I never thought I would buy a house at 25. Like most 20-somethings, I was pushing through school, working odd jobs, and just trying to get by.
Then, after a death in the family, I came into a little money. It wasn’t a fortune or a happy occasion, but it was an opportunity to do something good with this cash. I realized it might cover a down payment on a small condo. The idea of becoming a homeowner was exciting, so I started shopping for real estate in the suburbs of L.A. where I was renting an apartment.
In spring 2016, I found a small, one-bedroom condo that I loved. My inheritance would easily cover the down payment, and the mortgage payments would be only a little more than the rent I was paying. I made an offer, and it was accepted.
At the time, I had a full-time sales job at a natural food company, plus a side hustle working as a host at Disneyland. With steady income and the down payment taken care of, I knew I could easily swing the monthly costs of owning a home.
But being a homeowner proved to be much harder than I imagined. After a few miscalculated costs, I found myself running out of money. I had to take on another side job. And another, and then another.
Ultimately, I had to work five jobs simultaneously to afford my home. Here are the hard lessons I learned that I hope will help you avoid the same fate.
It’s not just about the mortgage
I’d heard plenty of horror stories of friends who, after buying a house and moving in, realized they didn’t have enough money to buy anything else, from furniture to cable service.
So when calculating whether I could handle homeownership, I was careful to look beyond my mortgage. I also factored in HOA fees, property taxes, maintenance, moving costs, utilities, and even new furniture.
But I’d underestimated one massive money drain: home maintenance and repairs.
While it’s simple to factor in a set HOA fee or estimate a monthly electric bill, maintenance costs are hard to plan for. You could find yourself spending money on nothing but paint and Drano one year, then the next find yourself needing to replace a dead refrigerator and reshingle the roof.
A year after moving in, I learned my water heater had started leaking while I was away for the weekend. By the time I’d returned home and saw the mess, I learned that I’d need to test for mold, install a new floor, repair the walls, and replace my water heater.
The total cost: over $10,000.
My home insurance would not cover this, arguing that the water heater leak had been ongoing and that I’d been negligent. I’d have to pay for this out of pocket.
This immediately threw a giant wrench in my budget. Clearly, I was in over my head.
One or two jobs may not be enough
I already had a full-time job and a side hustle. But I knew I couldn’t yet negotiate a pay raise at my sales job and I wasn’t going to get more hours at the theme park. So, I started looking for a third job.
I applied at local shops and restaurants. I felt a bit silly, as a homeowner in my mid-20s applying for the same jobs I had in high school. But I had bills to pay, and I took the first job I was offered: working nights at a movie theater.
About the same time, I got a fourth job, tutoring a college student once a week. Job No. 5 came when I was asked to write for a small dating and relationship website.
I was tired from working all the time, but I was able to starting paying off the bills that were rolling in.
Don’t be afraid to borrow money
I knew I couldn’t handle working 80-hour weeks forever. After a few months, I was exhausted.
I was managing to stay afloat, but I worried about getting sick and falling behind. To keep my sanity, I needed to borrow money and give myself a buffer.
It took me a while to reach this decision—after all, it seemed irresponsible for someone who already had a hefty mortgage to borrow some more. But borrowing was better than skipping mortgage payments—and potentially losing my condo.
In the end, I was fortunate to be able to borrow money from my mom, but bank loans can be just as helpful for those without the option of borrowing from family.
After a long spring and summer of working in the movie theater, I was able to quit and focus more on my sales job. Soon after, my tutoring client was back on track with school and didn’t need my help anymore.
By fall, I was still doing my writing gig and working at the theme park, in addition to my sales job. They were still a lot to juggle, but I felt that I could handle the workload. I was paying my bills, and saving a good amount.
By the time I got back on track, I’d learned a valuable lesson: The costs of being a homeowner can’t always be calculated, and surprises are bound to pop up.
But was it worth it? Absolutely.
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