When Jake and Maricella Bowman got hitched in 2012, their mid-twenties newlywed life seemed like the very picture of South Texas marital bliss. He, a local math teacher, spent his days teaching the joys of algebra, while she worked from home as a graphic designer, flexing her creative muscles on various freelance projects (with the loving support of their dog Banksy, of course).
Both longtime (and enthusiastic) San Antonio residents, Jake and Mari had always known they wanted to settle in the Alamo City. “When we got married, we knew we wanted to stay here,” Mari explained to us over a cup of coffee at a local shop. “But we didn’t feel ready to buy quite yet. We were still paying off the last of our student debt, and the thought of a down payment was way too daunting. We figured we’d rent for at least five to ten years before finally settling down on a more permanent location.”
The two took up residence at a rental property in the Balcones Heights neighborhood (in Central West San Antonio), fans of the area’s affordability, culture, and taco scene. However, with the impending threat of rising rent prices and a less-than-stellar landlord experience, the two were all but fed up with the whole leasing game.
“We still didn’t really think buying was a valid option for our finances...but we also didn’t feel like we could stomach another year of being that frustrated every single month. We were sitting at dinner talking about it one day, and we just said, ‘Let’s just do a Google search. Just to see what’s out there.’” A few keystrokes later, the Bowmans were intrigued to find a housing inventory that came way closer to matching their budget than they ever imagined. Almost suspicious about the whole thing, the two began obsessively researching on their own time, Jake diving into mortgage information and Mari combing through listings with detective-like precision.
“It was almost hilarious,” Mari admitted. “We felt like we were either cheating the system somehow or that we were going to find out it was one big hoax. Like Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out of the bushes and shout, ‘Psych! You suckers can’t afford a house. What were you thinking?’...but as we dove further and further into [the process], we just kind of kept looking at each other like, ‘Babe, we can really do this!’”
Finally, as their lease was nearing its end, the two felt reality set in: they were in a time crunch. After nearly six months of research and conversations, they finally sprang into a flurry of real-estate-flavored activity. They contacted an agent, got set up with a lender, and officially began the process of touring open houses, accruing their finances for a respectable down payment, and (as Mari put it), “trying to make a convincing case that we were ‘real grown-ups.’”
Fast forward several months, and we think the results speak for themselves: the Bowmans are now proud homeowners in the Tobin Hill neighborhood, having successfully navigated the homebuying process (with the help o fan agent) and thereby completing perhaps the most advanced form of “adulting.”
Image Courtesy of KUT.org
As daunting as the process was at first glance, the two expressed a real sense of empowerment having navigated it successfully (despite a few bumps along the way). “We were surprised to discover what we really wanted in a home. I think the hardest part was narrowing down our priorities...after that, we just had to stick to our guns and remember not to let our eyes get bigger than our wallets.”
Curious what else the Bowmans had to say about the homebuying process? Although they weren’t comfortable showing the entire Internet a photo of their new house, they were more than willing to sit down and share some valuable insights!
“What were you looking for in a house?”
As a generation iconic for changing the status quo, Millennials have been re-shaping the typical “dream house” into something all their own. Rather than sprawling square footage in suburban paradise, many twenty and thirty-somethings are seeking a modest-sized, mid-century house with a yard, located in an active community.
1. Outdoor Space
“We wanted outdoor space for Banksy,” said Mari, referring to their giant, fluffy dog. “I can’t stand the thought of him cooped up in an apartment or condo all day. We wanted somewhere he could stretch his legs and run around.” Surprisingly, this isn’t an uncommon reason for Millennials to own a home. According to one study, “more space for a furry friend” ranked in the top three reasons Millennials choose to settle down!
2. An Open Floor Plan
“We honestly aren’t sure what the future is going to bring,” Mari explained. “We know we want to stay in San Antonio, but that’s about all we know for sure. We could have kids, we could not. We could start hosting dinner parties or take up a new hobby. I guess an open floor plan seemed more flexible. We can use the space in so many different ways as our needs evolve.”
3. Affordability (Duh)
Jake and Mari weren’t alone in citing “student debt” as the top reason for renting over buying. In fact, student debt tops the list of obstacles in the way of Millennials buying a home of their own, delayed saving for a downpayment for a median of four years. That being said, the Bowman’s budget was boosted considerably by the options they found when consulting a lender. “When we found out we didn’t have to put down the typical 20%, we were thrilled,” she said. “We know there are fees involved, but it was worth it to us to go for it.” Thankfully, plenty of neighborhoods in San Antonio have price ranges that fit the first-time-buyer budget!
4. A Home Office
“I work from home most of the week, which means that a viable ‘home office’ space was a vital part of our ‘must-have list,’” explained Mari. “I wanted either an extra bedroom or multi-use room that was far enough from the common space to work without distraction...I was actually surprised how picky I got with the whole ‘office’ thing. But the house we went with had the perfect space for my desk!”
5. The Right Neighborhood
Like most buyers, “location” was one of the most important factors in the home buying decision. But just what did the Bowmans want in a neighborhood? Besides an accessible location, “character” was actually the main quality they were seeking. “We didn’t really want a ‘cookie cutter’ neighborhood. We like houses with character and a community that actually cares about what’s going on in the area.” For this reason, their search mainly focused their search on neighborhoods like Dignowity Hill and Tobin Hill, more Central areas (that weren’t Downtown) with a community-focused atmosphere.
6. Great Design
“I’m a designer,” Mari explained. “So naturally, aesthetics are a big part of the way I evaluate spaces. I was drawn to houses with a lot of natural light and windows...We knew we could paint or decorate however we wanted once we owned it, so I tried to find houses with a great base layer of design.”
Our conversation with Mari was illuminating, to say the least. As a member of that elusive Millennial homeowner demographic, her insight was invaluable to understand the mind of the modern buyer! As more and more Millennials transition from renting to buying (33% of this generation plans to buy a home in the next four to five years!), this process will become something of a standard.
The Bowmans discovered that buying was more achievable than they ever thought possible. Could you be in the same boat? We’d love to help you discover your options. We’ll connect you with a lender to see what you can afford (Hint: it may be more than you think!), download our exclusive Buyer’s Guide (with important insights and tips specific to San Antonio), and contact an expert agent to get started.