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.
My father was adamant: I could not buy a house without a husband.
His heart was in the right place; he was being protective. In his generation, men were responsible for traditionally “masculine” home tasks like keeping the lawn in shape, remodeling, and single-handedly managing emergency repairs. My dad was a handyman by nature — he did most of the work around our house himself, climbing into the basement or onto the roof when things needed patching. He couldn’t fathom his youngest daughter (a 28-year-old single mom with a 3-year-old son and a $28,000 annual salary) capably taking care of — or affording — a home without a partner.
While evaluating my housing options after my divorce, my parents lovingly steered me toward rental options — places where I wouldn’t be personally responsible for general upkeep or yard work (a legitimate concern in the middle of Iowa). While they saw apartments and townhouses as the most viable options for me, my heart was set on owning a single family home. More than monetary wealth, I wanted a home for my son. I envisioned a place with a backyard, where he would play with his friends, and a room he could grow up in. So, of course, my consistent and rebellious reply to my parents' proddings was none other than: “Watch me.”
Still, beyond the money — which was a very real concern — I was facing some pretty ugly challenges. Mortgage brokers aren’t excited, per se, about a single mom with a low salary, going through a divorce, after a bankruptcy.
But I was determined; I wanted this. It was central to the life I imagined for myself and my son. A friend at work referred me to a real-estate agent — a member of the National Association of REALTORS® — who educated me on the home-buying process, aided me in improving my credit, and eventually helped me get pre-approved for a mortgage. My budget was low — $69,000 — and the agent was candid with me: She set realistic expectations about what I could or couldn’t afford.
So with that in mind, I began my search. My parents and I spent our Sunday afternoons visiting open houses. We traipsed all over Des Moines on the hunt for the perfect home base. But within my budget, it seemed that most of the houses I could afford needed significant work (which I couldn’t afford). I was frustrated — within my price range, I hadn’t found a single home that felt like an appropriate place to raise my son.
Then, finally, while at an open house with my agent, someone directed us to a home a few blocks away. We pulled up just as the signs were being taken down in the front yard; we’d made it just in time for the last showing of the day.
We were led through the back door, and immediately I found myself in a newly remodeled kitchen. I gasped as soon as I walked in. I love to cook and had been thoroughly disappointed with the prior homes' dilapidated kitchens — I could picture the elaborate Thanksgiving meals I might cook with my son in here. Then, I walked through the dining room. More gasps; I could picture us sitting at the table, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches together. It was lovely and well lit and just the right size. I proceeded to walk around the house with my hand over my mouth exclaiming over and over, “This is it!”
Before I left, I told the seller I was interested. Later that night, my agent and I phoned in an offer. And by some miracle, it was accepted.
We closed on the house just before Thanksgiving. I hired a moving company, and a good friend schlepped me back and forth from my parents’ place in her small truck, loaded with my most valued possessions. My parents arrived for the big day and congratulated me on having found THE place. Later, my friend would confide in me that my dad had looked on at me, unloading boxes, with tears in his eyes. He was proud beyond measure.
Still, there was no way my father’s pride could surpass my own; I had overcome the odds and here I was, in a truly stable environment where I could raise my son.
So I invented a tradition: On the first day of school each year, I took a photo of my son standing, smiling, on the front porch. Our front porch. This was religion for me — we took this same photo every year, from his first day of kindergarten through his high-school graduation.
Then, eventually, nearly 20 years into homeownership — my son already off to college — I decided it was time for something new. And for me, that meant California.
We got an offer in the first 30 minutes of our first open house. It was like something out of a movie. And while of course I was grateful for the sale, it was hard to leave a house that had become a home the moment I’d walked in the front door — the place where my son grew up. In many ways, it was the house where I grew up, too. Our home was humble yet deeply comforting. It was always inviting, always cozy, often messy, and generally filled with food. It was the house I was told I could not buy without a husband.
The proceeds from the humble Iowa home paved the way for my new life in California, as a 46-year-old single woman. Less than a year later, my son moved to the Golden State as well, telling me I had inspired him to make the leap — his own little “watch me” moment.
Naturally, there are no more front-porch school pictures for us to take. But all the same, we’re building a new version of home here.