Jennifer Lai and Mike Garcia had been looking for six months for their first home, all around Arlington, Falls Church and Pimmit Hills, and they were getting frustrated.

The first property they lost was painful. After making an offer that was rejected, they were contacted three weeks later by the sellers to resubmit. They signed a contract, only to lose it to another buyer. They had seen more than 70 properties and had made two offers.

"We realized that by the time we got to the open house, we were too late," said Lai, referencing what is, in some close-in areas, a hot market with an inventory shortage.

But their occupations came in handy. Lai and Garcia both work for Fairfax County. Lai's job is in land-use development, and Garcia's is in transportation. So they had good information and knew what to look for in their search.

"There were some townhomes off of Columbia Pike, but I knew an interchange was being reconstructed," said Garcia. "Location was a major factor. We knew where to look."

When a two-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex in Arlington's Penrose neighborhood went on the market in June for $400,000, they were the first buyers to look at it.

"Before making an offer, I encouraged them to go back on Sunday with their parents," said agent Robyn Burdett of Re/Max Allegiance in Fairfax. "I wanted them to think about it and make sure. The listing agent was entertaining offers on the Tuesday."

The house was move-in-ready with an updated kitchen and bathrooms and a backyard large enough to entertain. They would be close to the Clarendon Metro station and bus service, non-chain restaurants and the Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse, one of their favorite spots.

By the time they submitted an offer, however, there were nine others on the property. The original listing was at $400,000, so they put an escalation clause in their contract offer that said they were willing to go to $430,000 should other bids send the price higher.

"In a weird way, it made me less nervous that there were nine other offers," Lai said. "I thought, 'We shouldn't worry about this; we won't be disappointed.' "

They made it into the final round with two other buyers. They raised their offer by $5,000 and the house was theirs, even though theirs wasn't the highest bid. Another offer came in $1,000 higher, at $436,000, but Lai and Garcia were flexible about move-in dates and had solid financing.

"We were shocked, elated, then scared that we might actually become homeowners," Lai said. "Overall, we were really excited and proud to have been selected."

The couple gave their agent credit for positioning them well in the negotiation process and helping make their contract stand out.

"It was the whole [contract] package that was appealing," Burdette said. "We were gracious on the home inspection and put 10 percent down. I was in close contact with the agent the whole time and presented every transaction as a win-win."