As October’s recognition of National Women’s Small Business Month winds down, the DLE is recognizing an exciting, upward trend among our female community members: First-time homeownership! Among those boldly stepping forward in the past few months are Kirsten Westermann, a new homeowner in Raleigh, NC; Ivy Rodriguez Campos and Michelle Lopez, who both purchased homes in the Berkshires; and Lexi Aruck, who just closed on her upstate New York home.
In the following vignettes, all four women share advice from their experience to guide anyone starting out or thinking about this lifechanging move.
Kirsten Westermann, DLE Programming Committee Member and Office Operations Coordinator at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting in Durham, NC
My Advice: Buying a home has been something my boyfriend Lucas and I have had in mind for more than four years. We couldn’t figure out when it would make sense to do so. We had moved from our home state of MA to Charlotte, NC, and then over to Raleigh, NC; no time seemed like the right time. But after landing myself a steady job, with Lucas already having a great job, knowing our love for the area and simply being over apartment living, we figured it was time to start looking!
Kirsten and Lucas celebrate their new home.
We started our search not very seriously, just looking at open houses to get a feel for what we liked, what we could afford and where we wanted to be. After months of just poking around, a realtor we met at an open house reached out to us, asking if we wanted any help searching for a home.
Lucas and I had discussed trying to take the home search a bit more seriously, so we decided to sit down with the realtor and a loan officer to see how they could help and what they could offer us. We clicked well, and they both seemed very knowledgeable, so we chose to work with them. We saw a lot of homes all over the area over the course of about four months! We liked some, hated some, and sometimes we were on the fence about whether to make an offer or not. We even put an offer in on a home that we lost out on. We were searching during COVID, so homes were limited, rates were low, and competition was high. We had to be realistic and ready to jump on something we really wanted.
After a lot of searching, confusion and uncertainty, we found the home we have today! We put an offer in the day we saw it—a much stronger offer than our first—and we won. Last month (Sept. 17), we closed on our home. It feels like an eternity of waiting, signing, pushing papers, emails and phone calls until the house is actually yours, but it’s all worth it.
Here’s what I learned:
• If you know nothing about the home-buying process (like us), work with a realtor and a loan officer you like. They will help guide you, give advice and really help with the financial aspect.
• Save, save, save! The more money you have saved, the easier and better the home-buying process is.
• Be realistic in what you can afford, your needs and where you want to be. You will likely be approved for more than you can comfortably afford. Be mindful of that!
• Breathe! Probably my biggest tip. Buying a home is so exciting, but it’s an emotional rollercoaster. It’s okay to not find the right house right away, it’s okay to lose out on some homes, it’s okay to have second thoughts, and it’s okay to feel like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
Ivy Rodriguez Campos, DLE Programming Committee Member and Financial and Administrative Coordinator at Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Ivy and her family with her realtor, Cheryl.
My Advice: My children have always been a priority, my motivation and the greatest blessings. When we had to leave the home we were renting (as it had been sold), we were unable to find a rental that was unleaded (we had a three-month old baby then) and a landlord willing to accept my autistic son’s emotional support dog. My fiancé and I felt devastated, worried and hopeless.
We stayed in several Airbnbs, hotels, friends’ homes and a temporary rental unit. My youngest daughter’s first steps were in a hotel room! The more no’s I received, the more determined I grew to save, focus on my credit, take on any additional work and keep the objective at the forefront of my mind: I WILL find a home that I can watch my kids grow up in and that they can call their own. I didn’t want them to ever have to worry about going through this again.
I met my mentor, (DLE Founder) Linda Dulye, in March 2020, knowing what I wanted but lacking the self-confidence to pursue it. I told her my first goal was obtaining a home for my family. I had been diligently working to maintain my credit and knew exactly what we wanted but needed an agent, a bank, a lawyer, etc. I needed to get preapproved. She introduced me to a great real estate agent (Cheryl) who showed me a few homes, slowly learning my preferences, and then referred me to her partner, whom she felt would be able to find us the perfect home. Cheryl listened to my likes and called me up, inviting me to view a home in Adams that sounded like what we described. When my fiancé and I arrived, we were in shock and made the offer that day! We moved in August 15, almost exactly one year after becoming homeless!
My greatest lesson this year was understanding that everything happens for a reason. And it may take time, but if it’s truly important to you, you get out there and make it happen! You are your worst critic, and sometimes need to think past your doubts, ask for help and make connections.
For those of you out there searching, remember this is one of—if not the—biggest investments you will ever make! Don’t just choose a home for the sake of choosing or worry that you’re annoying your agent. Know your likes and dislikes and don’t be afraid to voice them to your realtor! If you don’t feel comfortable with one agent, find another!
Talk to your bank about any possible grants or opportunities you can take advantage of—especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer! Take any courses offered by the bank or HUD online. They are amazing tools to learn the process and expectations, and they are free! Shop around in all aspects—from your realtor, to your bank, to the different products offered by the bank, to the inspection, lawyer, etc. This is about YOU and your FAMILY! Be consistent, be diligent and overall remember why you are making the choice to (get prepared to) buy!
DO LOTS OF RESEARCH
Michelle Lopez, DLE Advisory Board Member and Executive Director, Berkshire Immigrant Center, Pittsfield, MA
Michelle (left) and her husband, Raider, with their realtor, Liliana.
My Advice: Do your homework and expect the unexpected! My husband and I looked at 50 houses between April and August. Our contract fell through (due to a failed septic system) on a bank-owned foreclosure we had fallen in love with, and our offer was denied on another home when we were out-bid.
Contact the city or town hall where the house you want is located and have them pull all public records, find the tax/property card for the home online, search the internet for the current homeowner’s name and the names of the surrounding neighbors.
I know it sounds stalkerish, but find them on Facebook or LinkedIn. You don’t want to end up living next door to people who have different moral values than you do or people who don’t maintain their property (bringing the value of your future home down!). Ask all the questions, do all the research, bring as many people as you need to the final walk-through of your future home (we brought our contractor and my dad, who’s a realtor in NY).
Your realtor, mortgage loan officer and closing attorney will only do the work that pertains to their job description. It is your job to look out for your financial future and well-being.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE BIG THINGS
Lexi Aruck, DLE Advisory Board Member, who is leaving her Commercial Innovation Portfolio and Performance Manager position at Anheuser-Busch InBev in St. Louis, and moving to Seneca Falls, NY, where she will begin studies for a Doctor of Chiropractic degree at New York Chiropractic College.
Lexi with her boyfriend, Keagan, and pooch, Chester.
My Advice: Get a realtor that you really trust. They are the ones who know what they’re talking about and can steer you in the right direction. To find a realtor, ask around. Even if you haven’t dealt with one before, chances are that someone in your family or close circles of friends have.
Make sure that you pay attention to the big stuff—roof, foundation, furnace, water heater, asbestos. The rest of the cosmetic things are easy fixes and just a YouTube video away!