Heading Home (I)

Kristine Hayes

JUST A FEW MONTHS ago, I wrote about my housing plans. Those plans included waiting until I was closer to retirement age before purchasing a home. Having spent the past five years as a renter, I assumed I’d keep renting until I was ready to leave fulltime work behind.

Living in a relatively inexpensive apartment complex came with a few benefits. It allowed me to invest a large part of my income in various retirement accounts. I fully funded a Roth IRA three years in a row. I came close to investing the maximum allowed in my pretax retirement account at work. I lived way below my means and, as a result, built up a sizable retirement account balance before I turned 50.

But living as a renter wasn’t always easy. I had to move, within my complex, three different times due to noise-related issues. I spent a substantial amount of money on various white-noise devices and sound-cancelling headsets, which I used—mostly unsuccessfully—to try to block the sounds of tenants in neighboring units.

In the summer, the various apartments I rented were unbearably hot. In the winter, there were issues with snow and ice that made the outside staircases dangerous to descend. My dogs could never run loose and I longed to fall asleep to the sound of chirping crickets, rather than the noise of footsteps pacing back and forth above me.

And so, a few months ago, I began to contemplate becoming a homeowner again. I assumed that on my $70,000 salary, I’d be lucky to qualify for a $200,000 mortgage. In the greater Portland, Oregon, area, that kind of money might allow me to buy a small fixer-upper in one of the city’s distant suburbs. I spent a couple of weeks checking out houses I thought I could afford and wasn’t thrilled by what I found. My commute to work would increase to over an hour each way and I’d be miles from the neighborhood where my Mom lives.

I became so discouraged by what I saw, I briefly investigated renting a house, instead of buying one. But with houses in the area renting for between $2,000 and $2,400 per month, it seemed like buying would still be the better long-term financial decision. Moreover, rental homes that allowed pets were few and far between.

It was then that it dawned on me: Maybe I didn’t really know how large a loan I would qualify for. In any case, the real estate agents I had talked to didn’t want to deal with me until I could present a document showing I was pre-approved for a loan, so I applied to my local credit union for a mortgage.

I was prepared to be disappointed—but wasn’t: The credit union said it would lend me $403,000.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. This is the first in a series of articles about her recent home purchase. Her previous articles include Happy Ending, Material Girl and Homeward Bound.

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