A little back story We found out she was pregnant in March. Then, in May, as I was looking at house listings out of curiosity, I found a property that seemed like a phenomenal find. It was a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2100 square foot house on 1.79 acres just inside Des Moines city limits, a good 10 minutes closer to work for me and at least fifteen minutes closer to her family. The best part, it was listed at $121,500, a price I was sure we could handle.
After looking at the place a couple of times and going back and forth with the seller, we settled on $117,000. At this point I thought we'd better find out what our monthly cost was going to be. Turns out we were looking at about $950/month for the mortgage, which is $255/month more than our current rent. Utilities would also go up from our $50ish/month to between $200 and $250/month. So, in frustration, we had to back away from the table.
Our agent e-mailed us on July 4th to let us know that the house was going to short sale on July 5th. Out of curiosity, I looked, but the price had only dropped to $117,500. Not good enough for us. Then we kinda forgot about the house for a few weeks.
I don't fully know why, but I looked at the listing again on August 13th to find that the price had dropped on August 10th to $101,700. Hey now, we could be in business here! I talked it over with Abi, and we got in touch with our agent. We started the ball rolling, borrowing $5,000 from my dad to help with the down payment, getting an idea of how much we could borrow and at what rate, and making an initial offer. Then the waiting began, and finally on October 23rd we heard that the seller's bank had accepted our offer of $96,000. Yay!
We were originally looking at an FHA mortgage, so we were going to wait for the FHA appraisal before getting our own inspection. However, our mortgage banker said we had enough assets available to do a conventional mortgage, which meant the process could be sped up a bit. We signed paperwork on Friday, October 26th for the mortgage to get processed.
Then, the weirdest thing happened. I got an e-mail from our agent saying an agent from another agency had an interested client. Since we had not put down any earnest money, the listing was still active. I decided I should get a check to our agent to rectify the situation and got to her office 5 minutes before closing. The check wouldn't be cashed until Monday, October 29th, but all of our legal bases were covered.
Friday I also needed to get some inspections set up. Abi's uncle, who used to own a concrete business and does foundation inspections in his area, had said he'd be willing to look at houses for us, so we got him down to check out the foundation (he said that it was okay, even though cosmetically it didn't look the prettiest). We also got a friend of ours who does roofing to come out. His thoughts were that the roof would need redoing within 3 years, and at dinner after we'd looked at the house together he said flat out that he wouldn't buy it (coming from a man involved in construction who is doing work on his own house, this was a pretty good indicator as to the course of action we should take). So we e-mailed our agent Sunday night and said we just couldn't see taking the responsibility for such a house--we wouldn't have the time, money, or expertise to fix it ourselves, nor could we afford to pay someone else to do it for us. Since Abi especially wasn't overly thrilled with the layout and several features of the house, it wasn't too difficult to make the decision.
Then I got to thinking about some other things. Like how easily the prospect of owning a house had swayed me from my plan to be debt-free within the next 3 years with the justification that we would only be paying $200-$300/month more in housing costs than what we pay now. Our current debt load is between $50,000 and $52,000, and it's conceivable we'll have it paid off in 26 months (by the end of December 2014). Yet if we bought a house now, we would extend the time it would take to pay our current debts and basically triple overall what we owe. I understand the argument for building equity and how much of a buyer's market it is right now, but I'm not convinced it's the biblical approach to go into debt even for what sounds like such good reasons.
The Bible has a few things to say about debt, and the basic message is don't go into debt and do everything you can to get out if you are in debt. I don't know as this is said anywhere as an explicit command (I will have to look into that and get back to you all if I find anything...feel free to let me know if you know of anything regarding this), but it comes up several times in Proverbs, a book filled with much good advice. Debt is not a good thing (and why people think debt is a good thing for the nation but not for individuals is something I've never been able to figure out). So our plan for a future house purchase, should the Lord tarry so long in His return that such a purchase is even possible, looks quite a bit different from what we've just gone through. We'll be out of debt before we even look to buy a house. On top of that, if it really comes down to taking out a mortgage, we will have 20% saved for a down payment and we'll shoot for a 15-year mortgage instead of the traditional 30.
Ideally, though, I'd much rather save the entire amount for a house purchase and pay cash up front, just as much for the shock value of doing something that most people have never heard of doing as for not being in debt to anyone again. Let me crunch a few numbers for you. As I said, we had an accepted purchase price of $96,000, which meant we were going to be financing about $92,000. If we were to pay just the minimum payment every month, we would pay about $147,000 for the house at the end of 30 years. That's a difference of $55,000. We currently pay $695 in rent each month. If we stayed right where we are, it would take us just over 6 1/2 years to pay $55,000 in rent. My current net income is about $2800/month, and that will continue to go up with raises (assuming the VA system doesn't go broke under what I see as an inevitable economic meltdown). Not factoring in what I need to pay on my current debt load, I can safely set aside a minimum of $1500/month, which in 6 1/2 years is $118,500 before interest is added. Also, I'm taking into consideration that all houses require upkeep, and any money that goes towards repairs and improvements is money that can't go towards paying off a mortgage. In our current rental, we are not responsible for repairs or utilities other than electric, and should we move to another rental, having some or all of the repairs and utilities covered by the landlord will be our goal to help us save money.
Is that going to buy us a palace? No. But will it buy us a decent house? I'm quite confident it will as I don't see the housing market rebounding enough in the next 6-10 years to make house prices go up significantly. And since Abi and I would like a little bit of land, and taking into consideration that without other debt payments we could afford to live further from the city and thus deal with lower property taxes, we could end up with a very nice place with such an amount. And that amount doesn't factor in what Abi makes in a year, which currently goes almost entirely to help our debt payoff and could later be applied to saving for a house and would easily cover many unexpected situations.
Would such an approach require sacrifice? Absolutely, depending on what you consider a sacrifice. I haven't had TV service since before we got married, and we do just fine without it. We share a cell phone plan with three of Abi's siblings, so our cost there is lower than when it was just the two of us (and we're getting a bit higher of a package). Abi does a lot of couponing, and while she isn't going to make it on an episode of "Extreme Couponing," her work in this area allows us to generally spend less than $120/month on food, and we still get to treat ourselves more frequently than you would expect. But some luxuries will have to be done without. And of course, waiting to buy a house could very well mean that many houses we could afford and would even like will come and go, though if we're saving for a house and not actively looking, it's not like we'd be totally aware of this. We would, however, see friends and family buying houses and we'd feel the pull to have one of our own.
But will there be a reward? Absolutely! Home-ownership without the debt. A close-knit family from living in tighter quarters. The satisfaction of knowing we did something that most are unwilling to do. And, I firmly believe, the blessing of God for being wise with the money He has given to us in not putting ourselves into debt for something that isn't going to last forever anyway.