A wedding or a house? A couple made their choice in the San Fernando Valley.

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Nina Bowker Deleo and Jack Deleo got engaged in the fall of 2020. But their next step wasn’t to plan a wedding, it was to buy a house.

The Los Angeles real estate market was rapidly heating up amid a pandemic buying frenzy, and Mr. Deleo, 29, a major in the military who also works in private security, wanted to take advantage of a zero down payment Loan GOES.

“It was the time when we could take the leap into ownership,” 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 party. After being convinced, she agreed to her fiancé’s plan. Also, having 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 it was a good time to buy and encouraged them to act quickly. In December, they got their marriage license to qualify for a loan together (they got married without marriage), and the following week, just before Christmas, they started house hunting.

“The market was crazy then, but there was inventory,” Ms. Pisaro said. So there were a lot of houses to visit, but also a lot of competition. (These days, there are far fewer homes on the market, which makes it much harder for buyers, especially first-timers, Ms. Pisaro said.)

The Deleos lived in a two-bedroom, 900-square-foot 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 requires him to see clients all over Los Angeles, and the couple wanted to stay in the area. (Ms. Deleo worked as a substitute preschool teacher, having lost her permanent teaching position at the start of the pandemic.)

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

They wanted a 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 vibe — the kind of places where kids would cycle the streets and there are lots of trees.

Most homes in their price range needed at least a little work, but Ms Deleo said she was hoping for a partially renovated home so they didn’t have much to do.

“There were a lot of things that didn’t feel right, or you were walking around and saying, ‘Ehhhh,'” Mr Deleo said. “And there were some great ones that went over budget.”

Among their options:

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