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The Mother of All Impulse Purchases

Dayana Yochim
March 21, 2005

Before last Monday, I used to joke that I once bought a couch on impulse. That silly little gaffe seems so quaint to me now, for today, in the mother of all impulse purchases, I bought a home.

No, really. There were balloons, an "Open House" sign, a stream of shoppers, an agent, and another agent. and then, 18 hours later, I was signing some papers saying that the place was all mine. As a personal-finance writer, I know how these things are done. But usually they happen not to casual passers-by, but to people who are actually shopping for real estate.

Yesterday, I was a renter. Last month, I was a renter. Last year, I was a renter! A headstrong, savvy, know-it-all renter, I bragged about "Why I Won't Buy" on these pages. No shackles of mortgage payments for this carefree gal, said I. On a whim, and with 30 days' written notice and a secure storage unit for my stuff, I was outta there with a hat toss and a twirl, and just a single suitcase on wheels packed with six perfectly accessorized outfits.

Never mind that in the past seven and a half years, I've remained landlocked -- living in four apartments in three buildings, each exactly within a one-and-a-half-block radius of where I now sit, gazing across the street at the first apartment I called home.

Still, I, a savvy renter, held the high ground in this insane real estate market. Properties in my neighborhood were lurching up 20% or more a year. You people are crazy! I'd say to myself about all those buyers, ignoring the Clydesdale clomping of my upstairs neighbor. One town over, homes inflated a cartoonish 60%-plus last year. Please!

I was living in a historically significant property in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, Va., with soaring 10-foot beamed ceilings, exposed brick, a working fireplace, deep mahogany hardwood floors, and huge windows where the morning su