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It Takes a Village to Buy a Condo

I am a first time home buyer. And I just bought a condo in downtown San Francisco. But not without a lot of help from my family and friends.

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But there was another problem: How could I come up with 20 percent down -- a sum that would wipe out my entire savings?

This is when my sister called my parents in Fremont. (We’re Vietnamese and nothing that has to do with real estate escapes us.) "We’ll help. We always wanted you to buy," said my mother in her usual dramatic way. "As long as you are buying a home, I at least can die with my eyes closed."

The next hurdle was applying for a big, big loan.

"We’ll cosign for you," my older brother, an engineer in Silicon Valley, offered. "We’ll throw in a credit line if you need it. You should buy."

Then came the terror of borrowing money: The condo’s preferred lender offered a one point rate on the loan and when the locked-in contract came a week later, it was up to 1.25 percent, the difference being several thousands of dollars extra. I smelled a rat.

So it was my high school best friend (also Vietnamese), a real estate broker, who walked me through it. "Bargain like mad with the loan folks," he said. "Most likely they are making around one point so there is room for negotiation. It's just how thick-skinned you want to get with them."

I got the one point. But three weeks in and my loan was still not approved. "Underwriter still reviewing it," was all I could get from my less-than-trustworthy lender. On the fourth week, they said there was a glitch with my 1040 form. A minor discrepancy, which was quickly corrected. Still there was no news. I began to loose sleep. I stood to loose my large deposit and my rent-controlled apartment. My family rallied. "We’ll figure something out. You won’t be homeless," my mother assured me. "You can come home and stay with us." At this point I began to pray for deliverance.

Finally, on the 29th day, one day before the deadline, the loan was approved. I signed the documents, wired the money, hired the movers.

Now I own a condo. "It takes a village to buy a condo," my sister wryly quipped. In this case, she wasn’t kidding.

NAM editor Andrew Lam is author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.

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