Nasozi Kakembo was living with her son in Brooklyn when she decided to buy a house. A change of location and a thorough search for homebuyer assistance programs led her to find one that covered everything but $ 0.73 at closing.
Three years ago I was living in New York City and was thinking about buying a house. Obviously this is a very competitive market. And after 12 years of living there, I felt a bit exhausted from the city. I have a son who was in grade 2 at the time, entering grade 5 now, and I was looking for something a little easier in terms of school and neighborhood and just a different quality of life.
I have family in Maryland, where I was born and raised, and I started to think, “What would it be like if I went back? So my son and I moved south.
I didn’t want to go out and buy a house right away, because I had been self-employed. Then I started working for Johns Hopkins, so I wanted to sort it out a bit before I applied for a mortgage. I was not a complete novice: I have always been interested in real estate and I have my master’s degree in urban planning. I like to keep my finger on the pulse.
But it was still a process of understanding and researching what else the mortgage companies were considering, so that I could be the optimal candidate.
Here’s what they’re looking for: a stable employer and money in savings. And they really compare what your debt to income ratio is. Mine wasn’t ideal because of school, so that was really the biggest obstacle for me; even when I was able to change the school loans and lower the ratio, the challenge was to repay enough while having enough for my down payment. When I had some money, I felt compelled to pay off the debt instead of using it. This is, I think, one of the problems with millennials: we have so much student loan debt. It is a barrier to home ownership. So it was a really exhausting thing.
I thought, there must be some other way. Everything else was checked: I had an amazing credit score, a great job, and I’m responsible for my money. Every now and then I would hear about homeowner incentives in designated pockets around campuses. When I was really ready to consider homeownership, I literally searched Google for “home ownership subsidy”. There were various things: a national program called NACA and a few different types of programs in the state of Maryland that provide assistance to homeowners with a certain amount of student loan debt. Some of them were a bit confusing and some were not the right package for me, but I stumbled upon a county program and went to an introductory session.
A lot of these are for people with bad credit, but that wasn’t my problem; mine was literally just the down payment. So the program I ended up with was specifically to help with the down payment and closing costs up to $ 15,000. It was income-based, but the guidelines were on average income. So I signed up for this program. I had a home counseling workshop with a mortgage lender and then a one-on-one where I had to print out my credit report, pay stubs and go through it all. They really tell you how much are you spending on everything per month. They are accessories but they add up. It was a 30 day closure.
I found the house according to our needs. My wish list was for things that are normal in most other parts of the world outside of New York, like I must have a dishwasher! My real estate agent told me, “Uh yeah, every place has a dishwasher.” But I hadn’t had a dishwasher for 12 years, it was priceless to me!
I was able to secure a spot with an outdoor area, dishwasher, washer / dryer and my own parking space. It’s a three bedroom, three bathroom in a solidly bourgeois neighborhood. My son has his own bathroom and mine is on the ground floor, then his space is upstairs, so we have a bit of space between us. It really is the perfect home for us and it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t had this amount for the down payment and closing. More, my real estate agent then put in the contract that the seller would contribute 2% for the closing and then that $ 15,000 from the county program left me only $ 0.73 at the close. Since my credit rating was high, I could still get the best possible mortgage rate at the time.
After the purchase, I completely transformed my home with a series of DIY projects once I moved in. I started with the kitchen: painted the cabinets gray blue and added new hardware which was the hardest part as there are almost 30 cabinets – which meant I had to drill 60 holes! I should take breaks in between. Then I also added marble contact paper to the counters and installed the same IKEA shelving units I had in my Brooklyn apartment. I knew I wanted subway tiles – it was a nod to my New York past – and I made it myself. It was so rewarding to make this backsplash; he did all the cooking. And if I had paid someone else to do that, it would have been a lot of money. It’s safe to say this house has been quite an adventure.
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