This California couple wanted a $500,000 starter home. Here are their 3 choices – Daily News

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Christopher Park and Kristyn Reano relax in their new home in Vallejo, Calif. with their rescue dog Raili, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Christopher Park and Kristyn Reano relax in their new home in Vallejo, Calif. with their rescue dog Raili, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

When Christopher Park turned 28 — the age his dad was when he bought his first home — he started to wonder: Could he ever do the same?

Gaining a foothold in his hometown, the waterside city of Benicia in the Bay Area, isn’t as easy today as it was 30 years ago for his parents. They bought their house in 1993 for $205,000, and have seen its value soar to $800,000.

“I knew I would never get to Benicia,” the e-commerce manager at an industrial manufacturer said.

But Park was still set on buying a home in the Bay Area. To save money, he moved in with his parents for a few years. When he finally moved out, it was to live with his girlfriend, in an apartment attached to her parents’ home in Vallejo.

After getting engaged in 2023, Park and his fiancée, Kristyn Reano, a water treatment operator, started to take a more serious look at the housing market.

Homes in Benicia were only getting more expensive, with the median-priced home growing 54% since 2015 to $788,943 from $512,544, according to Zillow.

Nearby cities presented more options within their $500,000 budget. The couple was drawn to Vallejo — not far from Marin County, where Reano had recently taken a job — and the industrial city of Martinez in Contra Costa County.

While Park was open to looking at condos, starter homes for many these days, Reano was adamant that they buy a single-family home. They were also willing to consider places that required a little fixing up, since Reano’s dad, an experienced builder, had offered to help them work on an older home.

Here were their options:

No. 1: A Recently renovated ranch in Vallejo

Christopher Park and Krysta Reano considered this recently renovated ranch in Vallejo.
Christopher Park and Krysta Reano considered this recently renovated ranch in Vallejo.

This three-bedroom home in South Vallejo had recently been fixed up by a home flipper. It was about 1,500 square feet, plus a 400-square-foot finished attic, and sat on the largest plot of land on the street, measuring a quarter acre. The home had just one bathroom, though, and a small kitchen. The asking price was $550,000 (reduced from $650,000).

(Photo courtesy of NavigateRE)
(Photo courtesy of NavigateRE)

No. 2: Open-concept 3-bedroom in Benicia

While searching for a home they could afford, Christopher Park and his fiancee Kristyn Reano looked at this fixer upper in Benicia, Calif., photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
While searching for a home they could afford, Christopher Park and his fiancee Kristyn Reano looked at this fixer upper in Benicia, Calif., photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

This 1,100-square-foot home was in Benicia, not far from Park’s parents. It included one bathroom and three bedrooms, one of which had been converted from a garage space. It was a 20-minute walk from downtown. The home, which had been sitting on the market for several months by the time the couple saw it, was listed at $530,000.

No. 3: A fixer-upper in Martinez

While searching for a home they could afford, Christopher Park and his fiancee Kristyn Reano looked at this home in Martinez, Calif., photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
While searching for a home they could afford, Christopher Park and his fiancee Kristyn Reano looked at this home in Martinez, Calif., photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

This 1,564-square-foot home, built in 1926, was located on a corner lot at the top of a hilly residential street in Martinez. It came with three bedrooms, two baths, and a single garage space — but needed a full interior and exterior renovation. The house was the only one well within their price range, listed at $299,000 — but it was unclear how much renovations would cost.

Christopher Park and Krysta Reano considered this fixer-upper in Martinez, where they would be required to do extensive renovations.
Christopher Park and Krysta Reano considered this fixer-upper in Martinez, where they would be required to do extensive renovations. (Courtesy Photo / Ron Melvin, Keller Williams)

Here’s what they chose:

The recently renovated 3-bedroom in Vallejo

Kristyn Reano and Christopher Park enjoy their new home in Vallejo, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Kristyn Reano and Christopher Park enjoy their new home in Vallejo, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

On their first tour of the house in Vallejo, Reano fell in love with the open-concept living room, where she could imagine her large family congregating for holidays and celebrations.

While the Benicia home was in the ZIP code that Park and Reano wanted, the inspections revealed a major termite issue and an aging roof. “It was enough to scare us away,” Park said. “This was clearly opening up a can of worms.”

Although they love Martinez’s downtown and industrial vibe, the house there would have required extensive renovations, too.

“It felt like far too much work, and we didn’t want to live in a construction zone for the next year,” Park said. “I’m not going to hurt myself with more debt to fix up a house.”

Buying a turn-key property would allow them to move in right away, rather than stressing about a budget for renovations. Noticing that the flipper for the Vallejo home had already reduced the price from $650,000 to $550,000, Park reasoned he might be willing to go even lower. They offered $525,000 — but the seller wouldn’t budge.

Christopher Park and his fiancee Kristyn Reano enjoy their new home in Vallejo, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Christopher Park and his fiancee Kristyn Reano enjoy their new home in Vallejo, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

“I was so determined to beat out the boomers,” Park said. “They were going after this house because they’re trying to downsize — and we are just trying to get into something for the first time.”

The couple submitted an offer for $550,000, putting down 19.5%, which Park received as a gift from his parents. They closed in 20 days.

“I just didn’t want more offers on this house,” Park said.

The down payment gift from Park’s parents allowed the couple to save a small nest egg for home improvement projects. Eventually, they plan to install another bathroom in the back of the house, which could cost around $12,000 — but they’re not rushing to start those projects anytime soon.

The home was slightly out of their budget of $500,000 — and high interest rates also mean higher monthly payments. Park and Reano plan to refinance their mortgage when rates drop, so they can get out of their 7.5% interest rate and $3,800-a-month payment.

Christopher Park and Kristyn Reano enjoy their new home in Vallejo, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Christopher Park and Kristyn Reano enjoy their new home in Vallejo, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Still, the couple says the price is worth it to be so close to family. Reano’s parents are a short 3-minute drive away.

Reano and Park realize how lucky they are to buy a home near their hometown, especially when so many of their friends are still renting, or have had to move out of the area.

“We have this generational guilt,” he said. “I figured I would be renting a room for the rest of my life. Everything else has been a cherry on top.”



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