How We Bought a House in 1 Year
My spirit gave me this title for an article/journal entry several months ago, and though I had faith in it I was hesitant to write a single word. However, the title never left me and the urge to write the words did not either. You ever feel like you are going to get something and don’t want to say it as to try not to “jinx it” … yeah, that was my vibe, but here we are, choosing to obey and write it and publish it anyway.
I imagined that buying a house is like training for a marathon. A marathon which for most I believe is considered a super hard or near-impossible thing to accomplish for themselves. There are things in your favor that were in place prior to your initial desire to run. Some of those things you had no actual control over yet you benefited from them. You implement some changes to improve your success for said marathon, like training, exercise, and changing your eating habits. Overtime you get stronger and confident feeling more and more prepared to participate in the marathon. And then eventually you do it, you run that marathon.
Well though I have never run a marathon, I was a track and field athlete for many years, so the idea of training and the running analogy came easy to me. But let’s make it plain and get into the details because transparency is king!
We, my husband Phillip and I, bought a house in 1 year, and I’m typing these words prior to us signing a contract because for me it’s become that real. I’m going to break this story up into parts to help explain how this all came to be.
The Big Picture
We moved to Atlanta in the Fall of 2018. Every step of the move was divine intervention. The condo we ended up renting was from a great Black couple who were retired educators. The rent was $1100/month and if we agreed to a 3-year contract they said they’d knock $100 off the monthly. After looking at apartments all over Atlanta we knew this was a solid deal and one to consider seriously. The “Big Picture” plan and idea was that we were both recent 2018 MFA graduates, at the time only I had a job, and we knew 3 years would be what it would take for us to get our financial feet on the ground. We also figured 3 years would be a fair amount of time to determine whether or not we loved Atlanta, tolerated it, or would be eager to GTFO.
With that big picture in mind several additional events occurred that would later turn into motivational blessings and a way of life for us. With only me working we were on a super strict budget, only eating out once a month. A grocery budget of $250/month, yes for the both of us. And taking the train as much as possible to minimize driving our 1 car. A year later after moving in we got married in 2019. That expensive adventure showed us that when push comes to shove, we can save a lot of money when motivated and determined by deadlines. Right after the wedding I also paid off my car, so one major bill down.
That same year Phillip began a new part-time gig at KSU and a full-time job as a STEAM teacher at a day care. The day job was next to my job, so after work I’d walk the 12–15 minutes to his job and wait until he got off work and then we’d go home together. However, on nights that he had to teach at KSU I had no way of getting home. I calculated LYFT rides from the train station to our home which was only a 6-minute drive and learned that only 2–3 weeks of those LYFT rides would equal the cost of a bike. So we invested into a foldable bike so that I could take it on the train with me and stick in our car truck. So twice a week I took the train home after work and then rode my bike the rest of the way. Even with him working we stayed on our strict budget because we both had credit card debt to extinguish. Finally, in November of 2019, one of my best friends Monee had a wedding in New York where we would meet our now financial advisor. Working with her was a dream, and she got us set up with a long-term financial plan with life insurance and a way to track our financial goals. She has a personal passion to help Black and Brown people become more financially responsible so that they can accomplish their goals. She also affirmed that we were doing all the right things living on a budget and literally just needed to make more money to accomplish our dreams. Our dreams at the time were being debt free and Phillip wanted to buy a car for himself.
Tragic Turning Point
December of 2019 we experienced a home invasion event. The short of it is, we were not home and not harmed, and we have insurance. However, we lost thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff that held even more sentimental value that no insurance will cover. And if you do not know, your insurance only gives you back the value of the item based on its age not how great of condition it was in. So, when your TV is 4 years old, you only get a fraction of its value from when you bought it. Same for game systems and games that can last a decade or more. The money you get for it ends up being a miniscule coupon when you are ready to buy it new. On top of all of that we only had 3 months after the event to replace items if we wanted to be reimbursed for it by our insurance.
From that point I was a lot of things I can’t fully express here. But in terms of the home buying journey this event motivated us to move, ASAP. If you follow the real estate and rental industry in metropolitan areas or even “trending” cities you might be aware that its CRAZY expensive to rent, especially if you want anything new or kind-of new, and then every year you’ll be at the risk of your rent increasing. Here in Atlanta, we quickly learned that unless we wanted to down-size it would be cheaper to buy a house than to rent in Atlanta.
Then we had to have some hard and deep conversations about if we liked Atlanta enough to make a commitment to the city by buying here. We ultimately decided that Atlanta was worth it due to the success we were able to envision for ourselves as artists and accessibility by living near an international hub airport. We also identified so many things we could do here when we eventually had more disposable income to enjoy life with.
If I can, my preference is to learn as much as I can about something prior to delving into it so that I can make sound decisions on my own and not rely solely on the opinion of others. It’s in my nature to research and so I did all up and down YouTube. I also asked my siblings who are homeowners, but they live in Florida and so many things about the home buying experience was different I had to learn to take what was applicable and shelf the rest.
My main informant ended up being Shaheedah Hill who is a realtor in Atlanta and previous educator. Her YouTube Channel is called “Shaheedah Hall Real Estate” her mission is to help first time homebuyers confidently buy their first home. You can tell she is an educator because of her great ability to break down concepts to help you understand. I learned how even though saving money is great, minimizing our debt was going to be even more important so that we’d have a better chance of being approved with a good interest rate. Other than her YouTube Channel she has a Facebook group community, and recently launched a private homebuyer course you can pay to join for personalized assistance. She is very responsive to her community on Facebook and YouTube and truly wishes you well. Thanks, Shaheedah.
I also follow Brass Knuckle Finance on Instagram. BKF helped me unlearn some myths we have come to believe about credit cards and credit. I’m happy to report that with this educational platform, I have come to understand my relationship with credit differently and was excited to pay off a credit card and also cut that sucker up (after formally closing the account of course). Moving forward we are all about paying in full because financing is another trap, I have no interest in. Our future vehicles can wait until we can pay cash for them.
Unsure whether an FHA or conventional loan would be for us, I got some ideas by speaking to my credit union earlier in 2020 to get an idea of what we could be approved for. I wanted a real gauge to assess our current situation to see what our income-to-debt ratio is. I learned too much of our income was going to debt payments each month. We needed to extinguish the debt so that we would have more coming in than going out. So once we had a basic $2,000 dollar emergency fund, I stopped putting money in there to prioritize paying off my credit card debt.
In one of Shaheedah’s YouTube videos she explained the pros and cons of NACA because she was getting lots of questions about them. That was my first introduction to that name. I gave up on homebuyer assistance programs because we technically made too much money to qualify for those, but NACA was different.
“The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (“NACA”) is a non-profit, community advocacy and homeownership organization. NACA’s primary goal is to build strong, healthy neighborhoods in urban and rural areas nationwide through affordable homeownership. NACA has made the dream of homeownership a reality for thousands of working people by counseling them honestly and effectively, enabling even those with poor credit to purchase a home or modify their predatory loan with far better terms than those provided even in the prime market.” Learn more on their website.
You can check out Shaheedah’s video here on NACA — but I’ll give you my summary. What I learned is that NACA was legit but would take a long time for most people. It will require you to put in a lot of effort and be extremely organized. You’ll get out as much as you put in kind of process. NACA’s demanding process is designed to prevent you from going house poor. It is designed to prepare you for home ownership so that by time you “apply” you are in good standing financially and can confidently afford your home. They help you determine how much house you can afford regardless of your credit score. They look at the money you have coming in and out every month and they make you save for your mortgage as if it you already have one. So for example, if you want a $1500 mortgage payment and your current rent is $1000, than you must save $500 every month and show proof of that savings from the moment you begin the NACA process until the day you close on your home. It might sound crazy but its smart. It helps you create healthy savings habits and prepares a cushion for you in the event of an emergency. If you are already an organized person and not afraid of a budget, I’d recommend it 100%.
Never afraid of a challenge I said why not? I had the time to at least give it a shot since we had time; we were not looking to physically move until 2021. Either way it would have been a win. NACA could work out and we would save a ton of money with a lower interest rate, no private mortgage insurance, and Zero closing costs. If NACA didn’t work out we would have been well on our way for saving for our home anyway and just go a different route.
Executing a Plan
This was the plan: we started the year prioritizing paying off debt and estimated that at our current rate we’d have both credit cards paid off by December of 2020. I also calculated how much side work I could try to obtain to help speed up the process. We knew NACA would take a long time, but we had until December of 2020 to claim a lot in a community that was at the top of our list. We knew at minimum we would need our earnest money by December to make a move on the property, but we’d still have until the home was built to keep saving the rest of the money including appliance money. Understanding that timeline made me realize how attainable this all could actually be.
Not apart of the plan but influenced the plan was COVID-19! Working from home meant no more metro card and little to no gas to pay for in the car. It also meant our food stretched more because we were not packing work lunches and buying extra snacks for our commute. It also meant we were refunded a cruise we had scheduled and saved on flights we would have taken to see family in 2020. We were extremely fortunate to have been able to keep all our main jobs through this pandemic. My photography commissions I hoped to do flopped due to quarantine, but new virtual speaking opportunities arose that helped fill that financial gap and allowed me to still engage in my art practice with others. Even in the darkness of the year, these were silver linings that helped us achieve our goals.
By July we found target areas of where we wanted to live and decided that we wanted to be in the perimeter and preferably wanted a new construction home. Thanks to a video called: First Time Buyer New Construction | First Time Buyer Tips | New Construction Homes Atlanta by Shaheedah Hill . I found who would later become our real estate agent. Do you know how real estate agents are paid? I did not know until this video.
In August of 2020 we did the HomeBuyer Workshop with NACA which was a few hours, which taught you their history, explained the process and is the first official step to getting a NACA account. After this step we scheduled the next earliest counselor meeting which was in late October.
In October 2020, we celebrated our 1-year wedding anniversary, paid off our AMEX credit cards, and had our first NACA counselor meeting. When we met our counselor, she was super sweet but a new employee to NACA. I knew from the NACA Unofficial Facebook Group that new counselors often quit. That job is not for the weak and since the pandemic the demand for NACA has more than doubled so all their people are worked to the bone I believe. But the seasoned counselors really to love their jobs and work hard for everyone’s success.
The start of November 2020, we attended the NACA Achieve the Dream (ATD) event which is a regular event that helps to expedite your process. We were submitted to underwriting and just awaiting our results. Two weeks later I learn that we were not qualified and had very vague conditions listed. I called to make an appointment with my counselor to review the conditions and learned that she had quit! I cried y’all. This was one of many potential nightmares that could happen. Thankfully, the customer service agent took pity on me and found us a new counselor who could meet the very next day! I made myself available because their next available opening would have been march of 2021! The new counselor was a seasoned one and helped us address our conditions quickly. The following week she submitted us again for qualification right before Thanksgiving and we waited.
In the meantime, we met our real estate agent in person for the first time and discussed a game plan. What would we do if the properties in the final phase release before we got our NACA qualification? What would our options be? A woman of great faith, our relator had no doubt that no matter what happened we were already successful and would have our home. On November 30th, we got the announcement that we were officially NACA qualified!! With this status we would get our approval letter saying yes we can buy a home and how much home we were approved to afford.
It is December 2020 now and we are still doing the same things. We still must save monthly to comply to NACA rules to maintain our qualified status. We successfully saved up our earnest money and increased our emergency savings. We are literally just waiting on the call or email that says: Mr. and Mrs. Fleming we are ready for you to come pick your lot. I paid off my new computer I had to buy in the beginning of the year. Now we are saving for appliances and just essentials we’ll need to buy when we move as well as money for insurance premiums, taxes, and HOA fees.
As we come up on the anniversary of our tragic turning point, I’m anxious, but also so very proud of us and grateful to God for perseverance and blessed assurance. If you read my Medium blog you’ll know that in this article, Affirmations during a Global Pandemic, I talked about the visual affirmations I put all over our home. Now you know a little bit more as to why I put those up, but now you also know how successful and influential they were to us this year. I plan on leaving these affirmations up around our home until moving day. We made sacrifices many may not understand and the choices we had to make also isolated us from friends. But setting boundaries and keeping our eye on the prize allowed us to claim victory in advance since I’m writing this, and we haven’t signed a contract yet. But no matter what happens next, we have our feet on solid ground and prepared to tackle whatever comes next. So there you have it. How we bought a house in 12 months.
Happy to engage with you in the comments and answer any questions. I’m also open to hearing what else you may want me write about or expand upon in a future article.
Peace and Love.
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