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On Being a Renter to Becoming a Real Estate Investor

I grew up in one of the buildings in Saint Nicholas Houses, in Harlem. “Saint Nick” was recently named as the most dangerous public housing in Manhattan. My sisters and I turned out just fine contrary to the statistics and the outlook. Each of us is a homeowner.

My grandfather, who raised me, grew up in a home in Roper, NC yet, when he had his family, they did not. Throughout his two marriages, he rented in New York City. I’m sure it had something to do with his decision to migrate from North Carolina to Harlem when he was a young adult. I often wondered if he ever had dreams of his family owning a home or his progeny. He never talked about it. He did admonish his three granddaughters to “stick together” which is what we did - through homeownership. We are founding members of the unofficial, “Harry’s Homeowner Club.”

I have rented all of my adult life, up until 2014. I’ve lived in a studio in downtown Nashville, a townhouse in a Nashville suburb, a farmhouse in Nebraska and a single-family home in Cincinnati. Yet, it wasn’t until someone from a local credit union came to talk to me and my colleagues about their various programs including a home buying program called Smart Money, that my interest piqued. For just $50 that could be deducted from my check each month and my agreement to attend weekly classes, I could be on my way to being a first-time homeowner.

By the time I was nearing the end of taking the classes, we received word that the program was closing. Around the same time, the Neighborhood Lift program had come to Cincinnati. My husband and I talked it over and considered it to be the right next step. This program granted me a forgivable loan of $15,000 toward the purchase price of my home and the Smart Money program had matched my contributions to nearly eight to one because many of the participants were not at the point of purchasing their home before their program ended allowing me to maximize the funds available. I received a check from the title company during the closing! Also, the bank I had chosen to handle my mortgage was not Wells Fargo Bank who was a major sponsor of the Neighborhood Lift program, but another bank who only required a $500 check in earnest funds to begin the mortgage loan process. The final part of the home buying program was that I had to complete the Smart Money learning through another organization so I completed the required program, Working In Neighborhoods.. It was a huge eye-opener to learn about the way banks and realtors, inspectors, lawyers, the sellers, the government, all play a part in homeownership. I received the highly coveted certificate that allowed me to qualify for no down payment options at the closing as a first time home buyer.

Here are some incredible takeaways I learned through my first home buying experience in 2014:

Lean into positive programs and supportive people available to you. I enjoyed working with organizations like Smart Money and Working In Neighborhoods. It also led me to volunteer at CityLink in their Relationship Building series where I was able to train the trainers. I got a better grasp of what the organization does to wrap itself around a person needing a comprehensive and one-stop level of support.

Stay the course; you never know how the situation can change to further benefit you and your situation. As in the case when the Smart Money program ended while many people were not quite ready to purchase their homes, things can go south, so consider it a lesson learned. I was fortunate and I didn’t take that lightly.

Improve your credit. As a business administration major at Fisk University, I took several business classes but none could prepare me for the real-life aspect of understanding how credit actually worked. In the world of unmanaged credit, a free T-shirt giveaway could cost you $30,000! As a student, predatory credit lending companies would set up their tables and give away shiny inexpensive items in exchange for a completed credit application. If you didn’t already have the education around how credit worked, you would find yourself owning several thousand dollars and filing bankruptcy for a bought lesson. There are several financial experts who can guide you toward a path of credit literacy. Take the time to educate yourself.

Manage your finances in order to elect for automatic deposits wherever possible. When I opened my Smart Money account to begin saving for my first home, I also opened a credit union account. This account withdrew the $50 per month automatically so I wouldn’t have to put a single ounce of emotion into the decision. It was out of sight and therefore out of mind. Cement your financial goals by setting up automatic deposits, assessing the status, and making sound decisions. These funds can go toward down payments, emergency funds, or other accounts.

Decide what you want to do in the long game after you achieve our big goal of owning your first home. Is it to pay it off early? Pay off debts with high-interest rates? Invest in real estate and other local businesses or equity vehicles. Important questions like these will help you set and achieve goals in sequential and sometimes exponential ways.

Learn as you go. Life is an excellent teacher. Decide on what you want to learn around homeownership and begin taking notes, reading or viewing key learning materials, or acquiring a learning partner who shares similar goals as you

Bring others along and notice people with similar interests. Surround yourself with like-minded people who may be able to introduce you to future opportunities and conditions. Also, be open to sharing what you have learned along the way. You may surprise yourself as you discover the very thing you know right now, someone else needs to know right now.

Advocate for people looking for affordable housing or some aspect of the housing industry. After reading an article in the NYT’s magazine about how big corporations are buying up single-family residences in major markets across the country with taxpayer’s dollars (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans) leaving renters in a lurch, I was compelled to invest locally and be available for good tenants who in many cases, just needed a break. I also read in the Enquirer how Cincinnati is a city of renters for people living in poverty and how the housing trap can be a vicious cycle that is hard to climb out of. These stories have fueled my passion for being a part of the affordable housing solution.

Develop a network of home and real estate service providers and specialists. In my professional coaching practice, we often help people to develop their own “Team 100.” This is a team of knowledgeable professionals in key areas that you would be glad to have at your fingertips. You never know when you will need a reliable plumber, roofer or HVAC specialist.

Share your experiences. Your story as it is now can be valued and welcomed in a chat room, in a vlog or blog, interview or article. There will always be people interested in aspects of homeownership. You can even submit your story to a book project!

L. Danyetta Najoli is a homeowner of six years and is a budding real estate investor in Cincinnati, OH. She lives on the West Side with her husband and two children.

Source: The Great Wall Street Housing Grab New York Times Magazine March 6, 2020 p. 30

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