My Mom Bought a House for the First Time at 60—Here’s Her One Piece of Advice
My mom has lived about nine lives—homecoming queen, basketball star, young mother, odd-job keeper, regional manager, full-time grandma, wife, ex-wife, and, most recently, first-time homeowner at 60 years old.
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After years of being out of the workforce, my mom dove right back in at the beginning of February, getting hired as a salesperson at a national brand furniture store in the Oklahoma City metro area—only to get laid off in March. She was then re-hired in May, and, scrappy as she is, climbed up to be the number two salesperson at her store (and, to be honest, was a bit stung she wasn’t first).
Masked up and selling furniture to the literal masses, one of my mom’s customers—a real estate agent shopping for staging furniture—told her it was a great time to buy a home because of the low interest rates.
“She’s the one who put it in my head that I’d be surprised that I could qualify for a home, and she put me in touch with a lender who specialized in people like me that were 100 percent commission—and especially women, single women, who are buying a house on their own,” says LeAnn Collins (AKA my mom).
So, an obsession with owning a home began. I knew that even despite the real estate market’s current low inventory, her short work history, and the fact that there are still many inequities for single women buying a home, she’d get the job done. This is a woman, who, after all, had created custom unicorn headpieces for all my niece’s birthday party guests one year. She could do anything.
Understanding the ins and outs of buying a house
Though my mom had owned a home before with my dad, this was the first time she had gone through any major purchase on her own, so she had to learn all of the real estate jargon and the sequence of events that happen when you buy a house. Thankfully, the team she had assembled—her real estate agent and a lender, both women—were helpful in this department.
“They kept me pumped up and positive about things. Pretty much throughout the process, they kept me in the know on everything. They explained a lot to me—things that I didn’t know, like how to get an inspection and how to sign things electronically. Before, I let [your dad] take care of it all and I just signed the papers,” she says.
Because she was working with a short employment history and a commission-based job, my mom’s loan officer and real estate agent had to submit a lot more paperwork than the average person to prove that she was a good candidate for a loan, which included proof of funds in a retirement account to which she had access. They also relied heavily on her excellent credit score to push her over the edge for qualification for an FHA loan.
Bidding—and bidding again
In the era of coronavirus, the real estate market is tight, with buyers looking to buy in an inventory that is historically low, making competition incredibly fierce. In my mom’s house hunt, she ended up putting an offer in on six houses, and on one house, she bid twice (which was the one she ultimately ended up getting).
“Sometimes it was within minutes the houses my real estate agent lined up for me to see were gone. I had an appointment to go see two homes one day, and I was on my way to go see the first one but my realtor told me to turn around because it was already under contract,” she says.
Her real estate agent chalked this challenge up to a lot of buyers taking advantage of the low interest rates, and many people shopping in my mom’s price range, which was largely starter homes. Even though she kept getting outbid (with some buyers even offering full cash), my mom pressed on. She was determined to get into a house of her very own after all of these years—even during a historic pandemic and recession.
Facing COVID-19 obstacles
In addition to homes flying off the shelves, COVID-19 introduced another obstacle for my mom and her agent: Limited amounts of time to walk through the house, which meant that she couldn’t see all of the work that needed to be done like painting, heavy-duty cleaning, and roofing work that needed completing. On top of that, she didn’t want to touch much of anything—like cabinet doors, door knobs, and drawer pulls.
“If it had been in normal times I don’t know if I would’ve put an offer in on this home [I bought]. I didn’t take the time to look at the neighborhood and the condition of the home as much as I should’ve, but then again I can only afford so much. You have to draw the line and figure out what was more important. You look at the potential of the home. It has good bones, but it’s a lot of work,” she says.
And at the eleventh hour, another bump in the road: My mom had finally won a bid on a house after the seller had originally turned her down, but when she went to go close, her real estate agent came down with COVID-19 and was hospitalized for a week.
“She immediately got one of her coworkers to do the final signing with me but that was disappointing to both of us. We had gone through these three months together, and she didn’t get to see it through the end,” she says.
But even after all of the homes she didn’t win out on, all of the showings she didn’t get to attend, and not having her trusty real estate agent by her side at the signing, she was in. She had won her house and had the keys. She was home—and she did it on her own.
And learning one important thing: don’t ever give up
If my mom had to sum up her advice on buying a home for single women of a certain age, it would be one word: perseverance. She had a higher purpose for achieving this milestone, especially later on in life.
“At times I think, ‘You silly woman. You’re going to be dead before you pay it off,’ but I look at this way: I am building equity in a home. One day it will belong to my children. That is something that meant more to me than anything—that I would be able to leave something for my kids,” she says. “I was told by someone that you don’t need to leave anything to your kids—that’s [their dad’s] job. That’s bullsh**. Why is it okay for him to do it and not for me?”
For now, I have only seen glimpses of my mom’s new house on FaceTime. We live about 1,000 miles apart from each other and we haven’t seen each other in person in over a year, but I can’t wait to finally step through her front door and feel like we’re all finally home.