A Wedding or a House? One Couple Made Their Choice in the San Fernando Valley.

Nina Bowker Deleo and Jack Deleo got engaged in the fall of 2020. But their next step wasn’t planning a wedding — it was buying a house.

The real estate market in Los Angeles was heating up quickly in the midst of a pandemic buying frenzy, and Mr. Deleo, 29, a commander in the Army who also works in private security, wanted to take advantage of a zero-down payment VA loan.

“This was the time we could make the jump into becoming homeowners,” he said. And after all, wouldn’t owning a home and investing in their future together be romantic in its own way?

“I was like, ‘No, no, I want to wait,'” said Ms. Deleo, 30, who was ready to plan a wedding and a party. After some convincing, she got on board with her fiance’s plan. Besides, hosting a large gathering didn’t seem feasible with Covid still raging.

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The couple called their real estate agent, Debbie Pisaro, a family friend who worked for Compass. She agreed that it was a good time to buy and encouraged them to act quickly. That December, they got their marriage license to help qualify for a loan together (they married without the wedding), and the next week, right before Christmas, they started house hunting.

“The market then was crazy, but there was inventory,” Ms. Pisaro said. So there were plenty of homes to look at, but also plenty of competition. (These days, there are far fewer homes on the market, making it much more challenging for buyers, particularly first-timers, Ms. Pisaro said.)

The Deleos were living in a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom rental apartment in the Encino neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley, not far from where Mr. Deleo grew up. The location was ideal for his job, which required him to see clients all over Los Angeles, and the couple wanted to stay in the area. (Ms. Deleo was working as a substitute preschool teacher, after losing her permanent teaching job at the onset of the pandemic.)

So they settled on a budget of about $750,000 — well below the $822,000 median sale price in Los Angeles County at the time, according to Redfin data — and began looking in neighborhoods like Reseda, Winnetka and Van Nuys.

They wanted some private outdoor space for their goldendoodle, Phoebe (named after the “Friends” character played by Lisa Kudrow), so they focused on single-family homes in communities with a neighborhood feel — the kind of places where children would ride bikes down the streets and there are lots of trees.

Most of the houses in their price range needed at least a little work, but Ms. Deleo said she was hoping for a house that was partially updated so they wouldn’t have much to do.

“There were a lot that didn’t feel right, or you’d walk around and go, ‘Ehhhh,'” Mr. Deleo said. “And there were some great ones that were over budget.”

Among their options:

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