Before tackling mortgage interest rates, home maintenance costs and utilities, every home buyer must first gather the funds for a mortgage loan down payment. The typical mortgage lifespan lasts 15 to 30 years, but for most house hunters looking to secure a home loan, those terms sound more like the amount of time it takes to save for a down payment. And the research is there to prove it.
“It takes an average of 12.5 years to save up a 20 percent down payment — the usual requirement by banks — with the current personal savings rate of 5.6 percent,” wrote columnist Quentin Fottrell of MarketWatch, citing statistics by real estate firm RealtyTrac. According to Fottrell, it might take even longer to save up for that elusive 20 percent down, since the new findings don’t consider future rises in home prices.
Saving up enough money to put down on a house doesn’t have to take forever, though. We spoke to two homeowners who subverted these financial odds and produced their own mortgage down payments in less than a year.
$30,000 Mortgage Down Payment in 9 Months
Chris Crook saved up for his first-time home purchase following four frugal strategies.
Understanding the challenges of saving for a mortgage while renting, Crook cut down on his day-to-day expenses, like subscribing to Netflix instead of paying a monthly cable bill. He said he split the rent with a roommate to further funnel money into his mortgage savings. Crook also used the money he saved while in college to buy a used car instead of a new vehicle. Choosing a fuel-efficient hybrid model also saved him money on gas. The money he would have spent on a new car payment went towards his mortgage down payment instead.
“My expenses were incredibly low,” he said. “Anything I made, I put directly in the bank.”
Being a salesman also gave Crook the ability to save money for the down payment. “With my job, one nice thing about it was traveling cut my expenses,” he said. His gas, meals and lodging were reimbursed. Being away from home for extended periods of time also meant his utility bills were usually cheaper.
Keeping up this routine for nine months, Crook managed to save $30,000, which he used as a 10 percent mortgage down payment on a $300,000 condominium with a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage. The financial milestone led him to start his own financial independence website, InvestingIsland.com. Crook is using the same savings methods to invest in three rental properties.
$30,000 Mortgage Down Payment in 5 Months
Louis Altman’s mortgage down payment strategy is a classic example of hard work paying off. In just five months, Altman generated enough overtime pay for he and his wife to afford $30,000 down on a $48,000 renovation property.
At the time, Altman worked as a phone representative for a mutual fund. During the tax season, “there were some weeks when my income was almost double what it normally would be,” he said. Altman ended up earning $10,000 in extra pay, which “was a little more than 20 percent of the $48,000 needed to buy a foreclosure. We gutted it to the studs, rebuilt it and sold it five years later for triple what we paid.” He used those earnings to purchase future homes with 80/20 mortgage loans requiring no mortgage down payments.
Altman performed most of his home’s renovations himself, saving thousands of dollars in hiring someone else to do them. Reaching the end goal wasn’t without its financial sacrifices, though. “If you’re going to make the commitment to do that, your life will be kind of unpleasant for a while,” said Altman. “We cut our expenses, we didn’t eat out at all — we didn’t do anything. The bare basics were: food, car payments, stuff to live. Every penny went into that account.”
Altman’s advice to people looking to save money for a mortgage down payment is to stick with their plans. “It can get monotonous and frustrating and boring,” he said, “but when you know there’s a path at the end, you just put your head down, and your shoulders up, and you just go.”
Start Small and Build Big
Saving for a home shouldn’t exclude knowing what you can afford. In the fourth quarter of 2014, the median single-family home price in the U.S. was $208,700, according to the National Association of Realtors. A sharp increase of 6 percent from the year prior, a 20 percent mortgage down payment on a home of that value would mean saving nearly $42,000, a price tag unattainable for most first-time home buyers.
To help your savings along, think about some of these financial tips:
- Check into your IRA. According to Robert Berger of U.S. News & World Report, you can withdraw up to $10,000 for a first home purchase without the standard fees.
- Downsize your living arrangements. Or, see if living with family or friends can help divert your rent expenses into a mortgage savings fund.
- Get rid of clutter. Sometimes selling or auctioning unwanted clothing or belongings can produce a sizable savings.
- Keep track of your spending. Berger suggests using websites such as Mint.com to better manage, streamline and budget your finances, and to cut down on unnecessary spending.
- Always keep some money invested in a high-interest savings account. The money you put in a CD or another deposit product can earn dividends just for being in the bank.
Photo credit: Matthew Hurst