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Buying a house has always been a part of the American Dream. But it can feel out of reach when the market is hot, as it has been of late: Home prices have climbed almost 8% over the past year, and are predicted to go up more than 6% over the coming year, according to Zillow.
Location still plays a huge factor in the cost of a home, but when prices reach record highs — as they did in California this year, when the median home price in the state surpassed $600,000 for the first time — it makes the prospect of becoming a homeowner seem even more daunting.
The following three women, however, made buying a home a priority, even when it got tough. Of course, their strategies may not work for your situation, and it’s always worth talking to a financial advisor and real estate pro to figure out what’s best for you. But here’s hoping you gain a little inspiration from learning how they achieved their homeownership dreams.
‘I Saved $48K to Buy a Home in Los Angeles’
Tis, a human resources and recruiting manager, 26
I have an interest in personal finance and wanted to eventually own and rent out real estate to generate passive income. That plan took a sharp turn after I broke up with my partner and had to move out of my apartment (we’d lived together for three years). I decided I wanted to buy my own place so I’d never be in that position again.
I found a place to rent by myself for $2,400 a month — almost double what I’d been paying before — which really motivated me to save for a down payment and control my housing costs.
Then I stopped spending on my weakness: clothes. I realized I was spending over $300 a year at Forever 21 alone. It had to go! I cut out clothes shopping completely unless it was a repair or replacement for something I needed for work. I also became a sales master, using online shopping codes and cashback sites like Ebates and Honey when I did shop.
I biked to work instead of driving, cut eating out significantly and used apps to track my spending so I could stick to my budget. With frugal living, I saved over $38,000 in two years. I was also able to tap another $3,000 from investments.
I bought my townhouse in LA a year ago at age 25 by putting down $48,000 — $42,000 for the down payment and $6,000 in closing fees. Ultimately, I decided against putting the traditional 20% down, so I pay $100 in private mortgage insurance (PMI) each month. But I plan to refinance soon, and with market growth and some work I’ve done on the house, I’m hoping it will increase the home’s value enough to put me at 20% equity, at which point those PMI payments will disappear. If I’d waited to have 20% in cash, I might have been priced out of the neighborhood I wanted.
I'd previously been forced to move so many times because of work, relationships or rising rent costs. Suddenly I had a home base with stability. My advice for future homeowners is to search broadly. I thought I needed a home in a specific neighborhood, but you learn to build your community wherever you land.
‘I Saved $25K to Buy a Home in Atlanta’
Brittany, an assistant attorney general, 35
I wanted a house for both practical and sentimental reasons. As a public-sector employee with student loans, I saw how quickly house prices were rising and worried about being priced out of the Atlanta metro area. Buying a home was also important to me as a Southern black woman whose family couldn't always legally own property in the U.S.
My most powerful form of savings came from moving back home with my mom. I paid her $200 a month, which enabled me to save $1,000 a month on living costs. This also helped me save on transportation — I had a shorter commute to work and could take public transit.
After two years of saving, I bought my house at age 35. I purchased a short-sale (when the owner sells it for less than what they owe on the mortgage, which means they and the bank lose money on the sale) with an 85/10/5 piggyback mortgage. This type of mortgage is actually two separate loans. My first mortgage was 85% of the home’s value, the second was 10%, and then I put 5% down upfront — in this case, $25,000.
This has worked for me, and I’ve already paid off my second mortgage, a 15-year term, in just under three years. It was my highest-interest debt at 7%, and I wanted to pay it off as quickly as possible. I currently have about $100,000 of equity in the house and am debating selling, which would enable me to buy another place with 20% down and to fund other financial goals.
My advice to other homebuyers is to set a realistic budget for the house you can actually afford and maintain, rather than stretch yourself with the maximum the bank will loan you.
‘I Saved $40K to Buy a Home in Indiana’
Lindsay, a packaging development engineer, 29
I wanted to buy a house to have my own space. I have dogs and horses, and I just generally love country living, so it was important to me to be able to enjoy that all in one place! I also love DIY home projects, some of which are hard to do when you’re renting.
I cut my expenses a lot: getting rid of cable, lowering my cellphone bill, shopping at cheaper grocery stores. The biggest thing was moving 20 minutes outside the city where I work. I rented a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a garage, yard and storage shed for $695 per month — less than half of what it’d cost me if I lived closer to my office. And I started farm-sitting — as in, babysitting farm animals — to stash away an extra $400 or so a month.
I was able to get my expenses down to about $1,800 a month and saved over half my income, usually about $2,000 a month. The day my direct deposit hit, I immediately transferred the difference to a bank account I labeled "Down Payment Savings." It was the extra motivation I needed so my brain was never tempted to pull from it.
I saved $40,000 over two years and closed on my house when I was 28. This amounted to 15% down, so I pay $110 per month in PMI. While I had enough saved to put down a traditional 20%, I wanted to keep some cash on hand to make repairs to the house sooner rather than later. Being a homeowner means I can do what I want, how I want, when I want. For example, my place has a very small, poorly designed kitchen. But because I own it, I can draw up plans and totally renovate the space.
If you’re considering becoming a homeowner, take time to interview real estate agents and pick someone you mesh with. A good agent is worth their weight in gold — mine helped me so much with her knowledge and honesty.