Pam Hoffman spent her career as a United Methodist pastor and journalist moving from city to city, sometimes living in employer-provided housing and never staying anyplace long enough to buy a home. After she retired in 2017 and returned to her hometown, Peoria, Ill., she hoped that might change.

Last summer, after deciding she wanted to live in Peoria long-term, she started shopping.

Ms. Hoffman, now 66, was decades older than a typical first-time homebuyer. But like many renters looking to put down roots, she longed for a place she could make her own, where she could paint the walls or spruce up the landscaping without asking permission. She also had age-specific concerns: She hoped to find a home she could remain in if her mobility ever became limited (unlike the spacious, upper-floor apartment where she had recently been living).

“Owning a house has been a longstanding dream of mine,” Ms. Hoffman said. “And circumstances just finally worked out to enable that to happen.”

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With a budget of $220,000, she wanted to find a ranch house, preferably with three bedrooms. A dedicated reader, she hoped it would have space for a library, as well as an area to play guitar and do artwork, and a laundry room on the main floor. Although she was open to making some improvements, she didn’t want a fixer-upper. And she preferred to stay in the suburban-feeling northwest part of Peoria, a riverside city of roughly 111,000 residents midway between Chicago and St. Louis.

Ms. Hoffman contacted Marilyn Kohn, a longtime real estate agent in Peoria, who told her there were homes in her price range that met her needs, but they were selling quickly and sometimes going to cash buyers.

“She was at a prime price point,” said Ms. Kohn, of RE/MAX Traders Unlimited. “When we would look at a house, there would be a showing every 15 to 30 minutes. And we had to make a quick decision.”

A few options she considered:

Find out what happened next by answering these two questions:

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