Buying a home is no small feat—particularly if you’re in your 20s. Between college debt, measly salaries, and an uncertain economy, it’s no wonder that 20-somethings just aren’t buying homes at the rate of previous generations. But guess what? Plenty of them actually do pull off homeownership—and not because their families foot the bill.
So how do they make it all work out?
To find out, we talked to four people who made their home purchases in their twenties (after the Recession of 2008 to boot). Their stories are full of inspiration and advice that will leave you convinced that, yes, it can happen even for you!
Secret No. 1: Find the bargains by filtering for listing time
When Kara Carrero was 21, she and her husband decided they needed to buy a home for their growing family. But since they were young they knew they’d have to become bargain hunters. Expert bargain hunters, in fact. So they shopped specifically for homes that had been languishing on the market for over a year.
“We targeted undervalued properties by doing a search for listing time,” she recalls.
Their calculus: The longer a home is on the market, the more desperate the home sellers are to unload their place. And they lucked out, buying a fixer-upper within their price range. While it was a little run-down, they’ve since had time to fix things up and the property has appreciated since then. Score!
Secret No. 2: Look for homes off the beaten path
In 2014, Ashley Agler and her husband made a decent income—enough, they figured, to buy a house—but they lacked the cash for a down payment. Their solution?
“We began looking into rural development and loans from the United States Department of Agriculture for people looking to buy in slightly out-of-the-way areas.”
USDA loans allow first-time buyers to purchase a home with no money down, provided the home exists in a qualified rural area and the applicant has a good credit score. After applying through a lending agency, Agler and her husband qualified at the ages of 26 and 27, respectively. Within three months, they’d found a home near where they were renting in Dowagiac, MI, for $94,000.
“It was easy, and we didn’t have to worry about pulling money from our pockets,” says Agler. “If you want to buy a house, don’t let saving money or location stop you; you might just fall in love with a home on the outskirts of town.”
Secret No. 3: Make your moderate salary work for you
At the time she wanted to buy a house, Sarah Gmyr was 28 and working as a teacher. She had heard her low salary might qualify her for down payment assistance, so she started her home hunt by researching programs available in her area.
“I ended up qualifying for a moderate homeowner program in Arlington, VA,” she says.
To meet the requirements, she had to make under a certain salary cap, have good credit, and complete a homeowner course. From there, she entered the lottery that could have lasted months or years, but lo and behold, a mere two months later she got lucky.
“A condo I qualified for was available for $200,000,” she says. She bought the place in 2005. “My advice to young people would be to do your research on programs that are looking to assist first-time or low-income buyers.”
Grants can even be specifically geared for teachers, firefighters, and other professions. Start by checking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website, or look for one of over 2,000 down payment assistance programs to see what’s available near you.
Secret No. 4: Play the long game
In 2012, Jeff Hensel closed on his first home in San Diego at the age of 29. But he had to play the waiting game.
“Homeownership had always been a goal, but with little to no savings after college, I knew it would take time,” he says. “So when I got my first job out of college, I created a reasonable budget for myself. I mapped out my expenses on a spreadsheet and figured out what I would be able to save at the end of each month.”
After two years, he had saved $50,000. So he started viewing properties but couldn’t find anything he liked. Over the next two years, raises at work helped him pad his nest egg, and before long he was able to consider more desirable properties—like a two-bedroom condo he fell in love with and purchased for $229,000.
“I spent four years saving for a down payment and two years looking at properties,” says Hensel. “The bottom line is to stay focused. Sometimes the whole process will take years, not months.”