okay, well, let's inch into trying this out and this definitely paved the way for taking more on. Certainly, we've learned so much along the way how to communicate with different tradespeople, how to collect bids, how to know who to hire, how to pull permits, how to know that things are supposed to be chaotic and that's okay and that's normal too. Maybe even when to let a contractor go too and when to move on.
And the cool thing is, we've built a really great portfolio of good people that, just from personal use, we have recommended to clients. To see that help build the businesses of other trades folks through our client port and client network is really cool.
I'm curious. This was your first home that you purchased, what did that mean to you?
I always thought that I would be a homeowner, of course. It's something I just assumed, and it's something I assumed my husband, whoever that would be, would take that on. But to be a realtor and drive that process and feel so empowered to know how to negotiate, to know how to read these contracts–I just assumed my partner would do that.
To really be the owner of that experience and relationship was so powerful and so empowering. It’s not so daunting as I assumed it would be that I would want to pass it off, but something so tangible and to be able to share that with our clients and to help others feel empowered in that process, especially when we have our single-women clients.
I'm always so amazed when women want to buy their own homes and to be part of their journeys is a huge honor. Because having these naive thoughts of, Oh, I'll be on the back end of it. To think that I'm just like, “Wow, Connie, good thing you didn't, and good thing you drove the process and know how to go about it because it's not as overwhelming as you imagined.”
And so I would say it's just so cool. Yeah.
Yeah. And you were, let's see, twenty-eight when that happened? Twenty-nine?
Twenty-eight. It's incredible. It's really, really an amazing thing to think about someone who's twenty-eight purchasing a Victorian duplex in San Francisco.
I mean, the work ethic and the accomplishment of where you were by twenty-eight years old.
I've so enjoyed hearing both of your stories because there's an element of working really hard but also this element of serendipity. As well, just letting life unfold the way it–not even should–just letting life unfold and then letting it happen. And it sounds like that's what led you to Golden Gate and so many memories and all those good things. It’s just a nice reminder to me and our audience of how life unfolds in a good way if you just let it happen.
I just had a good feeling, that gut instinct. The numbers worked out, and like what we tell our clients, “If the numbers work out for you, it checks 80 to 85 percent of what you're looking for, go for it.” Because so much more will unfold afterwards. And to think of, gosh . . . I just remembered: we had so many fun dinner parties, client events, we did an ice cream social, we celebrated Mia's first birthday there, Brian did an “Eat with . . .” event where we cooked for strangers.
The holiday photoshoot was there.
Totally forgot about that. Yeah.
Tacos were there.
It's an amazing thing.
There’s something so powerful about having a home to ground you and also to build upon. In addition to that, the other life events and milestones and things you go through that are so connected deeply to that.
And you know, something that you said that I would love to provide some nuance for folks that are listening and are thinking about buying their first home is: the numbers working does not necessarily mean that they are easy numbers to work with.
Sometimes, it’s very, very hard to see when the numbers are working because they're big numbers. And similar to how you had thought, Oh my gosh, this is so much more than we ever thought that we would spend for a home–I want to acknowledge that that's scary. That's a very, very scary place to be because it does feel like big numbers.
So the numbers working out aren’t necessarily–sometimes, in my case, I spent less than I thought I was going to spend. But more often the case is you’ve got to spend a lot of money and realize that the numbers working is still going to be scary, but in the long haul, that's where the numbers really can work out.
And it worked out for Connie, and it's worked out for so many of the people that we have helped, the hundreds of people that we have helped whose homes we have seen increase in value just because of appreciation, not even because they've added value, but because of the trajectory of the market. And I think that's always really helpful to have as context.
Yeah. And to add to that, even though we're in the profession and insiders in that way, it doesn't come without its own insecurities. I will say, having written a good handful of offers and buying a few more homes in the process, every time I submit an offer and we're waiting to hear back from the seller, I lose sleep and can't sleep.
And it's such a good reminder of “Wow, this is what our clients go through each time.” And to really hold that for them, but also, even after the purchase, you can't help sometimes looking at what else is in the area. “Was that a good buy? Oh my gosh, what did we just do? Look at this home that just came on the market.”
To those listening, know that it's all normal, and I have to remind myself of it, too. It was all meant to be, and it's all going to work out in the end.
Great. Should we end there? Thank you so, so, so much to Connie for sharing all of this amazing insight and the story of buying your first home.
That was so fun.
It was really, really fun. And thank you so much for taking us back down memory lane.
I think I went to one of those taco nights, that was fun.
Was that the driveway on the side of the home?
Yeah, and it was the backyard in the back.
Good times, good times. Yeah, we didn't even talk about landscaping the backyard, but that was a fun adventure.
Oh my gosh. And that was such a beautiful decision.
Because that backyard became something that you could use. Before, it was a little bit scary.
Yes, yes, definitely. Didn't even want to go back there.
I think hearing about all these design things too are really cool because I see that as one of your many fortes and strengths, Connie. So it allows you to add value to the home and showcase it. You're kind of working in your genius zone, too, when you're designing. And it's really, really cool to see the final product. It's not a skill set that many people have, to someone who maybe design comes naturally.
You're like, “Oh, maybe I don't have that eye for things.” And it's not easy to pick up either and you just designed things so beautifully.
Thank you. Yeah, I love design, and I actually thought about becoming an interior designer over being a realtor. So, it's such a wonderful way to marry all of these different passions together.
Well, that is the end of another episode of The Thoughtful Realtor. Thank you so much for coming and hanging out with us and listening, and we would love to hear what it was like for you to buy your first home if you've done so already.
Please, share your stories with us. Let us know what it was like going through that experience for yourself. And you can always find us at Willowmar.com or on Instagram at @willowmar__.
If you haven't already, hit that subscribe button and leave us a review. We read each one of your reviews and your comments, so please share the love and share this with friends or colleagues who you think would love to hear this episode. Until next time, bye!
Stay up to date on the latest real estate trends.
December 6, 2023
December 5, 2023
November 28, 2023
November 8, 2023
November 6, 2023
November 2, 2023
October 26, 2023
September 29, 2023
August 22, 2023
Let’s schedule a time to learn about your goals, walk you through our process, and determine how we can best help you.