How I Bought My Own NYC Apartment On A $50,000 Salary When I Was 25

Photo: Getty Images.
Despite all the stories about crappy living standards and unrecognizable smells on every corner, it was always my dream to move to New York and make it as a writer.
I finally relocated to the city that never sleeps in 2013, a year after graduating college. But finding a place to live wasn’t easy. With a deadline of three weeks to move, I spent countless hours sorting through apartment listings on Craigslist, StreetEasy, and PadMapper before taking two trips to the city from Maryland. After looking at approximately nine different apartments that were asking an arm, a leg, and a pinky toe for a room the size of a closet, I finally found a room for $900 in a nicely renovated three-bedroom unit that I felt comfortable calling home.
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I had a steady freelance gig and a lease on a cute little Brooklyn apartment that I shared with two Craigslist roommates whom I grew to know and love. I always say my first apartment was God’s way of looking out for a suburban Maryland girl who had no real clue of just how bad and expensive NYC housing could be.
But as anyone who has ever lived in New York (or simply loves Carrie Bradshaw as much as I do) knows, “you’re always looking for a job, a boyfriend, or an apartment,” and a little over a year later I found myself desperately looking for a new place to live.
Both of my roommates had decided to move, and I did everything in my power to find replacements so that I wouldn’t have to leave my beautiful apartment. But when posting on Craigslist and social media and trying to convince my best friend to move to the city didn’t work, I was forced to come up with plan B.
I was venting to my dad about my crappy living situation, when he mumbled four words that had never crossed my mind:
“Why don’t you buy?”
Unless he was offering to buy a place for me (which he was not), that was a comically unrealistic option.
After all, according to a Census Bureau report, only 62.9% of Americans own homes, which is the lowest since 1965. Amongst young people ages 18-34, that number is chopped nearly in half to 34.1%, with more millennials opting to either live with their parents longer or become long-term renters.
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For African Americans, the numbers are even more disheartening: Just 41.7% own their own homes — the lowest homeownership ratio of any other ethnic group.
So, as a 25-year-old single black female, the statistics spoke loud and clear. Yes, I had landed a full-time job earning roughly $50,000 a year, but the thought of buying an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in America was basically a pipe dream.
I could count the number of people I knew in New York who owned their apartments on one hand. Just a few weeks before my dad planted this absurd idea in my head, a friend had mentioned that she and her fiancé were buying a condo in Brooklyn. At the time I had thought, well, with two incomes, maybe. But I’m just one woman, with one salary.
Still, after the conversation with my father began to sink in, I started thinking about how owning my own place would solve so many problems. I would no longer have to worry about a landlord raising rent on a whim, or having the stability of my living situation depend on a roommate who might flake at any time. I started doing my own research on what it would actually take to own a piece of property in New York.
I soon learned the differences between a condo and a co-op property, and the different regulations that came with both. I then connected with a real estate agent who came highly recommended by a friend to see exactly what steps I would need to take to pursue this. She started by connecting me with a loan officer to find out just how much I could afford. And while I had good credit, about $4,500 in savings and some money in stocks and retirement, I was still unsure of my ability to afford anything in New York. After receiving a pre-approval letter for a figure that I felt was out of my reach, I told my agent that despite what the letter said (and although I had saved more since the process began), I just couldn’t fathom spending more than $1500 in monthly payments. And that meant my options were limited.
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I was not in a position to be picky about what borough I lived in, but Brooklyn was at the top of my list because I already knew the area well. For me, a co-op seemed to be my best option because they were a bit cheaper, and I didn’t have to worry about paying a homeowner’s association fee (which can sometimes be more than your actual mortgage payment). After sorting through what seemed to be 30+ listings from my agent, plus other options I found on my own via StreetEasy and Realtor.com, I looked at approximately six different places before finding the cute studio apartment that I’m proud to say I now own. With the help of a good interest rate and a monetary gift from family that helped with the 20% down payment, my monthly payments are well below my $1500 limit.
While I was unable to take advantage of any first-time home buyer programs on my co-op, my eight month process of buying a home in New York reminded me just how far good credit can take you when in need of a loan.
This February marked one year since I officially became a homeowner. Many of my friends view New York as a temporary destination — a place where you launch your career before going somewhere else to live more comfortably. And I get that. But buying an apartment has also shifted my thinking. New York just might turn out to be a place I call home on a permanent basis.
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