L. Autumn King never intended to stay in California.
A native New Yorker who grew up in Harlem and Queens, she moved to the Bay Area in 2007, at the urging of her then-husband, with a 3-year-old son in tow and plans to earn a graduate degree in museum studies.
“I found a good grad school program in the area,” Ms. King, 43, said. “I figured it was for two years, and then out. I’d go home.”
Instead, life happened: After getting her degree, she began a career of working mostly for nonprofits, and had another son. When her marriage ended, she found a small rent-controlled house for herself and her two boys in the multicultural Dimond District of Oakland.
The idea was to find a museum job in New York. “I came close on a bunch of them, but nothing happened,” she said. “I really do believe in signs, and I said, ‘OK, we’re staying here.’ We just kept living life.”
As her sons grew up, space got tighter, and Ms. King — now a senior director of communications for the Oakland Museum of California — considered buying a larger home. But what could a single parent with a modest nest egg afford in Oakland’s overheated real estate market?
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“She asked a lot of questions, I’ll tell you,” said Sebron Flenaugh, the agent she worked with at Fordy Realty. “She was insecure about being able to do it — scared she couldn’t afford it. But at the same time, she had a strong sense of what she wanted, both in a house and in a community.”
Working with a budget of about $650,000, Ms. King and Mr. Flenaugh looked at scores of homes. She wanted at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as some semblance of a backyard. But she was also looking for the feeling of a neighborhood in an area where that can sometimes be elusive.
“Oakland is very much a block-by-block place,” Ms. King said. “Just like when I was living in Queens growing up.”
The monthslong process was often frustrating — not least because of the tendency of listing agents to underprice homes in order to spark bidding wars. “I was ready to quit looking at one point,” Ms. King said. “I told Sebron that, in case we needed to break up.”
Mr. Flenaugh encouraged her to hang in there, and eventually several options appeared:
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