Finding a Home in Oakland That’s Diverse and Affordable

When they returned to the Bay Area four years ago after a 20-month stint in the Pacific Northwest, Cara and James Meredith were sure of one thing: They wanted their growing mixed-race family to live in a community that looked like all of them .

“The Seattle experience really solidified that thought for us, that this was something we all needed,” said Ms. Meredith, 43, an author and freelance writer.

Added Mr. Meredith, 54, who works in commercial lending, “We just knew we wanted Oakland, if we could get it.” His father, also named James, was the first Black student admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962, setting off riots by white students and residents that resulted in two deaths. The younger Mr. Meredith spent his formative years in Jackson, Miss., and later did graduate work at the University of San Diego. He and Cara, who grew up in the Salem suburb of Keizer, Ore., before moving to California to teach, met online in 2009 and lived in several spots in the San Francisco Bay Area before finding — and loving — Oakland.

“We loved the grittiness, the sunshine, and the diversity,” Ms. Meredith said. “It mattered that James not be the only Black man, or that our boys not be the only children of color.”

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The Merediths were familiar with the Oakland market and eager to return there, and they rented a house in the city’s Dimond District that was large enough for their elementary-school-aged sons Canon and Theo and, later, a goldendoodle named Rufus. But when the owner surprised them last year with news that she was preparing to sell the building, the couple found themselves scrambling for a way to stay in town.

The idea of ​​buying didn’t initially occur to the Merediths, in part because they had limited savings to tap. “And we heard a lot of stories about how intense the market was — people going all cash, people with a lot of resources,” Mr. Meredith said. “We figured we were probably looking for another place to rent.”

But as Ms. Meredith scanned Oakland rental properties, she realized that few places could offer the space the family needed and still be agreeable to a dog.

Because Bay Area rents were already high — the Merediths were paying $4,300 a month for 1,400 square feet — making monthly mortgage payments didn’t seem out of the question. The idea of ​​a 20 percent down payment amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, however, was daunting, as was the prospect of moving far outside the area they loved just to afford a home.

“Initially I think we were dumbstruck — awe-struck,” Ms. Meredith said. “I’m not sure what kind of struck we were, but we were struck.”

Tanja Odzak-Goppold, a broker with eXp Realty who worked with the couple, quickly dispelled one myth: First-time home buyers rarely have to come up with 20 percent down. “In most cases, it’s more like 5 percent or 10 percent,” she said. “Most of my prospective buyers can handle the monthly, so it’s critical that they understand they can usually manage the down payment, too.”

Mrs. Odzak-Goppold also was a veteran at navigating Oakland’s quirky market. Especially in popular neighborhoods, homes for sale are routinely underpriced, often drastically, in order to spark bidding wars. The tactic usually works, and the city’s rapid gentrification was supercharging that reality.

The Merediths were preapproved for a purchase price of $805,000, and they knew what they wanted: a single-family home with at least two bedrooms, nook-and-cranny space that could be repurposed as an office or work area, and a yard of some kind. And they were willing to exhaust the Oakland market before they considered looking anywhere else.

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