I refresh my email compulsively, stealing moments between toddler snacks and sunscreen reapplications, cracking open a LaCroix as I scroll through my inbox. When my real estate agent’s name pops up, my heart skips a beat. Each email from her, or rather from the automated home listing search she set up for us under her name, is bursting with possibility: Would it be brick? Stone? Would there be a butler’s pantry, or a mudroom for catching our family’s wellies and coats and dog leashes and backpacks?

The longer I wait, it seems, the more elaborate my imagined forever home becomes. A big tree fit for a tire swing! A kitchen garden! A soaking tub!

But time and time again, the home in my inbox underwhelms. It is overpriced or ugly or in need of more repairs than financially sensible—or more often than not, all three. When something within our (reluctantly stretching) budget finally catches our eye, we call our agent immediately—only to find the property is already under contract. Sight unseen. All cash.

The real estate world calls this a “seller’s market.” I call it the slow death of my forever-home dreams.

We sold our first home, nestled in a quaint and desirable neighborhood just outside Washington, DC, in the summer of 2020. The offer we accepted for the small craftsman, where we brought home both of our babies, was well above asking price (all contingencies waived). We were flying high.

Armed with the confidence that comes from a great investment and a wad of cash to put toward our next down payment, we traded a walkable coffee shop and innumerable takeout options for a rental home in the country with wide-open green spaces and a farmer’s market down the road. The plan was ...

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