Turns out, you've got more options than you might think. Meet Kira Neal, a Smithsonian employee and longtime D.C. renter who bought her first place after getting sick of U-Hauling her stuff around the city. Weighing the pros and cons and doing the math made the commitment easy, even for a transplant with dreams of returning to California. Neal not only owns one of the coolest downtown digs we've ever seen, but she's also a pro at explaining how to invest the thousands you're paying in rent into a place of your own (and how to recoup that moolah when it’s time to move on).
We took a tour of her inspiring, artsy pad, then sat down with her and local realtor Lindsay Dreyer (who owns CityChic Real Estate, where 80% of her clients are first-timers), and asked all our pressing questions. The result? A crash course on what it really takes to buy a place, and how to know if you’re ready — financially, emotionally, and otherwise. Call it the CliffsNotes on first-time home ownership. Click through to read, but beware: It'll make it that much harder to write that December rent check.