Here’s How I Budgeted For A Home As A Single Mom

Refinery29 is proud to partner with the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to share real women’s stories about finding, buying, flipping, and paying off their homes. Ahead, read one woman’s testament to homeownership, and discover the power of a REALTOR®.

Editor’s note: We recognize that every individual's financial journey to home ownership is unique  there is no one-size-fits-all narrative. So, in place of prescriptive advice or guidance, we're providing transparency into the process by way of one real woman's authentic experience.

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I was lying on a slowly deflating air mattress on the floor of my parents’ living room, wedged firmly between my 2- and 4-year-old sons, when I decided something had to change. 

Let me explain: I’d had a home — a beautiful one — with my husband and children. But in the midst of our divorce, we’d put the place on the market. And now, our living room was populated by a constant stream of strangers, assessing the varnish on the floors. And so, at 32 years old, with my tailbone just inches from my parents’ floor, the solution became obvious to me: The kids and I needed a home of our own. 

The very next morning, I got to work. I knew it was more practical to rent — it would require less money up front, no upkeep fees, and cheaper monthly payments than a mortgage. So I scoured newspaper listings and rental property sites, sending option after option over to my real estate agent, Ali — a member of the National Association of REALTORS® — for review. But much to my surprise, I found that most two-bedroom rentals in the Rhode Island area cost about $500 to $700 a month more than my existing mortgage — and that was without all the exorbitant security deposits. 

Then, all of a sudden, we got lucky: We got a bite on our old house (also in the Rhode Island area) at asking price — $35,000 more than we had paid for it (in total, we netted 135K). We’d have to resolve marital debt, but still, we would each walk away with a pretty decent amount — which promptly set the neon “DOWN PAYMENT” sign flashing in my head. If I could find a place with an affordable monthly payment at my 70K salary, maybe I could actually swing this. Maybe

So began endless hours of number crunching with Ali's help as we worked to determine what was feasible on my soon-to-be-single-mom income. There were spreadsheets. There were pro and con lists. There was swearing. And at the end of it all, it was clear: This was possible.

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To no surprise, my family and friends were apprehensive. They didn’t want me getting in over my head — I was already dealing with plenty. But again and again, I told them that I’d reviewed the numbers, that fixed interest rates were at a record low, and that I was hell-bent on making this happen. 

Ali continued to encourage me, reminding me that home equity is always an asset. She referred me to a mortgage broker at my credit union, and we quickly secured preapproval. With the money from my former marital home covering a down payment, I found the monthly mortgage payment on a condo or a townhouse would be less than I'd pay for a rental place. But I had to act fast. It was a buyer’s market in a suburban town with good schools, easy highway access, and proximity to many major cities. Condos were being gobbled up as soon as they were put on the market (no pressure). 

The next few weeks were a blur of property-listing alerts and rapid-fire showings. The first condo we viewed was in a well-to-do neighborhood, at a suspiciously low price just shy of $160,000. Upon visiting, we found that it smelled overwhelmingly like a giant gerbil cage. Next was a townhouse at the upper limit of my budget, which required I walk up three flights of stairs just to enter — something I couldn’t do with both my boys in my arms. We visited mediocre places — one after the other — all of which were earning bids with no trouble. 

Just as I was starting to lose hope, we found it. Perhaps this is a cliché, but I knew it as soon as I stepped inside. It was in a good community just a few miles outside of Rhode Island proper, and had a main-level entry and a beautiful, manageable backyard. It was over my limit — in total, the place would cost us $180,000. But Ali was convinced we could talk the price down. I couldn’t contain myself; I started gushing — before she warned me that this was not the best way to bargain. 

That very night, I put in an offer at $5,000 below asking and requested the seller cover closing costs. I emailed the seller personally to tell him what the area meant to us and how much we loved the home — that it would be in good hands with me and my little ones. The next day, I got the news: My offer was accepted. 

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Let me tell you: All of the scrambling, all of the paperwork, all of the nights spent on an air mattress on my parents’ floor — they paid off. They keep paying off (I’ve accrued $40,000+ in home equity).

It was an investment in my family — a risk — and every day, we reap the benefits.

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