Buying a Westchester House ‘for the Dogs,’ but Could They Survive a Bidding War?

Although they offered little vocal input, Dori and Morris loomed large when Rachel Ettlinger and Isaac Randel began hunting for a new home.

Ms. Ettlinger, 25, and Mr. Randel, 26, had only recently moved into their one-bedroom rental apartment in White Plains, N.Y., when they rescued Dori, a 9-year-old Bichon, and Morris, a 10-year-old terrier mix, last year. “Morris is 10 years old and sickly, but has more energy than most puppies,” Ms. Ettlinger said. “And Dori is a princess.”

The apartment, which cost them $2,800 a month, “was fine, but once we got the dogs, it felt like the walls were closing in on us,” said Ms. Ettlinger, a legal assistant who plans to attend law school next year. Mr. Randel is a third-grade teacher at the DREAM Mott Haven Charter School in the Bronx.

Neighbors also grew weary of Morris’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm. “We’d leave for work and pray he wouldn’t bark,” Mr. Randel said. “But we got notes on our door about the noise.”

The couple, who met as undergraduates at Pepperdine University in 2015 and got engaged this year, wanted some yard space for their new housemates. Ms. Ettlinger envisioned some outdoor space for gardening, too, but that was less important.

“We were buying a house for the dogs — Rachel and Isaac would just get to live in it,” said Jeanesca Martinez, a Scarsdale-based real estate agent at Keller Williams, who connected with the couple through a cousin of Ms. Ettlinger’s. “Yard space was always at the forefront — would it be a safe place for Morris and Dori?”

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With a budget of $800,000, the couple scouted houses across the northern Bronx and southern Westchester County. “The location was flexible, but I wanted a town where we could feel like locals,” Ms. Ettlinger said.

While Mr. Randel was reluctant to dive into homeownership — “If I could have stayed in our apartment to avoid the stress of moving, I would have,” he said — the couple felt optimistic about their prospects.

“A wide search area meant an embarrassment of riches,” Ms. Ettlinger recalled thinking. Mr. Randel’s parents agreed to contribute a portion of a down payment on a single-family house.

But their sanguine outlook quickly collided with the reality of a ferocious pandemic market. On eight successive homes, rival buyers outbid them — once by as much as $200,000.

“After that,” Ms. Ettlinger said, “we decided to go in with guns blazing.”

Among their options:

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