Underwater no more and wanting to stay put

An aerial view of a residential area photographed on November 9, 2010 near Pittsburgh, Pa.

Until recently, my only experience in the real estate market has been as a loser. In 2007, my husband and I bought a tiny condo  for way too much. Within months, the market tanked, and our mortgage went scuba diving. Then we had two babies in two years. Picture my condo deflating -- shrinking in both size and value. There was a lot of crying in that shoebox, and it wasn't just the babies.

I wanted out but couldn't sell without a serious ding to my credit and my ego.

Every news story about the economy, every dinner party conversation, every glance at Zillow left me cringing as I faked a brave face: "Um, at least I'm getting a great tax deduction."

I got the pity face from many a playgroup mom -- both the self-satisfied renters and those who bought in the '90s and still had equity in the wake of the crash.

I'll be honest: I did consider the so-called "strategic default" -- the parachute out of "underwaterclautrophobia." But I didn't default, short sell or forclose. I vowed to wait it out. We would sell this place the moment we could break even.

Well, that moment has arrived. But now, I don't want to go.

It's not that the condo isn't cramped anymore. It still is.

But equity changes things. I'm starting to like the place again. It's amazing how the little annoyances of your home fade away once you're gaining thousands of dollars in value every month.

Those dinner party conversations have changed. When my renter friends looking to buy talk about getting killed in taxes, not being able to get a loan, or getting bid out by cash buyers, I'm standing there all smug like, "Yeah, I don't know. I already own."

It's 2013, baby. I'm feeling like a winner. And I think I deserve this. I dug in my heels, and weathered a 1,000-square-foot condo with two toddlers underfoot. I'm tough. I learned about timing the hard way. And I'm not leaving this blackjack table just as it's getting hot.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.

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