Amid the nightmare of 2020, my partner and I decided to try and get a slice of our American dream: owning a home.
Now we did not expect a picket fence to fall on our knees. But this year-long journey has highlighted the differences between the haves and have-nots in this country.
The American Dream is not necessarily dead; it just seems like it is for the “haves” only.
Wastewater that broke a camel’s back
It all started with untreated sewage in the backyard. Due to circumstances beyond our control, our toilet began to recede into the shower and backyard. It was hard and hard.
Much to our chagrin, we discovered that our landlord (let’s call him John) wanted to fix the problem himself in order to save money. He tried and failed several times over several months, leaving us without a toilet in the midst of a pandemic.
It was an underground problem that only a licensed plumber could solve. And John was not a plumber. During this wastewater outage, we realized two things. First, John knew very little about this property. is he owned, and secondly, he was willing to cut corners at our expense.
Eventually, after studying tenant laws and threatening to call the health department, John hired a professional. But neither my partner nor I could get rid of the image of John pulling up in the Cadillac to tell us that emergency plumbing was too expensive.
We wanted to get out of John’s meager finger as soon as possible. Ironically, the pandemic seemed like the perfect opportunity for that.
Plunge into the housing market
Like everyone else, we had no idea how the pandemic would affect the housing market. Initially, we predicted the buyer’s market. The literature we found ended up being useless because it was argued that anything could go in any direction.
So, we made a mistake in the direction of optimism and started looking for real estate in the city. We have narrowed our search to homes with monthly rent equal to or less than what we currently pay for rent.
Suddenly, the list of 20-25 homes for sale was down to three or four. We were shocked by the lack of inventory available. We were completely stunned when we watched nearly every low-cost home fly off the market in days after it was listed.
And when we found out that John was one of the wealthy investors who bought houses in our price range, we just got pissed off.
(DimaBerlin / Shutterstock)
Our first home screenings
Knowing that we were competing with wealthy landowners and not other first-time home buyers, our home hunt went insane.
My partner and I worked for hours at Zillow and Realtor.com. We were living incarnations Saturday night live Sexy Zillow Parody… We watched houses come and go, some of which we examined in person, many of which were contracted before we did.
The disturbing paradox of looking through houses was new to us. A pretty obvious part of buying a home is imagining yourself in it. But in this is excessive attachment to the market was bound to lead to grief.
We also soon realized that we had no chance in the lightning fast housing market without prior approval for a loan. So we’ve moved on to the next big, daunting step: finding loans.
Choosing a lender (and lenders choosing us)
In a sense, my partner and I are self-employed. We both wear several part-time hats, including music classes, private music lessons, carpentry, and freelance writing.
Despite the consistency, none of us could describe our employment history as routine or stable. We are hustling from work to work, from gig to gig, but we pay all our bills on time. Surely a bank could see our history of renting and lending and find virtues in our bohemian lifestyle, right?
Err, wrong – several banks refused to issue ordinary loans to us with little or no explanation. Even with the help of our parents – a glaring privilege that many others do not have – our financial situation was not up to par.
Some creditors have persecuted us. Others feigned interest before doing the same. And during a particularly unpleasant phone call, we made the loan agent laugh at our financial situation. “Yeah, that’s why nobody calls back,” one of the creditors chuckled. Oh well, mmm Thanks…
So we turned to federal aid. We read as FHA as well as USDA… We ended up choosing the latter. Applied in September 2020 and waited.
Waiting (and waiting and waiting) play
And boy, we to wait… After submitting countless bank statements, spreadsheets, invoices and payment receipts, the USDA informed us that they ran out of funds for 2020. They won’t start working with our app until January.
So, we extended the lease for another six months and waited a little longer. By April 2021, we hadn’t heard a squeak. However, we were still required to send monthly bushels of documents confirming our income.
The USDA office gave vague answers to many of our questions. Due to the confusing command chain, it was difficult to know who could help us. So we just kept on submitting documents.
“Why does all this matter if we pay all bills on time ?!” My partner and I screamed into the unrequited void. We (okay, me) complained about this on Facebook. Friends and acquaintances gave kind, but useless advice.
Meanwhile, news agencies inundated us with story after story the rampant growth of the housing market. The sellers were overpricing of houses because they could. Extravagant cash offers beat offers of modest home buyers for the first time.
We even want try and buy a house right now?
Deciding (and changing) our mind
By the time we finally heard from the USDA, we decided to rent another year. We even renewed the lease (again). But after carefully tracking every cent we earned, we weren’t going to let this opportunity pass.
Surprisingly, we were able to find a home in our price range shortly after resuming our search. It was on the market for seven whole months, which was suspicious, but we were ecstatic.
After seeing the house in person, we both fell in love. The house itself was twice the size we rented. Mid-century kitsch touches like the aqua and pale pink bathroom made the deal for me. A location to build a recording studio made a deal for him.
Damn the disturbing paradox, we officially went for broke.
(Gyorgy Barna / Shutterstock)
Invest more money, more time and more wishful thinking
Programs like the USDA are great for low-income families, but they have noticeable drawbacks. Property claims are extensive and sometimes arbitrary.
The home must not exceed 2,000 square feet. It cannot be used for business. The paint will not flake off. The list goes on and on with constantly confusing and, according to many, unfair assessment process…
At the end of May, we signed a contract to build our dream home. (It was Bob Dylan’s birthday, which I think is a good sign.) Since then, we’ve invested over $ 1,000 in just inspections, appraisals, closing costs, and credit checks. However, we are only halfway there.
As I write this, we are in yet another waiting mode, awaiting evaluation. We don’t know when it will be completed and we don’t know if it will work in our favor.
There is a very real possibility that we will invest our time, energy, money and emotions in this house only to be pulled out from under us. No money back, no home.
As we watch smaller, less equipped and more expensive homes appear on the market, we can’t help but get nervous. We have a lot. But if the USDA does not notice this, no positive documents or income documents will change their mind. Then we’ll be back to square one.
Our problem is not unique or as serious as it could be.
It is important to note that both my partner and I are white. None of our annual incomes exceed the poverty line. But we have parents ready to help us if we get into difficult times. In addition, we decided to buy a home in a small Kentucky town with a population of less than 20,000. Our position, however unpleasant it may be, is privileged.
However, our journey to home buying has given us a front row seat in the face of unchecked class and racial inequality in this country. The government has intervened in the past… And from this taxpayer’s point of view, it’s time to do it again.
Housing is a human right. Overpriced and poorly maintained rentals are in direct violation of this right. Is it so incredibly difficult or discriminatory credit processes…
It is high time for all of us, including the poor, to realize our version of the American Dream.
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