Home, sweet home

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For more than a decade, the blogger known as Da Vinci, founder of YourLifeAfter25.com, bounced from apartment to apartment, year after year. Sometimes, those moves were her decision, like when the long-time Atlanta resident moved to Jacksonville, Florida, for a year to be closer to her family while she dealt with health issues. But just as often, she didn’t feel like she had much choice.

“No matter how much I liked a place when I moved in, when it came time to renew the lease there’s this sense of being powerless,” she says. One landlord raised the rent so much that it made more financial sense to just move. Another apartment complex came under new management while she lived there, and the new owners let things fall into such disrepair that the health inspector had to be called in.

Two years ago, frustrated that she was going to be moving yet again, the then-29-year-old had a breakthrough. “I think for a lot of young adults, homeownership seems really unattainable, but I had this ‘aha moment’ where I realized if I planned right, I could make it happen,” she says.

Patience was the cornerstone of her goal to buy a home. “My plan wasn’t about going out the next day and buying a house, but changing my mindset so I could make it happen when the time was right,” she says.

Da Vinci crunched the numbers and identified three key ways she could keep her monthly mortgage payments roughly the same as her current $1,000 rent. She needed to limit her search to condos and townhomes rather than pricier single-family homes, save 20 percent for a down payment to lower her mortgage payments and avoid mortgage insurance, and raise her credit score to secure a lower mortgage interest rate.

Though Da Vinci had always been a stickler about paying her credit card bills on time, she knew she needed to chip away at her balances to raise her credit score of 640. (Credit utilization—or the ratio of debt to available credit—makes up about 30 percent of your FICO score.)1 So, she sat down and really scrutinized where her money was going and how she could reduce or cut areas of her spending.

“I knew I was spending $10 here, $20 there, but when I added it up, I thought: ‘Oh man, I spent $400 on eating out this month,’” she says. She worked to cut that amount in half and put the extra money toward debt repayment. “Instead of thinking, ‘What sounds good tonight? Maybe I’ll order some Chinese,’ I started to think about what I could pay off instead,” she says. Less than a year later, her debt had dwindled enough that her credit score surpassed 700.

Da Vinci is devoted to sticking to her strong financial habits—she expects her savings to increase for a down payment and her credit score to hit 740 by the time she buys a home in 2018. She also started learning the local real estate market and researching mortgage brokers and local programs that can assist first-time homebuyers.

“I just renewed my apartment lease—for the first time in my entire life,” she says. “And I’m so excited because I know this is the last lease I’ll have to sign. That stability I’ve been after is finally within reach.”

1 “Amounts owed,” 2017, myFICO

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