How I Bought a House as a Part Time Server...and How It Has Changed My Life


Four years ago we got a notice from our landlord that our rent was being raised - AGAIN. That would make it about $1100 per month for our 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 700 square foot apartment on the second floor with noisy neighbors, and no yard for the dogs.

My husband (boyfriend at the time) was working in an entry level call center job, and I was working about 30 hours per week as a server at Red Lobster; it paid the best per hour, and I needed the flexibility to be able to go to school full time, working towards my bachelors degree. The same life circumstances as so many of my friends. Buried in debt, just trying to get by, living paycheck to paycheck.

Holding this rent increase notice in my hand just further solidified the desire I had to buy our own place. Because let's face it, $1100 is a mortgage payment! A payment that could go towards building my future instead of my landlords. And before you wonder why we didn't just find a cheaper place - there really wasn't any place cheaper that allowed 2 dogs and wasn't a complete dump.

But how do you buy a house with no down payment and debt up to your ears? We made it a priority to pay down as much as we could as quickly as we could, and that was difficult considering we didn't have much expendable income, but we tightened our budget as much as we could and did without some luxuries for a while. And we were lucky enough to have my mother, who graciously helped us out financially to make this happen much quicker than it would have otherwise. I know not everyone has a mother in a position to do that, but she did, and I'll forever be grateful to her for it (and will eventually pay her back for it).

We found a real estate agent that understood our position, and we looked at probably close to 100 houses before we found something we could afford that wasn't a total piece of crap. We had made countless offers, but the market was hot and we couldn't be as competitive as some other buyers because we were shopping right at the top of our price range, so we got beat out time and time again. I was exhausted, frustrated, and emotionally drained when we finally found the house that we ended up purchasing. I didn't care that it wasn't really what I wanted. I didn't care that it's a split level house, and I HATE split level houses. I just wanted it to be over, and I wanted something to be mine.

So, three and a half years ago we bought our house:

It wasn't much, but it was ours (so the saying goes).

And I don't think I fully realized how much this step changed my life until the last few months.

Since we got married in September I've been looking at our life, making goals, planning next steps, and I've realized that we have never been in such a good position financially in our lives. We have equity in our house that will make for a nice down payment when we go to buy a new house next year. We have a spare bedroom that we've been able to rent out to cover almost half of our mortgage, which in turn has given us more expendable income to both live our lives more fully (go on vacations, get married, etc.) and to continue to pay down debt so that we both have higher credit scores than we've had in many years. It also gave us the financial flexibility and the space for a home office that we needed for me to start my real estate career (which I can not even begin to explain the impact that has made on my life!).

If we were still paying rent there is NO WAY we could be looking at buying a nice house to raise a family in within the next year or so. We would still be living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to get by. We would be so far off from that goal, and now it's FINALLY something that seems real. Instead of 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and 700 square feet that don't belong to us we'll finally have more like 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and 3500 square feet, with the kind of life that goes with a house like that; white picket fence and all.

And it's all because we bought our first house when it seemed nearly impossible.

I get fellow real estate agents that ask me all the time why I work with so many clients who barely qualify. Clients that need to see a million houses before we find that unicorn property that fits their needs within a lower price range, clients that have to have their family involved because they're footing part of the bill, clients that take up SO MANY more hours of my time than the average buyer - and I guess it's because I see myself in them. I see how much that step has changed my life for the better, and I want so desperately to provide that opportunity to others.