Back in 2002 there was a fire that managed to wipe out everything I had in storage. That was a horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyway, but there was a silver lining – the insurance check pulled me all the way out of eight years of accumulated college and credit card debt.
Oksana and I married a few months later, but it took us quite awhile before we got her INS paperwork sorted out. Eventually, she received her temporary green card and (coincidentally on the same day) was offered a decent-paying job. The intervening six months, where I was the only one working, weren’t that bad. I’d trade having a single-income family over a pile of minimum interest payments any day.
Very quickly the benefits of a dual-income, debt-free, children-absent family were realized. Around our first anniversary in August, after Oksana and I had figured out how to manage our money with (seriously) five bank accounts, we sat down to talk about creating a savings goal for the end of the year. $5,000 seemed attainable.
We went on vacation for three weeks at the end of August and we still managed to aggressively save that five grand by mid-October. The rest of the year was tight, with Oksana going to Russia for a month and me going to Cuba, but come the New Year, we were both quite happy to still have our first savings.
We set a new goal for ourselves in 2004. It became apparent very quickly that we’d again hit out goal sooner than expected. It was then that Oksana and I started to flirt with the idea of buying a house. Spurred by relative easy with which a few of our friends were able to leave the rental market behind, we decided to take a cautious approach to checking out the Juneau market.
Buying a house is a “big deal” to me because I think it closes as many doors as it opens. Oksana is definitely the motivating factor on this one. While I agree it would be nice to control our own destiny in our own place, dropping the kind of money it takes to pay for just the house’s down payment is scary. Hey, I just got out of debt; I’m not looking forward to climbing a 30-year hill.
On the advice of our home-owning friends, Oksana and I decided to learn as much as we could before parting with our brand new savings (and all our savings for the next few decades). In February we signed up, online, for a two-night class for new homeowners offered by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC). Taking the subject matter seriously, I went online before the class was scheduled to begin and downloaded the entire workbook as a .pdf. I read the whole thing in the week before the class began.
Shouldn’t have. The class was offered from 6pm-10pm on Monday and Tuesday evening in February. It would have been hard enough to pay attention to the instructor going over a rote PowerPoint presentation for four hours each night. Since I already knew the information, it was practically impossible. Besides some good tips for home improvements and how to knock a point or two off the mortgage loan, I didn’t learn anything more than what was in the text.
The class wasn’t a waste of time, though. Our friends, Mike and Leah, took the class with us and we all received certificates of completion that will eventually knock $250 off our bank’s closing costs. Break it down: That’s $31.25 an hour. Sounds like a good use of time, I guess, until you realize that the rest of the closing costs are still going to be around $10,000.
That same week, we followed up on the AHFC representative’s suggestions. I got online and paid for a three-bureau credit report for both Oksana and I – we both came out squeaky clean. The next step was to talk to our bank about getting pre-approved for a home mortgage. Thursday afternoon, at lunch, Oksana and I dropped by to ask a few questions and to get the thick packet of paperwork we’d need to fill out. That same evening, I filled out a standard, five-page form while Oksana made copies of all our official paperwork – bank records, tax returns, rental agreements, pay stubs, etc.
Oksana works just a block away from our bank’s loan office, so early Friday morning she skipped out to deliver our stack of paperwork. As she left, our mortgage officer promised to have the results by the end of the day. True to his word, he surprised Oksana by stopping by her office on his lunch break, just a few hours later. He didn’t have time to sit down with her and go over the details, but he gave her the bottom line.
We’re good for a hell of a lot more money than we ever expected…!