Guest Contribution: Why We Bought a Home

Nikki Usher
Our new home in suburban Washington, D.C. was love at first sight.

The all-important spring selling season is under way, and there’s optimism that the results will be better this year. Of course, that depends on convincing buyers to take the plunge. One buyer explains her decision. – Developments

By Nikki Usher

My wife and I have moved six times in seven years. Three of those times have been cross country. We’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., and have gotten used to paying the same rent for varying sizes and spaces depending on the city.

But just before Martin Luther King Day, on a morning run, we realized this: We were in D.C. for good. And if we kept paying rent, we’d never save for a house.

In every city we’ve lived in over the past seven years, home ownership looked like a feat only accomplished by, well, at least the 5%. But we figured we’d try this time. We were sick of apartment living: each rent check was going into our building for amenities we never used.

There was a catch, though: We couldn’t reach the 20% down payment many lenders require these days.

Then we got an idea. It turns out my tennis friend also happened to be a real-estate agent. Over drinks, we started dreaming a little bit, and talked about the type of house we’d want. Then he referred us to his “mortgage guy.”

After looking at our finances, we realized we were the perfect candidates for a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration. This meant a 3.5% down payment instead of 20%. Today’s low mortgage rates also helped everything pencil out.

So we started looking in our price range, which was between $400,000 to $600,000. We wanted good public schools, access to the outdoors, a good commute into D.C. and room for kayaks (seriously). Our dream house would be somewhere in Bethesda, Md., the home of the greatest school district in the world, or so it seemed to us.

The first few homes we looked at in our price range were totally disappointing. One fixer-upper had dog poop on the screen door. Another had two bathrooms, but they were attached to each other (literally, you could be on the toilet adjacent to your spouse and have conversations through the shower). We looked at town homes in North Bethesda close to the Metro, but they reminded us of suburban sprawl. Where would we jog?

We were lucky enough to find a three-bedroom town house in a lovely little community of 1,600 residents called Cabin John, Md. To our delight, middle- and high school-aged children in the town attend Bethesda public schools.

The 1,800-square-foot home is nestled a few blocks from the Potomac River and the C&O towpath, has three full floors, and yes, a garage space for kayaks. It was love at first sight.

We hadn’t intended to buy a town house. And the commute and lack of a nearby Metro stop aren’t perfect. But the woods in the back of our house, the ability to make a down payment without feeling totally out of cash, and the ability to write a mortgage check for the same amount as our rent check makes us so happy.

Nikki Usher is an assistant professor at George Washington University’s School for Media and Public Affairs.

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