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Buy a house in LA: How I saved for a down payment

Buy a house in LA: How I saved for a down payment

It's a vast understatement to describe buying a housing in Los Angeles as challenging (cruel and downright laughable are more like it)—something my husband and I readily accepted, along with the facts that we’d be shopping in a seller’s market and our budget would likely be under $500,000.

All in all, we saved a little over $25,000 by the time we decided to apply for a home loan—not even close to hitting that “20 percent down” mark, but more on that later.

There were many other financial aspects that my husband and I pored over first, like whether we’d be “house poor” in an under-$500,000 house. Things like doubling our rent payment with a mortgage, heftier utility bills, saving for a rainy day fund, and if we could afford little (and expectedly more infrequent) indulgences all played into our decision. No organic free-range vegan baloney sandwiches for this household!

This isn’t typical millennial behavior, says LA-based certified financial planner Leighann Miko. (The founder of Equalis Financial, Miko recently landed on Investment News’ 40 Under 40 list.) Compared to clients from older generations, “the biggest behavioral difference I see is that there seems to be a disconnect between the reality of what home ownership costs in total versus the assumed cost,” she says.

“Even expenses as seemingly insignificant as utilities tend to double or triple,” says Miko. “Think about it: If you’re moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom house with a front and back yard, it’s a fair bet that your utilities will increase two-fold at a minimum.”
What it’s like to buy a house in LA

Another reality check for us very-entitled Gen-Yers: Saving for the down payment, which is one of the biggest financial challenges Miko sees among her millennial clients. “They earn a decent amount of money and can afford a substantial mortgage, but with rent so high, it’s hard to set aside savings for a down payment,” she tells me.As mentioned previously, our rent is only $1,600, giving us freedom to squirrel away about $300 a month for several years without a definitive game plan. Admittedly, we didn't take extreme measures to curb our spending: We’re not major splurgers but we occasionally ordered in and enjoyed the finer establishments of LA’s two-dollar-sign foodie scene. (We did, however, draw the line at $10 lattes.)

And besides buying certain groceries in bulk, ditching cable, and cooking at home on most weekdays, we really didn't follow any other game-changing money lifehacks. Our down payment godsend came in the form of my husband’s long-term incentive bonuses at his job—and we’re very well aware that this isn’t typical for most people.


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