For many women, owning a home on their own is a dream that seems nearly impossible to achieve. Mrs. Miller, the co-founder of Millers on Fire, was once the same. The native New Yorker, Latina, and first-generation college student, never anticipated her success would come so young. Owning her own home was always a dream, so buying a home as a single woman was even more dreamlike.
Just days after graduation, with a diploma in hand and a fantastic job opportunity across the country, Miller left her job as an investigator for a nonprofit in February 2008 and headed from Bronx, New York to Sacramento, California.
“I was one of the few lucky ones,” says Miller. After finding out about a job opening from a man she met at a conference in June 2007, she decided to apply and join the federal workforce. The job would more than double her salary, offer her a retirement plan, and provide a 5% match.
“Once I was offered the job, he told me how much he was able to negotiate for his salary,” she said. “He had over a decade of more experience, but it gave me the confidence to negotiate, and I did.”
Miller scored an extra $12,000 by negotiating. Before she knew it, she was off to Sacramento to start her exciting (and secure) job working for the federal government.
“Later that year, The Great Recession peaked, and the stock market crashed in September of 2008,” says Miller. “I didn’t exactly know what that meant for my situation, but over the next several months, I noticed many people moving and many people being foreclosed on.”
Something else Miller took notice of was the plethora of “for sale” signs and vacant properties that seemed to be popping up everywhere.
“I was young and naive about personal finances and didn’t understand the stock market at the time to understand its gravity,” says Miller. “I knew people were losing their homes, but I didn’t have a home to lose. I knew people were losing money in the stock market, but I didn’t have money there either.”
It wasn’t until the end of 2009, beginning of 2010, when Miller had started her research, using the internet to help navigate her interest in home-buying. After a few months of learning to understand enough to ask her colleagues questions about homeownership, she became extremely interested in leaving her apartment and owning a house of her own.
To Miller, owning a home was more than just a childhood dream. In her eyes, it was validation that she had really “made it.” Miller had always wanted to own a house,” and so own a home she did.
Preparing for the most significant investment of her life
This stage was early 2010, and Miller now has a group of young-adult friends (mostly single men) who were also moving out of apartments and into their first homes. Miller had about $15,000 saved and a 2% interest rate on her remaining student loans. Her coworker ended up putting her in contact with a friend who worked as a real estate agent.
In her mind, the thought of not asking the landlord for permission to paint a wall, or dealing with loud and inconsiderate neighbours was becoming all-too attractive, and she knew it was time to start chasing her new goal.
“I played with mortgage calculators, going online to look at homes in the neighbourhood I wanted to live in,” says Miller. “After my first meeting with the real estate agent, I was convinced that I could afford to be a homeowner.”
Let’s talk numbers
“Slowly, I began to understand that these Sacramento homes were once worth a lot more than they were selling for,” says Miller. “Even though Sacramento housing prices are nothing like the Bay area, it’s still California.”
Later that year, Miller made the jump and purchased a three-bedroom, two-bathroom 2,300 square foot home built in 2006 for $285,000. That price ended up being $130,000 less than someone paid for it just four years earlier.
“I used an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan, which required a 3.5% down payment, and the home was a short-sale, so the bank agreed to pay some of my closing costs.”
Miller was thankful that the home was only four years old, so the repair costs were minimal, and there was nothing that needed immediate attention.
Debunking the homeowner stereotype
When asked about the underlying expectation that you should be coupled or have a family to own property, Miller says she has never been to live to others’ expectations.
“I was single when I purchased my home,” says Miller. “My financial situation gave me the flexibility to spend as I please.” Because homeownership had always been her goal, Miller wasn’t going to wait to be married to accomplish her plans.
Miller was 27 years old when she bought her home as a single woman. Until getting married in the spring of 2015, she lived with two roommates. Miller’s now-husband was a renter at the time, and he also had roommates. “When we married, he moved into my house, and we made it our home.”
Advice for other single women looking to buy
One of the most significant pieces of advice Miller has for those in the homeownership process is never to be afraid to ask questions. “You don’t have to settle for, “sign here, this is standard” if you don’t understand something,” she says.
Also, Miller says housing, transportation, and food are the three areas she and her husband spend the most money on. But, Miller suggests there are ways to cut your housing costs to lower your overall expenses. “Consider renting out extra bedrooms to help pay down the rent or mortgage,” says Miller. “Lifestyle inflation is a real thing; don’t fall victim to what others say about how you should be living.”
Miller admits that today, she doesn’t see homeownership as an investment. She says there is a difference between real estate investing and buying a home. “There’s nothing wrong with owning a home or renting for that matter – must know the true cost of your decision.”
As someone who has experienced buying a home as a single woman first-hand, Miller says buyers should never be deterred from chasing a dream based on what society thinks you should or shouldn’t do. “No one is going to care about your money and your financial situation more than you.”
“Read blogs, articles and talk to several people but ultimately, the decision is yours alone, so make an informed one.”