How not to buy a house in La Jolla



et this be a cautionary tale about how not to buy a house in La Jolla. Or anywhere, really.

We arrived in San Diego in June of 1973 for my physician ex-husband to do his required two years of Berry Plan military duty. Right out of medical school four years earlier, and weeks after we had married, he’d been offered the opportunity to “volunteer” two years to the military after he finished his specialty training or go to Vietnam as a general medical officer

the next week.

Took us up to four seconds to decide.


Having tons of medical school loans and no actual cash, we were thrilled to learn when we arrived that we were entitled to a 100-percent VA home loan. That happiness was short lived when we discovered that no Realtor or bank in La Jolla (our target area; we were no dopes) would work with VA loan customers. This was partly because the VA didn’t tend to appraise the value of the land, which in La Jolla is pretty much everything. But just when we were finally going to look elsewhere, we saw an ad in the Sunday paper for a for-sale-by- owner home, a total fixer, and immediately signed a full price contract on it.

Despite the crushing recession going on at the time, it was a real estate boom era. In fact, the owners made a whopping 40 percent on the place in the just two years they’d owned it. They probably couldn’t believe that these idiots (that would be us) were actually willing to pay that amount for a house with a dead lawn, green shag carpet, hard water stalactites hanging from the faucets and a master bedroom entrance through the kitchen. (Definitely lacked

feng shui


Who cared? We were New Yorkers; it had

a palm tree and a pool.

We could have happily overlooked plutonium deposits for the palm tree alone.

Miraculously, the VA appraised the house for the full asking price so we could get our 100-percent financing, which was pretty amazing because 100 percent of everyone else said, “You’re paying WHAT for that dump? You’ll NEVER get your money out of it!” (I should note that our collective parents were among those people.)

The appraisal was the last nice thing we had to say about the VA, an institution which quickly made both us and the owners homicidal. Within days, the owners tried to get out of the contract and take one of the over-the-ask- ing-price cash offers that had subsequently come in.

Among the VA’s many requirements was that the house have a driveway, which this one did not, because of the garage con- version years before. So here’s the first rule I always tell prospective home own- ers: Never put in a driveway on a house you don’t own.

But penniless and in love (the pool!), my ex and I spent several weekends digging a driveway on someone else’s house then having concrete poured. (Nearly four decades later, just looking at that drive- way makes my back hurt.)



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