• Laurie Zokoe Team

"I Bought a House Without a Full Time Job."

On Sept. 1, 2016, my lifelong dream came true: I bought a house. With land. And apple trees. And a pond.

And I did it without a full-time job.

As proud as I am of this accomplishment, I still can't believe it really happened. Even while curled up next to the cozy fireplace in this house, 80 miles north of New York City, I've wondered to myself, “Don’t they know I don’t have a job?”

Granted, I do work, as a freelance writer. Still, my hopes for home buying weren't high due to my lack of a regular paycheck. I knew that most lenders, not surprisingly, prefer mortgage applicants with full-time jobs. Why would they trust little ol' me, when my income could disappear any day?

I also have a boyfriend, Thaddeus, with whom I rent an apartment in Brooklyn, NY, where we live with our infant daughter. But I knew I'd never be able to afford to buy a home in Brooklyn, so that's when I started looking to purchase a house where we could spend weekends upstate, where prices were cheaper.

I applied for this mortgage on my own. Thaddeus had a low income at the time, so we chose not to include him on the application. Pretty much everything, from the down payment to the paperwork, was all on me.

So how did I do it? Easy. Well, not easy exactly, but entirely doable.

I got pre-approved

The first step toward homeownership that I took in early 2015 was getting pre-approved for a loan with my credit union, just to see if buying a house would even be possible. To my surprise, my credit union gave me the green light.

One reason this pre-approval process went so smoothly might have to do with where I'd decided to apply. Rather than going to a big national bank, I applied at my credit union.

These financial institutions are more likely to lend to buyers who don’t fit the typical mold, according to Curt Long, director of research and chief economist for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.

Another benefit of pre-approval is that the credit union told me exactly how much money it was willing to give me—which helped me target homes in my price range as I pored over real estate listings looking for just the

right place.

I hunted for a bargain home

When I began the home search, I spent hours every night browsing rural and lake areas within two hours' drive from the city. However, I noticed that once I expanded my search beyond that range, the prices dropped, so I started focusing my search farther out.

Hedgehog Lodge, located in the western Catskills, was the first house we went to visit in person, in August 2015. It came with its own name, and the listing described it as having "storybook energy."

Two things happened as soon as we arrived: Our Labrador mix, Addie, plopped into the pond on the property and merrily began paddling around, and a man stopped his car to ask if we had seen a llama come by this way, because his had escaped.

We liked this place. It was cozy and wood-paneled with a darling vintage kitchen, as well as three bedrooms, new bathrooms, and a fireplace. But you can't buy the first house you look at, right? So we kept looking at other places on weekend trips that fall. We didn't see anything we liked more, and we decided to give Hedgehog another visit, in January 2016. It didn't just check off all the boxes of what we wanted, it also had a special quality. In February, we made an offer.

Best of all? It was cheap, with a closing price of just over $139,000. This worked in my favor with the mortgage, since it's far easier to get a small loan than a big one.

I got my mortgage at a small, local bank

Once I'd found my dream home and embarked on the purchase process in earnest, I decided against getting my loan from my credit union. The reason: It lacked a local brick-and-mortar office (I do all my banking online), and my lawyer warned me that this would complicate matters greatly at closing.

So instead, I financed my loan through a small, local bank. Similar to credit unions, small banks might be more willing to work with a mortgage candidate who doesn’t fit the traditional profile.

I showed a solid work history

Although I was technically a freelancer at the time I applied for the mortgage, I’d been working full time on a contract job at an ad agency for about half a year. So, my lender saw a steady income depositing in my accounts, and it was good. In addition to my credit union statements, the lender required a letter from my client detailing my contractual work, plus canceled rent checks and utility bills.

I had significant savings

At the time I'd applied for my loan, I also had impressive savings, largely due to my frugal lifestyle. For instance, I was driving a free hand-me-down car and rarely ate out. This helped me amass that respectable 20% down payment that lenders love to see.

I had gotten rid of my debt and had excellent


Make no mistake: I once had debt—of the credit card, high-APR sort that grew and expanded during my leaner years right along with a crippling sense of dread (#neverforget). But I was able to attack this debt by taking out a $10,000 loan from my credit union in spring 2012. From there, I set up automatic payments to aggressively pay it off for good.

A year later, I was debt-free and my credit score was excellent, more factors that made me look good to a lender.

This is not to say that buying a home was easy. It turns out, our home closing took longer than average, partly because our 3 acres of land had to be parceled off from the property's original 18 acres, so it had to be surveyed, then the survey had to be approved by the town, which we were told would happen at either June's meeting or July's meeting. For the next seven months, we remained on edge through each step of the mortgage application and purchasing process.

Then on September 1, it finally happened: Hedgehog Lodge was ours.

So if you’re a freelance or contract worker with homeownership dreams, think about what your financials will look like to the lender, and consider what can be improved. Then start making moves toward the goal. Yes, it will probably take years, but one day you, too, will move into a place you can truly call your own.

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