When they returned to the Bay Area four years ago after a 20-month residency in the Pacific Northwest, Cara and James Meredith were sure of one thing: they wanted their growing multiracial family to live in a community that looked like them all.
“The Seattle experience really solidified this idea for us that we all need something,” said Ms. Meredith, 43, an author and freelance writer.
Mr Meredith, 54, who works in commercial lending, added: “We just knew we wanted Oakland if we could get it.” His father, also known as James, was the first black student to graduate from the university in 1962 of Mississippi, causing riots by white students and residents that resulted in two deaths. The younger Mr. Meredith spent his formative years in Jackson, Mississippi and later graduated from the University of San Diego. He and Cara, who grew up in Keizer, Oregon, a suburb of Salem before moving to California to teach, met online in 2009 and lived in several locations in the San Francisco Bay Area before finding Oakland — and loved – have.
“We loved the sand, the sunshine and the variety,” Ms. Meredith said. “It was important that James wasn’t the only black man or that our boys weren’t the only black kids.”
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Familiar with the Oakland market and dying to return, the Merediths rented a house in the city’s Dimond District big enough for their elementary-age sons, Canon and Theo, and later for a Golddoodle named Rufus. But when the owner surprised her last year with the news that she was preparing to sell the building, the couple found themselves looking for a way to stay in town.
The Merediths didn’t consider buying it at first, partly because they had limited savings. “And we’ve heard a lot of stories about how intense the market has been – people who only want cash, people with a lot of resources,” said Mr. Meredith. “We figured we’d probably be looking for another apartment to rent.”
But when Ms. Meredith searched Oakland’s rental properties, she found that few places offered the space the family needed and were still dog-friendly.
With Bay Area rents already high — the Merediths were paying $4,300 a month for 1,400 square feet — a monthly mortgage payment didn’t seem out of the question. However, the idea of a 20 percent down payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars was daunting, as was the prospect of moving far outside the area they loved just to afford a home.
“At first I think we were stunned – in awe,” Ms Meredith said. “I’m not sure what a hit we were, but we got hit.”
Tanja Odzak-Goppold, a broker at eXp Realty who worked with the couple, quickly dispelled a myth: first-time homebuyers rarely have to come up with a 20 percent discount. “In most cases, it’s closer to 5 or 10 percent,” she said. “Most of my potential buyers can handle the monthly payment, so it’s important for them to understand that they can usually manage the down payment as well.”
Ms. Odzak-Goppold was also a veteran at navigating Oakland’s quirky market. Especially in popular areas, homes for sale are routinely undervalued, often drastically to trigger bidding wars. The tactic usually works, and the city’s rapid gentrification reinforced this reality.
Pre-approved for a purchase price of $805,000, the Merediths knew what they wanted: a single-family home with at least two bedrooms, nooks and crannies that could be repurposed as an office or workspace, and a garden of some sort. And they were ready to exhaust the Oakland market before they thought of looking elsewhere.
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