Moving On Up

Equity from your first home can be your ticket to finding a place that's bigger and better

It’s easy to understand Brittie and Andrae Crawford’s excitement about buying a new house. They had outgrown their starter home, a three-bedroom, 1,900-square-foot property in Long Beach, California. “There was no garage, and you had to go outside to do the laundry,” says Brittie, 33, an account executive with a technology company. “With traffic, our commute to work was an hour.”

Moving to a larger home in Los Angeles seemed feasible, but purchasing property in L.A.’s booming housing market was far from easy. “The kind of house we wanted, in the neighborhoods we liked, would have cost between $800,000 and $1 million,” says Andrae, 32, a freelance camera assistant in the entertainment industry. “That was more than we wanted to spend.”

The type of house the Crawfords could afford would depend largely on the value of their first home. “I advise potential buyers to start by meeting with a real estate professional who knows the area where they’re now living,” says Stephon Carradine, an agent with Century 21 in Long Beach and creator of www.black realestate.com. “Get a realistic idea of the amount your house will sell for, then you’ll know how much you can afford to spend on your new house.”

Carradine estimated that the Crawfords could sell their Long Beach house for $490,000 — roughly $300,000 more than its purchase price. That meant they could afford to buy in L.A. “We decided to look in a good neighborhood for a house that needed some work,” says Andrae. “That would bring down the asking price.”

The first house the Crawfords liked received 18 offers, and they were quickly outbid. Next, they searched for homes on the Internet. “One house looked too tall and skinny,” says Andrae. “As a photographer, though, I realized that pictures are sometimes distorted. So we drove by the house and fell in love with it, it was just what we wanted.” The message: don’t judge a house by its screen shot.

The Crawfords’ $630,000 bid was accepted. The home was built in the 1920s, and it needed electrical and plumbing work as well as major renovation to the kitchen. The Crawfords allotted a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Long Beach property for home improvements.

The biggest challenge they faced was selling their home for the appraised price. “We were nervous,” Brittie recalls. “We put the Long Beach house on the market at the end of 2004 but received no offers. But Stephon told us not to worry — he said things would pick up after the holidays, and he was right.” In early 2005, they sold their Long Beach home for $489,000.

In the meantime, a bridge loan (short-term financing used until a permanent loan is secured) helped the Crawfords cover living and mortgage expenses. “We didn’t use a general contractor,” says Brittie. “I did things like shopping for a reasonably priced granite countertop for the kitchen. We hired people for the electrical and plumbing work and we did some things ourselves.”

By avoiding the mark-up that a general contractor

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