Probably since my mid-twenties, I wanted to purchase my own home. My parents owned their own home, my aunts and uncles owned property therefore I always expected to follow suit. I have always surrounded myself with people who enjoyed their own measure of success. I quantify success in this way because “success” is personalized and it is perfectly fine. My level of success or aspirations may not be anywhere near what you want or need. Perfectly fine. The goal is to independently decide what success looks like for you and go after manifesting that goal. And this is what the average person that I know and associate with does.
That being said, many people saw that even in my twenties, I had been working with the same company for over five years; I was pretty financially stable with a stable income; I had also had a vehicle since I was 18 years old. The time had come for me to invest in my future and not begin the trend of making financial investments into material possessions that had no appreciable value. This then yielded conversations about my buying a home. Truthfully, I was considering buying a condo; my dream was to buy the condo, live there for 2-3 years, meet the man of my dreams, get married and buy a house with him.
So, I began looking for condos that were within my then modest income. Again, thanking God for sending the “right” people into my life; there are so many misconceptions out there about the reality of purchasing a home. How much money you need to earn, credit scores, down payments; whether to take a new homebuyers class; how to get “free money” or assistance with securing a down payment; PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance), and the list goes on. And this is a very formidable list that succeeds in intimating eager potential homebuyers from ever starting the process. I, on the other hand, was encouraged to personalize my experience. I was empowered that based upon my income, I could afford to buy something that was right for me at that the time. And most importantly, it was free to look at potential listings so that my conscious and subconscious mind could eventualky sync up.
My very first attempt to become a homeowner began with working with this very nice Realtor, whose name I cannot remember (sidebar, I will use little if any names in this blog anyway); she was referred to me by an acquaintance and her credentials came to me highly praised. We had an initial conversation which covered the preliminary items such as my preferences, price point, financials, etc. After which she went to work putting together listings that we went to see shortly thereafter.
It was not long before we went to see a recent conversion (the listing was an apartment in a building that had been recently purchased and the individual apartments were converted to condos.) It was located in the South Shore neighborhood of the South Side of Chicago; South Shore in the early 2003-2005 was going through a major gentrification process. Located along the shore overlooking Lake Michigan, there were apartment buildings akin to the pre-war buildings found in New York City; these properties boasted timeless architecture, spacious apartment space square footage, views and close proximity to public transportation as well 20 minutes or less to downtown Chicago.
I walked into the quaint space which offered two bedrooms, a sun-filled living room, a size able master bedroom, decent kitchen space and overall good “starter home.” The neighborhood and building was safe, I had a parking space; all of the attractive amenities that a young, single woman would desire and need. I decided that I wanted this place and would make an offer. Fast forward, the deal was not meant to be. Despite finding the right Realtor, finding the right condo, finding the right mortgage lender through a referral from a good friend, the deal stalled. The mortgage representative with whom I had been working with suddenly went on a leave of absence and as it turns out, no one thought to reassign her workload. So, I went on with life. Eventually, I applied and got a promotion to move to New York City, which was my number one dream but never thought would become a reality for me.
It was February 2006 and I had signed my offer letter and returned it, thereby officially accepting the job in NYC. Literally a few days later, I received a call from a man who identified himself as the new mortgage representative who had taken over my loan at the bank. Okay…I thought to myself. After weeks of calling the bank previously for loan status updates, being told that my original mortgage rep was unavailable, I literally forgot all about them and had decided to literally, move on to the next phase of my life. The man was excited to tell me that the mortgage company had decided to APPROVE my mortgage loan. Yay (slow clap), as my mind quickly mustered up enough excitement to mirror his; my ego was happy and it was definitely an intense feeling of accomplishment to have been approved for a mortgage loan before the age of 30 years old. Then I had to break the news to him…I was moving to New York City and would not need the loan. He was deflated and seemed a bit perplexed; in his world, how many people turn the bank down for a mortgage loan?
Fast forward, I was now living in New York City and the itch to realize my dream of homeownership persisted. In 2009, three years after moving to NY, I enrolled in a first time homebuyers workshop. For a number of weeks, after working hard at my HR job, I would travel home on the subway, go to my apartment, get my car (playing a very risky form of Russian Roulette by moving my car from its parking space, having the very real possibility that the space would not be there when I returned. Which would then mean that I would have to risk the possibility of parking on another block, which could be similar to parking in a completely different neighborhood, depending upon where you lived.) The sacrifice was real but I was committed to buying a home so I went with it.
To sum up my experience overall of attending the first time homebuyers seminar, it was informative at times but not the best use of my time. I gained key information about ensuring that you have your potential home fully inspected by a licensed home inspector before proceeding with the deal. I was underwhelmed with some of the “common sense” commentary reminding us that a mortgage loan was something that must be repaid. Hmmm…thanks for letting me know that! I was underwhelmed by the lack of programs that purportedly provided down payment assistance. It seemed to me that these programs worked like this: Open an account with Sponsored bank, put money away towards a down payment and once you have saved enough, we’ll let you know when you have saved enough for a down payment. Or, we’ll give you money to live in these select properties in these specific areas, of which you must personally reside in for 5-10 years before you can move. Huh?!
After all of that, I walked away from the first time homebuyers program without a home; I did leave with a wonderful pearl of wisdom-mortgages are loans which must be repaid. The greatest gift of the experience is that I met a beautiful friend whom I cherish and she and I remain friends to this day.
I decided that I really didn’t need a program to buy a home. I am not diminishing the relevance or effectiveness of all first time homebuyers programs. I am speaking from my personal experience of which I am entitled to do. Other people need this resource and find extreme value in attending these seminars. I think everyone who is so inclined to do so, should research what is available and do what makes sense for you. Me, if I have to come up with a down payment; with the new laws governing the mortgage industry, I think “free money” or no money down is obsolete. It boils down to how much you can afford to put down; assessing how much house you can authentically afford, researching lenders and seeking out as much information as you can to make an informed decision.
A couple years later, without the assistance of a homebuyer program, I was back at it, pouring through listings trying to find an affordable condo in New York City. It is not a game in terms of how much money you need to buy any real estate in NYC. And if you do buy, depending upon your resources, you may have to look in one of the other four boroughs; or if you insist on living in Manhattan, you will need to manage your expectations in relationship to cost and square-footage. A case in point, in 2013, if you could afford a condo costing 250K, in Harlem, you would find a few conversions with around 400-500 sq ft of living space. No assigned parking and no in unit laundry; yes, you’re either going to the laundromat or using the laundry facilities in your building. You might be able to increase your square footage by 100 or a little more in some newly gentrified areas in Brooklyn…maybe. It is not a game. In some cases, you can get more for your money renting in NYC than owning. It’s all about the billfolds in NYC.
And this is what I encountered until I received another promotion in 2014, which literally afforded me the opportunity to buy a home. FINALLY!!!!!! I had to abandon my dream of living in my beloved Harlem. The trip over the Hudson afforded me a real house with over 1,400 square feet of living space plus land. This is not how I expected my life to turn out. I did not buy my house having all of the “terms” that I had initially planned. I did get much more than I could have ever dreamed possible. This despite the fact that I had a much different plan as well as a much more abbreviated timeframe.
And this is one of the many life lessons that I have learned. Things that are supposed to happened will…in their rightful time of unfoldment. You will feel discouraged, apathetic, angry and you will give up or want to during your journey. It’s okay to defer your plans but do not under any circumstances abandon them. I have been taught that a desire placed in your heart comes from an All Knowing, Ominiscient Source that has already approved your desire. Become one with it and believe no matter what the facts seem to say about it. The truth remains unchanged and unphased by facts that are susceptible to change.
As someone once said, the good that you are seeking is always seeking you. Go get it and live your dreams!