Single White Female Home Owner
By Lauren Cole Norton
Owning a house has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, when I would spend my days building dens in the wooded area behind my family’s home. I would clear brush and brambles till my forearms were a bloody patchwork, then fill my space with purloined items from the garden shed–a plastic sun chair, cushions, a basin with two cups should my best friend Caroline pop in. I loved the process of building my camps, which was just as well, as the finished results bore no resemblance to my lofty ambitions — and it was never long before the neighborhood teens appropriated my cubbies for their own fun. When I would find beer cans, cigarette butts, and Durex wrappers on my dirt floor, I knew it was time to start over.
The idea of having one’s own space was of particular importance to me because I grew up with an alcoholic. I didn’t hear anyone use that term to describe my father until I was 16 years old, and, despite having endured a childhood of aggressive and erratic behavior, the word was still shocking to me. Perhaps, if I had known that my father suffered from a disease, I would not have been so afraid of him. But I was, and I did my very best to avoid him with school, extracurriculars, and dreams of having a place of my own.
Sacramento gave me that opportunity. When I first moved to Davis in 2009 to pursue a Masters degree, I spent many hours ogling the beautiful homes in Sacramento on Zillow. The prices seemed so affordable after living in Dublin during the property boom. By the time my credit was in shape however, prices were up and competition was hot. Through a stroke of luck, I was matched with the wonderful Jennifer Hayes at Lyon Real Estate. Jennifer knew my priorities, and, that despite being a single woman in my 20s, I wasn’t afraid of a project.
The day my dream house came on the market, Jennifer was waiting outside to give me the tour. I’ll never forget seeing the place for the first time. The chipped, painted floors, the television set that took up half the living room, and a spiral staircase ascending into the world’s hottest attic “bedroom.” Jennifer helped me craft an offer that beat our competitors, and when the disclosures came in about the foundations, we were able to lower the offer so I’d have a budget for repairs.
I’ve spent a lot of time and a considerable amount of money restoring my 1912 craftsman to its former glory. As I type this, my pals Nacho and Alejandro are hammering away on the shingles, making repairs so I can get a few more years out of the roof. It’s been two years since I moved in, and already I’m feeling the lure of a new project, and how a house, while a steady investment with current interest rates, can overwhelm someone with millennial sensibilities. I doubt I will marry, or bring up children here, and so the idea of renting my home and having more freedom to travel or go back to school seems like the right move for me.
I know a lot of my friends consider home ownership to be well out of their reach, but I would seriously advise meeting with a mortgage specialist before writing yourself out of the market. Even if it’s something you’re not considering for several years, it might take that long to get your finances in shape. I had a library fine go to a collections agency that was a real eye sore on my credit report; I was shocked that something so minor affected the interest rate I was able to get on my mortgage. It’s the reality of the world we live in, so do yourself a favor and head over to CreditKarma and get to know the skeletons in your closet.
Being a homeowner has given me a sense of confidence and security. With the help of roommates and Airbnb, I’m paying my bills and making a dent in my mortgage. I have given myself the opportunity to travel and take lower paid/higher satisfaction jobs–knowing that so long as I have my house, I have a safety net.
While I had many people’s help when it came to getting my foot on the property ladder, I feel a measure of pride that I’ve been able to find peace and reconciliation in my life. After having no contact with my father for ten years, a letter written in his familiar scrawl showed up in my mailbox, and I read it while leaning against the hundred year old door frame I had stripped and filled and lacquered the week before. Perhaps there are two kinds of people in this world, the kind who go to therapy, and the kind who go to Home Depot. I’m thoroughly glad to say I’m down to one session a week — split between lumber and hardware. The associates in the orange vests no longer ask if I need any help.