20-Something Reveals What It's Really Like House-Hunting In NYC

Natalie Morgan* isn’t your average millennial.

At 28 years old, the Queens, N.Y. native is single, childless and gainfully employed as a budget analyst.

And this month, after years of slaving and saving, she will put a downpayment on her first home, a one-bedroom apartment in a co-op building in her hometown.

Morgan is one in a surge of single women who have been leading the charge into the housing recovery, making up 21% of all home purchases in June — double that of single men, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“I’m not a super anxious person by nature, and I never had anxiety until this process,” Morgan told Business Insider. “Waiting to hear from CPAs and lawyers and wondering if I should take a place or not … I feel like this is something I should be very proud of.”

We’ve been following Morgan on her house hunt over the last couple of months. Here’s what she told us about being a young, single buyer in one of the toughest real estate market in the country:

BI: You don’t have a lot of real estate experience. Where did you even begin to look for a home?
NM: I started in December 2012, just by going to open houses I found on Zillow or Realtor.com. I met my realtor at an open house, actually. At the time, I just wanted to see what was out there. I knew I wanted to buy, but I needed to know what I could afford with my money. A lot of it was also talking to other people who’ve bought homes, like my sister and brother-in-law.

BI: Did you enjoy using a realtor or was it just a necessary evil?

NM: From the moment a new listing would hit the market that he thought I’d like, he would send it to me. I would say I saw a good 30 to 40 apartments. Usually, we did weekend trips in the morning and it’d just be us in his car driving around. He was only pushy if he thought there was a glimmer of hope that I might like it. He spent enough time with me to know my personality and how to gauge me.

BI: You probably had a lot of competition from other buyers. What was the bidding process like?

NM: In all, I put in bids on three different co-op buildings. The first place I put a bid on, I was outbid. And the second place, my bid was accepted but it fell apart after I looked at the building’s financials. My dad’s friend is a CPA, so I sent him the paperwork and he pointed out some issues. Even from my perspective as a budget analyst, I could tell the building owners didn’t have much capital on hand. It looked like their assets could not cover their liabilities. I passed.

BI: Did you ever feel like you were being treated differently as a young, female buyer?

NM: The third place I bid on [I wanted it] but the seller was kind of douchey. I didn’t get nearly as many personal questions about my financials from other sellers as I did from this guy. He wanted to see what was in my savings account, my checking account, those types of things. And he would tell my lawyer he didn’t know if I had enough to afford it. For me, being a single person trying to buy something, that was really annoying. I’ve spent too long keeping my financials in check to have someone who didn’t even know me question me. The more information you give them, they more they can be like, oh, she can afford more. And I was still in a bidding war, so every time he saw [more of my financials], he kept increasing what he wanted.

BI: In the end, you won the bid.

NM: I put down 30% but that’s only because my co-op requested that only 70% could be financed. Other places typically requested 20%. I didn’t mind because it makes my mortgage cheaper. The contract has been executed. Now, it’s getting my loan application approved by the lender. I have 45 days from that point to get a loan commitment letter. That could take up to three months.

BI: What was your strategy for saving up to buy an apartment?

NM: After grad school (2009), I made a choice to move back home with my parents. I was lucky in that way. And they always raised me to be super frugal. The trick is to live like you’re always a poor college student, I found. I’m not really a big spender, though I do like to travel. I always ask ‘Do I need this?’ versus ‘Do I want this?’ And I didn’t want to be broke after I bought this [apartment]. I wanted to still have at least three to six months worth of my salary in savings. I set up my paycheck to just put money in my savings and IRA automatically. I didn’t even miss it.

BI: Speaking of your parents … have you told them you’re moving out yet?

NM: (Laughs) No. My mum is very traditional. She’ll find out later on. I looped my dad in after they accepted my bid on the last place. He’s done a lot with real estate and fixing up places to rent, and I wanted him to see if there were any structural things in the apartment I should note in the contract. He seemed OK with it.

BI: Any unexpected costs you encountered along the way?

NM: Maintenance fees. Property taxes. I think people forget they have to buy homeowner’s insurance. Those costs have to be factored in. I think I was amazed at how much it takes a co-op board to look at me and decide whether I’m a good candidate. And now that I’m looking for a mortgage, closing cost fees are coming up and those range from $2,000 to $10,000.

BI: How did you go about loan shopping?

NM: I wanted to move quickly so I could take advantage of the low rates. I just put in a loan application and was pre-approved. I started by looking at Bankrate.com, HSH.com, and Zillow because they have price shoppers for mortgages. And then I’d go into local banks in my area on my lunch hour to compare.

BI: You’re going to be a single woman dating New York men your age who probably can’t even dream of buying an apartment. Are you worried about that getting in the way?

LY: That’s something my mother has raised concerns about in the past. But I feel like it’s something I should feel very proud of. [As far as dating goes] it’ll just be trying to manage egos.

BI: How long-term are you thinking you’ll stay there?

LY: I think right now I’m buying more as an investment. Realistically, I don’t think I’d fit a family of four in there. Depending on when that happens, I’d probably plan on staying here for the next three to five years maybe.

*Because “Natalie” is still under review by her co-op board, she has requested that we change her name. 

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