Grace moved to Atlanta with her dog soon after graduating college in 2018, and she rented apartments until now. Recently, she and her best-friend-turned-roommate, Griffen, purchased their first home together. Here, she shares some of the steps they took on their homebuying journey and lessons learned along the way.
Homeownership has always been a goal of mine, and luckily, it’s been one of Griffen’s, too. After our landlord increased our rent, we used a mortgage calculator and determined we could pay just $80 more monthly for a mortgage than for our rent. Seriously—$40 more for each of us for three times the space and we’d have equity? That seemed like a no-brainer for us.
Fortunately, we’d both been saving money for a while, which helped us compete in the hot Atlanta housing market. But having money in the bank isn’t the only thing that’s important when you’re looking to buy a home. Here are some of the crucial steps we took to become homeowners, along with tips that can help make your own homebuying journey a little smoother.
1. Deciding to buy a home together
Buying a house is a huge investment, and Griffen and I needed to make sure we were on the same page. It’s one thing to buy a house with a partner or spouse—buying a house with someone to whom you have no legal obligation is a whole other ball game.
Before signing both of our names on a mortgage loan, we had to have some big conversations—ones about finances, responsibilities, and managing expectations. We asked questions like:
- Do we split our finances unequally to get a house we want? Are we comfortable with that?
- Do we go 50/50, even if it means missing out on a more expensive house we love?
- What happens if we buy a house, and one of us moves out a few years later?
Having these conversations—although tough at times—ultimately made us feel more confident in our decision to purchase together. We didn’t have to use any of our contingency plans, but we know that we have each other’s backs.
2. Growing our savings
A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic—if there is such a thing—is that I saved a ton of money simply by not buying concert tickets and going out to eat. But you don’t need the world around you to shut down just to save money. Budgeting was an important first step to my saving strategy. After creating a budget, I realized that I was spending on things I didn’t need (hello, late-night Amazon purchases and weeknight pizza deliveries). I use a budgeting app to help keep my spending in check.
Once I reined in my spending, my savings started growing. I already had about $4,000 in my emergency fund, but I started saving more on top of that for the house. The most game-changing thing I did was to make saving automatic. I got my direct deposit split in two, so a portion went into my savings without any effort on my part.
I wasn’t even that aggressive about saving, but I was consistent. In six months, I had saved $8,000, bringing me to a total of $12,000 in savings. Griffen had saved about $9,000, too. Between budgeting and putting our savings on autopilot, together we saved enough for a down payment and that put our homeownership dreams within reach.
3. Boosting my credit score
When I moved to Atlanta, I had a job with a salary that didn’t exactly cover my basic needs. So, I garnered a lot of credit card debt just to live comfortably. But poor credit when you’re trying to buy a house won’t fly, so I knew I had to raise my credit score.
With federal student loan repayments on pause due to the pandemic, I was able to focus on paying off my high-interest credit card debt. I used some of my savings, knowing that with a higher credit score, I would be able to put less money down on the house.
I was able to put a huge dent in my credit card debt while deprioritizing the low- and no-interest debt. I’ll pay it all off eventually, but prioritizing my consumer debt was an important strategy for getting a quick boost to my credit score and a lower interest rate on the house.
9. Staying forward-focused
Homebuying is a stressful process, and it’s important to treat it like one. Take breaks as you need them and prioritize your health.
For Griffen and me, the process was exhausting, but the excitement of what was to come sustained us. And even though our to-do list grows every day, we’re really excited for what we can do: how we can bring more people, more dogs, and more experiences into our home. That hope ultimately makes the whole process worth it.