How I went from paying off nearly $20,000 of debt to homeownership

From $17,000 in debt to homeownership in just three years

My biggest goal for 2019 was to buy a house.

I had even put it on my vision board because I’ve become an ultra hippie in 2019, manifesting all kinds of shit out of thin air. (I also have a gratitude jar. It works.)

But I hadn’t actually planned on looking for a home until the spring once I returned home from my Southeast Asia trip.

Back in December I decided to get the ball rolling anyway, and so  my financial advisor referred me to a mortgage broker she had worked with in the past.

You might remember how I came back from Berlin with $17,000 in debt and was completely lost and my life was up in the air? It was a ton of work (combined with seizing some incredible opportunities that came my way), but I paid off my debt and then started saving dolla bills like the apocalypse was nigh.

If you’re familiar at all with being self-employed, you’ll know how challenging it can be to get aaaaany kind of financing — never mind a freaking mortgage. My broker asked for my last two years of income statements, but since it was December and I hadn’t filed my 2018 taxes yet, I had to submit my 2016 tax info.

2016. The year that I came back from Berlin and was so broke I had to house sit and eat pasta just to get by.

With that info in hand, my broker told me I qualified for a very small mortgage of about $150,000. Basically, enough to buy a cardboard box on the side of Torbay Road.

But I had a few things working for me:

  1. A decent down payment
  2. Excellent credit history (paying down debt is good for ya, who knew?)
  3. Steady employment (I’m technically freelance but Nomadic Matt is my primary employer)

My broker and I agreed it was best for me to file my 2018 taxes to increase my budget, and we’d touch base again in 2019 — but not before he referred me to a real estate agent.

And because I became obsessed with perusing real estate listings in recent months, I decided to look for what was in my budget anyway.

Lucky for me, the market in St. John’s right now is kinda shit. I’ve had two friends sell their homes recently (and relatively quickly), but mostly real estate is going for cheap. However, I was pretty specific about my location (downtown), and I wanted the home to be relatively move-in ready. That’s not easy on a $150k budget.

But a few listings caught my eye, so I arranged with my realtor to view two properties one afternoon in January. I told myself that if these didn’t pan out, I’d wait until May to start looking again.

The first house I viewed was the one I was most excited about. It looked fun and bright, and modern. But as soon as I stepped into the front porch, my heart sank — this wasn’t the house for me, and the real estate pictures were deceiving. The place smelled like mildew, the floors were heavily carpeted, and I counted at least four cats roaming about.

I mean, I kind of expected that for a $165,000 listing. So I went on to the next house pretty well expecting the same thing.

Not so!

The second home was immaculately clean. No carpets, three bedrooms, a nice backyard area with a shed, and plenty of storage. A lot of the stylings were outdated (oh, the floral curtains), but I could tell it was a well-loved place, and likely owned by a couple who had been there for many years.

My adorable kitchen with its sad pantry (may or may not have been eating spoonfuls of Nutella out of that jar). My plan for this: white upper cabinets, navy bottom cabinets, patterned backsplash, faux marble countertops, and a goddamned dishwasher.

That evening I put my offer in, and the owners accepted.

Yes, you read that right. I looked at two houses in one day and by that evening I had submitted an offer and it was accepted.

I mean, in this case the small budget might have actually helped me because it limited my options, but in the best way possible.

I had about two weeks to arrange my financing. During that time, the lenders combed through every detail of my life with a fine-toothed comb. It felt very invasive, but I get it. It’s a small budget but it’s still a large sum of money. I had to submit endless papers, arrange for letters of employment, sign dozens of forms, and then do it all over again. I was a ball of anxiety.

And then my financing deadline came and went and I still didn’t have my letter of approval ready.

That was an awful day. I felt for certain then that the owners would move on; who’d give me a second chance? Their house had already been on the market for awhile, and they had already moved out. For all I knew, someone else might have inquired about the house right after I put in my offer.

Fortunately, the owners agreed to extend until the end of the week. I had a bit more time, and on Thursday, my broker called me in to his office to sign all the papers.

But as most things go with buying a house, everything comes down to the last minute. I went off to my boot camp on Friday at 5:30PM, trying to distract myself from the nail-biting agony of waiting to get my letter of approval, and then halfway through the class my realtor texted me. Approved!

I jumped up and down, shouted, and my fellow boot campers rejoiced with me.

The inspection had been earlier in the day, and much to my delight the problems were very few. It’s an old house, so I had expected some issues — but the bones are good, the roof and windows are new, and overall this place has been thoroughly taken care of.

I literally could not believe how well things were going. I set up my home insurance, met with a lawyer, arranged for my Internet hookup, and set up my heat and light account. ADULTING LIKE A GODDAMNED BOSS!

My closing date with set for February 12th. My lawyer had warned me that it’d probably be late in the day, so I desperately tried to work away while not glancing at the clock every five minutes. At 4PM, I received an email saying that my lawyer was about to go into a meeting, but that the house should be closing in 30 minutes and that his assistant would contact me.

It was like Christmas morning. I’m not joking. Those 30 minutes were AGONIZING, and when I received that email saying “We are closed!” I screamed, jumped up and down, cried a little, and immediately called my mother.

A HOMEOWNER!

My realtor showed up a few minutes later, grinning, and handed me the keys and a giant gift basket. (I have been nibbling on the maple cookies ever since. Thanks Justin!) I immediately went over to my new house just to take that first step inside.

It was the most beautiful thing ever.

Hooray for massive closets!

I could not have found a more perfect place for me. I literally moved one street over from my last dwelling, so there is absolutely zero disruption to my regular routine. I’m still within walking distance to downtown, my gym, my bootcamp studio, the supermarket, and my co-working space. It. Is. Perfect.

My relatives and a few friends helped me move over my few belongings throughout the evening, and I spent my first night there exhausted and bored. (I didn’t have Internet at that point. The agony!) When I woke up the next morning and went downstairs to read, I plunked myself down on the couch and wept with gratitude. I was filled with indescribable joy, and a sense of accomplishment I’ve never felt before. It’s been following me around for the past week.

Also, I’m not gonna lie, buying it ALL ON MY OWN feels like such a damned power move. I am exceptionally proud of this fact.

People are surprised I can do this. As one of my cousins joked, “I thought you were poor?” I might have been “poor,” but I’m good at handling my money. I don’t need a giant house, a car, or furnishings with all the bells and whistles. I paid rent for the past three years so I could save my money. It worked out well.

Now, I should note that I didn’t have enough money for the standard 20% down payment. Instead, my down payment was 5% and I had to get mortgage insurance, which increased my mortgage by about $6,000. That’s a price I wouldn’t have to pay if I had enough for the down payment, but it was worth it in my opinion. Right now the market is very much in the favour of buyers, but there’s no telling for how long that will last. Considering two of my friends sold off their homes so quickly, and considering the economy is optimistic,  I think I did good. The timing is right for me, and I have zero regrets.

After everything that happened last year, having my own piece of solitude and comfort is overwhelming. I purchased a comfortable sectional, an electric fireplace, and some second-hand furniture. Everything else came from all corners of my friends and family circle — as my former roommate said, I literally manifested a house full of furniture, cutlery, dishes, towels, and more. I had several friends helped me move, and my aunt and uncle spent an entire day with me installing my new dryer and setting up my new furniture.

HOME!

I’ve even ended up with an incredible neighbour who dismantled the shed between our houses so I could have my sectional delivered. He has come to check in on me twice now. How lucky am I?

I almost don’t even want to go to Asia anymore. I’m so content in my little dream home, and I’m so excited to start painting and decorating and making it feel more like my own. I’ve bought some houseplants, put out my teapot from Hong Kong and my table runners from Guatemala, and scattered my books around my living room. I’ve been sleeping like an absolute baby. I am, finally, at peace.

(I’m still going to Asia. There’s an extreme cold weather warning for St. John’s tonight. Screw that!)

I realize I live in a place where I’m fortunate enough that real estate isn’t out of control. But if I can do all this on a self-employed income, after absolutely drowning in debt, you probably can too. Also, come visit me. I’ll put the coffee on. (I have a fancy new coffee maker that lets me program my morning brew. WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY!)

  • February 20 2019
    Ali

    Congrats! I’m so happy for you! I bought a condo when I lived in Atlanta, and it was such a strangely wonderful feeling to know it was MINE and I paid for it. I think 2019 is going to be a much better year for you! (And have fun in SEAsia!)
    Ali recently posted…Where to Eat in Paris: Tips from a Foodie

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      I didn’t know you had a condo in Atlanta! Awesome. THANK you, and I very much hope so :)

  • February 20 2019
    Vincent

    wow.. what a lovely read.. had me all emotional. Congratulations. As for the invite… be careful, as we have thought that a few winter months in St John is a “thing” we’d like to do.. :)

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      Hahaha, awww thank you! I’ve already gotten several requests to stay with me, Lol

  • February 20 2019
    LC

    This is great! Congratulations!! It’s a great feeling having your own space – I felt the same way when I left sharehouses for good (even though I don’t own my place – that’s the next goal!). Have fun in SEA, I’m sure it’ll feel even more celebratory now!

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      Thank you! It’ll either be very celebratory, or I’ll be texting my housesitter back home 24/7 with IS EVERYTHING OK?! Hahaha

  • February 21 2019

    Wow… That’s fantastic, Many congratulations Candice! I’m really happy to read your personal experience and I can understand your feelings about your own house. God bless you.
    Phyllis Denton recently posted…Community Guide: City Walk & Central Park

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      Thank you so much, Phyllis! :)

  • February 21 2019

    Congrats girl!!!

    Soo happy for you! I also just recently bought my own place as well. But let me tell you where I live in Barrie Ontario is a tooootally different market.

    I bought my place back in November after searching for over a year. It’s an 850 sq ft condo for $290k. For a fully detached place here you would need like a bare minimum of $350k and that would be a steal.

    It didn’t used to be this way but a couple years ago the market went nuts and for a period of a few months people were offering like $100k over asking without even seeing the place (usually foreign investors). Market has come down since then but man it was super hard. And I know what you mean about the approval process I felt like I was being strip searched. But now I’m here and I love it. I’m glad I took my time and waited and didn’t panic.

    Cheers to the both of us!!

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      YAY!! Go US!!! Hahaha. I really bought this house at the right time, I think. Right now it’s a “buyer’s market” but that all could change soon. I’m still amazed that I got this fantastic little house for such a good deal.

  • February 22 2019
    gracemarieatx

    Congrats Candice!! And having followed you for a bunch of years, I’m so happy to hear your insomnia is gone! Woohoo!

    I really enjoy your blog and your honesty.

    And wow wow at those real estate prices! That’s awesome.

  • February 22 2019
    Martin Byrne

    Congratulations! I was the listing agent for this property. I’m going to share your article with the previous owners. You own a beautiful home! Justin & Lesley worked greatly for you in behind the scenes…extensions were granted because they are great people to work with and kept all sides informed the entire time.

    Real Estate is often deemed a US v’s THEM scenario…realistically everyone has the same goal and the owners were delighted you got the home. Hence the card and bottle of wine from the owners on closing (unless Justin drank it on you before closing!) .

    Your story was brilliant…again congratulations. Should you have any questions about the house reach out to Justin and the previous owners will be happy to help.

    • February 22 2019
      Candice

      Hi Martin! So happy to hear from you, and YES, absolutely share it! Justin and Leslie were phenomenal. Couldn’t be happier with how all this turned out. I DID get the wine from the owners, and the beautiful card, and I was so touched I cried. (Can’t believe I left this part out of the post, haha!) My wonderful neighbour is the father of the former owner, so I hope I get to run into them sometime :) I’m so happy here!

  • February 23 2019

    I am so happy for you! It looks like a beautiful house and it must feel amazing knowing it is yours. You deserve it girl!

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      Thank you!!! :) I’m so very proud of myself!

  • February 24 2019

    What a beautiful read. Congratulations! As someone in the market to buy a new place, you have filled me with hope and excitement (the market in St. John’s sounds much better than in Victoria, but I still have hope).

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      Thanks so much, Tharani! I imagine the market in Western Canada is DRASTICALLY different than over here, lol

  • February 24 2019

    Supremely well done! Our personal philosophy (as home owners) is one thing comes in the door, two things must leave…
    Steve’s friend uses that as an excuse to get him out for a drink.

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      LOL! I love that philosophy. I might have to take it.

  • March 01 2019
    Yvonne

    Congratulations! That is sooo exciting! You are definitely an inspiration to me. I realize there is hope. So happy for you. You rock! Enjoy your new place

    • March 06 2019
      Candice

      Thanks Yvonne!!

  • March 12 2019

    CONGRATS MY FRIEND!

  • April 14 2019
    Marianne

    I’m from California, the Bay Area specifically. I’ve never heard of a 3bedroom/2 bath home with a yard for $150,000. CRAZY! However, the weather looks extremely cold there; that’s a big factor among others.

    Anyway, enjoyed reading your article and congratulations.

  • April 24 2019

    I enjoyed your article as it gives the reader a good overview of real estate financing. I think your last category of internet funding is going to be huge over the next few years. Crowdfunding seems to be growing exponentially.
    Amelia Warner recently posted…Millennials in Arizona: Top Concerns & Tips for Success

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