This Marketing VP Swapped NYC for Gainesville, Florida to Afford a $250,000 Two-Bedroom Cottage

 TK.
TK.

How’d You Get That House? speaks to people across the country who are navigating a complicated housing market. Here, a woman in her late 30s who left New York City for Gainesville, Florida and stuck to her budget.

The Buyers
The Buyers

Erin Leigh Patterson, 39, vice president of marketing
Annual salary: between $150,000 to $200,000

The Home
The Home

A two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot cottage in Gainesville, Florida with an attached garage

Initial budget: $300,000

Actual amount spent: $257,000

Down payment: $12,850

Monthly mortgage: $1,800

The Reason for the Move
The Reason for the Move

Erin Leigh moved from a one-bedroom apartment in New York City's Upper West Side to her hometown of Gainesville, Florida.

"I never planned on leaving New York, but after the pandemic it was really different for me. I had the chance to keep my job and be near family so I decided to move back to my hometown.

I was single at the time—it was just me and my dog Poptart—and I wanted to take advantage of the market if I could. The interest rates were still low (it was February 2022), and since I had a chance to save money during COVID while I was living with my parents, I didn't want to "wait" until I had a partner.

I was totally okay with it if buying didn't work out, which I think helped me have patience for the process. I was ready to rent if that was going to be the best option."

The Hunt
The Hunt

"I wanted a two-bedroom, two-bath place that was move-in ready, low maintenance—assurance I wouldn't need to be fixing a lot of things right away—and a space to work since I work from home.

I didn't want to go from a small NYC apartment to some sprawling suburban estate I would have to care for—I don't want to own a lawnmower! I started looking for condos and my realtor convinced me to look in the neighborhood where I ended up buying. The neighborhood had an HOA for a lot of the maintenance, and the lots are small so I'm close to neighbors' houses; I don't feel so isolated, which was a fear of mine.

I only spent one real day looking—though I had been driving around and planning finances for weeks. Also, at that time you had to make an offer basically immediately before the house was off market, so I had to decide quickly which was a good thing for me since I tend to stew on decisions if I'm given too much time.

I had a great realtor (a family friend) who told me about a house in my now-neighborhood going on the market. We went and looked at it and it was definitely my style and the size I wanted. I saw another one on Zillow in the same neighborhood having an open house which I also saw."

The decision
The decision

"I put in an offer on both of the homes I saw—and both offers were actually accepted. That felt wild to me because each house had gotten multiple offers. I ended up choosing the house I found on Zillow because I knew I liked the neighborhood, the list price was a little lower, and it had some updates which I appreciated—a newer roof, new A/C, and a new deck. But it also could use some updates, like new kitchen cabinets and countertops, which meant it cost less."

The financials
The financials

"Before I even started looking, I got approved for a mortgage. I let the lender know how much I wanted my monthly payment to be, including HOA fees, property tax, and mortgage insurance. That let me know my budget was about $300,000. I told my realtor I did not want to look at houses over that amount so I wouldn't be tempted to spend more. I was lucky to be buying in an area and at a time when that was realistic.

Where I bought, you really only need to put five percent down. If you can do 20 percent it's a little better because you can avoid mortgage insurance. However for me, it made more sense to put five percent down and pay the mortgage insurance because the equivalent amount in an investment account can make more money than I would save.

I had money for the down payment because (again!) I am very lucky—I want that to be very clear. Yes, I have worked hard with what I've been given, but I know many people aren't given as much as I was. When the pandemic hit I went to my parents' house to isolate with my family. This was the better option for me than working from home alone in NYC. I acknowledge that my parents are safe people and we get along well, and they had space for me to be comfortable and not everyone has this. I didn't pay rent for an entire year. I was able to save that money which gave me cash to use for the down payment."

The Post-Buy Reality
The Post-Buy Reality

"I did have a situation with the plumbing after I moved in and had to pay $700. If I had been paying a higher mortgage payment, or needed to pay a bigger down payment, I would have been in much worse financial situation when that came up. I also had to buy a new washer and dryer, and a good bit of furniture due to gaining a lot more space than I'd had previously. While I could have afforded a little "more" house, I am glad I stuck with what I really wanted—a smaller mortgage payment.

I love owning my own home. It's fun to know that what I do to it is what I will enjoy—or profit from. I started to do renovations at first and got overwhelmed so decided to revisit that in the future. I also enjoy the fact that I'm not relying on a landlord to possibly change rent year over year. That said, I think renting is a great option for a lot of people and it was for me for many years—I only bought in my late 30s. If I couldn't have comfortably afforded what I have, I would have not bought and would advise the same for anyone thinking about it. Yes, rent can be "sunk cost" but so is property tax. I would always advise to prioritize the type of life you want to live versus "homeownership no matter what."