This article originally appeared in the Heliopolis Spring 2018 magazine and has been reproduced online.
Madison Poché, raised in New Orleans, and Crystalyn Whitaker, Shreveport born and raised, are young professionals and community advocates. Prior to this article they didn’t know the details of the parallels in their lives, but they share a serious commitment to Shreveport: both have recently purchased houses in Highland. The stereotype that Millennials are not buying houses has been ignored by these two unmarried women. Have they done the right thing? How did they manage it?
Whitaker admits that as an artist and public school teacher she was far from knowledgeable about houses and mortgages. “I told the realtor when we sat down that I don’t know anything. My realtor was Holly Roca. She taught me so much and helped me in so many ways.”
Says Poché, “There are so many online resources about homeownership and even local, free seminars. These days, it’s easy to keep an eye on the market in a neighborhood like Highland. Still, my realtor and mortgage lender held my hand through the process.
I couldn’t have made so many high-stakes decisions without working with people whom I trust.”
Whitaker warns, “The upfront costs really shocked me. Down payment. Inspection. Appraisal. So. Much. Money. Before you even actually own the house.”
Poché agrees, “A home is one of the biggest purchases we make, and there are so many little expenses that add up: the deposit, the inspection, a refrigerator, a lawnmower and a garden strimmer. I sew my own curtains, but even fabric is expensive. Also, I didn’t budget for costs after the closing, and I didn’t budget my time and energy. It is a stressful process.”
“I’m an artist, so I mean… come on,” says Whitaker. “Also, it’s centralized so I can drive anywhere fairly quickly and I can walk/bike for many errands.” Poché concurs, “Highland is one of the closest residential neighborhoods to downtown and is one of the most diverse areas we have. It’s really only a 20-minute walk between Centenary College and Fairfield Avenue, and I enjoy having that option to walk or bike to the grocery store rather than driving everywhere.”
Most young people, especially singles, are content to rent. Why did you buy?
Poché answers, “I hope to be able to retire one day and starting to pay down a house loan now ts into that plan. As a Nonprofit Administrator, I hope this slow-and-steady investment strategy will pay off in the long-run.” Says Whitaker, “Mortgage is so much lower than rent. Then the homestead exemption cuts your taxes greatly. It’s much more feasible to own a home than I previously thought.”
About what do you pay for a decent-to-nice house in Highland today?
“Under $100,000 for a renovated, historic home,” says Poché. “For comparison, my twin brother in Houston bought a similar place for about $400,000. That’s difference is wild.” Whitaker says, “100k.
She adds, “I realized that in 2 years, with a low rent of just $500, I’d put $12,000 into something that wasn’t even mine. $12,000! Now imagine had I put that into something with my name on it.”
Yet owning your own house requires more than paying a monthly note.
Whitaker: “Make sure you have at least $3k saved before you start searching. You need it to make those upfront payments. And then you’ll just need it to help move. Also, make sure you really want the home before agreeing to anything. We can rush into things sometimes and not realize exactly what we’re getting into. And, perhaps the most important, make sure you can maintain the home. Maintenance can be astronomical. Be prepared for the unforeseen circumstances. I had a pipe burst and it was $150, which everyone has said is cheap, but that’s still a lot to have to pay out of the blue, as well as [the inconvenience of] not having running water for a couple days.”
Poché also has advice: “Save and save.” Also, “I expect to encounter expensive old-home problems and to be torn between moving and staying in Shreveport, and I imagine other people like me have to weigh similar risks.”
Purchasing is not Always the Golden Grail
Poché noted that buying a home is not always a better financial option than renting.
Realtor Holly Roca has a few words for those considering a purchase over renting: “Nothing quite compares to the feeling of being a homeowner. Having the conversation with a lender can be intimidating, but I say it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid; you may qualify for more incentives, down payment assistance or bond programs all while keeping your monthly note below what you are currently paying in rent. Also, you will qualify for the homestead exemption which is a property tax credit.” Yet, “There are also hidden costs in home ownership such as maintenance and repairs.”
Overall, advises Roca: “The biggest fear in purchasing is trusting your team to make sure you are protected when the process is overwhelming and unknown to many outside of the industry. The 10- day inspection period is usually the nail-biter of the contract-to-close process. Real estate can seem like controlled chaos. Things may come up at the last minute but hidden costs should not. You should have the numbers all laid out for you up front and know exactly what you will need to bring to the closing table before you decide to place an offer.”
The last word is from Poché: “Including Shreveport, I lived in 5 different cities in 5 years; it was exhilarating and exhausting! After testing different ways of life, I appreciate that what Shreveport has to offer – friendly community, cultural experiences, affordable living, a need for advocacy, and a relaxed atmosphere – is a good fit for me” Any positive surprises? “We are literally planting seeds that take years to become a garden.”