How I bought a house on SSDI with an income under $1,400 a month.

When I was 30 years old I had been on disability for six years.  I  worked 10-12 hrs a week at a job I had maintained for two years (my longest job history ever) and averaged $1,200 – $1,400 a month.  I wanted independence and a better relationship with my parents and that wasn’t going to happen living in their spare room.  I decided I was ready to move out and live on my own again.

I discovered that apartments were a JOKE.   There was nowhere that I could hit the 2.5 times the rent in the area in which I live, especially with a dog.  The section 8 housing wait list had been closed for 5 years.  Read that again – the WAIT LIST  had been not accepting new names to WAIT, for 5 years.  What low income housing I could find was in areas I was afraid to live in.  I was lucky I had a choice.  Acknowledging the privilege of having a supportive family right now.

This was around 2011 or so – after the housing crisis, and house prices were dropping, I was reading and learning online and I found out there were grants for low income home owners and down payment assistance options, but could I really find a house that was cheap enough I could afford it?  And how cheap would that have to be?

It took a long time researching and watching, but on $1,400 a month I bought a house!  I tell you this to share with you that life isn’t over after SSDI.  You can still create a life.  Slowly, on your own terms, in a manner different from others and uniquely your own.  It is possible to buy a house on that income.  Or I should say – it was.  It is not possible in my area now.  But to this I say – be prepared.  Spend time now reading, researching and learning what options are available to you so that when an opportunity comes you are prepared.  That’s what I did, and we all know another recession is on its way anytime and these housing prices have got to fall.

I know what you are wondering.  What kind of house you could afford on that?  A $67,000 house.  I had down payment assistance to cover the $2,400 down payment and the loan company I used had a grant program for low income first time home buyers for $5,000.   I paid $62,000 for my home.  I have three mortgages on it.  One for the $62,000, one for the down payment assistance which I will have to repay when I either pay the house off or sell it, and the third one for the grant just expired as I met the requirement to receive it which was to live here for five years.

The story of this house is interesting as I saw it online six months before I bought it.  It had been listed for over $100,000 and I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I watched it drop over the next several months from $100,000 to $92,000. Then $84,000.  Then $75,000 and ultimately to $67,000 when I put in an offer on my just over 500 sq ft dream house.

I lost.  They accepted another offer, but offered me a back up option.  After two months, that buyer failed to secure a loan, so I was again offered the chance on the home and jumped on it.  It took somewhere around 70 days to close.  It was a long process.  The grant program and down payment assistance program added additional inspections and forms and dragged things out a bit.  I will tell you that this was incredibly stressful.  I had so much riding on getting this house – independence, building my own future, and just having a place I could secure of my own to live – that I was wringing my hands and crying constantly.  I wrote repeated thank you notes to the sellers for allowing me to complete extensions.  They were flippers who had picked this house up and hoped to flip it and make a profit.  I think they may have broken even.

In 2012, the smaller home or tiny house movement wasn’t in full swing.  Trying to find a buyer who wanted a 500sq ft home with one bedroom and a bathroom you had to walk through the bedroom to get to wasn’t really happening.  Today there would be far more competition.  Between tiny home people, downsizers, FIRE movement and minimalism – this house would sell in my area today for between $125,000 – $145,000.  This is astonishing to me.   But it’s true.  Houses in the surrounding area that are only marginally larger than mine, with lots half the size (I have a 1/4 acre), that require total remodeling and tons of work are selling for $130,000- $140,000.

The flippers did all the surface work in here. They drywalled, textured and painted.  They put in new carpet and remodeled the bathroom and kitchen.  They painted the exterior of the house and replaced the roof on the home as well as the carport/shed. They did do a lot of work.

What they did not do was update any of the knob and tube wiring or replace the ancient plumbing. They did not remove the chimney from the middle of the house, but instead, enclosed it in drywall.  What a bizarre choice.  I knew all these things when I moved in, but was under the impression that my county had some grant programs that would help me work on it.  I was incorrect.

It happens sometimes.

My life has been a crazy roller coaster the last few years of lawsuits and trials and tribulations – which will be discussed more in upcoming posts – but one result of being forced off a freeway into a guardrail and suffering damage to your back is a small settlement.  The medical bills I had incurred from the incident until settlement were paid, the attorneys took their third, and I had just enough left (after a huge fight and separate lawsuit all together) to rewire and fix the plumbing on the house.

The county was able to help with a few things.  They had a grant to install a ductless heat pump at no cost.  That was much better than cadet wall units, although the a/c has some issues (MOLD!).  They put ventilation in my kitchen as I didn’t have a vent over my stove, put a larger vent fan in my bathroom, and blew insulation in my attic.  They came to my home and did a class on asthma and allergies (the grants I qualified for were regarding weatherization and asthma improvement for low income individuals) and I learned a ton I didn’t know about my asthma and how to manage it better.  I had no idea there was such a thing as inhaler spacers and what a difference they could make for side effects.  That really increased my quality of life.  The heat pump has hepa filtration, and they gave me a hepa vacuum which has been wonderful.
I feel so very fortunate to have qualified for these programs and that they are available in my community.  One thing I want to share is that people like to say that I’m “lucky,” or I get, “must be nice,” a lot.  I am full of gratitude for the terrific things that have happened to me.  And even for some of the not so great things  as they have provided huge learning opportunities.  I want to point out one thing – these programs don’t come and knock on your door.  You have to find them.  You need to research and apply for them. They do involve work on my part. And again: I am so privileged in this way.  I have a computer and printer.  I worked in a library and know how to research and use Boolean operators.  I can type and fill out forms and afford to put a stamp on them.  I also have access (through my parents) to a fax machine.  Otherwise, I might have to come up with $1 a page to do a fax at the library.  All these things demonstrate privilege that I have in my life as a disabled person.  Not every disabled person can do what I can, but there are programs out there!  They exist!

Here I am, six years into owning my home.  Incredibly fortunate in that my MPI (PMI) is gone and my mortgage, all in, is only $331 a month.  That’s insane.  My house was flipped, but I’ve had to fix little to do with that.  Everything was replaced or painted and I’ve managed to fix everything else that was not.  At this point, the house is pretty set.  My brother and I painted it three years ago, and it will likely need to be painted again in the next year or two, but I spent a few weeks (cause dexterity, yo) masking and he managed to spray the whole house twice in one day.  About an hour each time!  This is the benefit of buying small too: most things can be fixed with little money.  Doing my whole house was under $200 in paint.  Replacing all my carpeting with vinyl was done over time, room by room, for under $300 by buying remnants. My baseboards? Free.  My crown molding? Free.  Buy Nothing and Craiglist, yo!  My yard is fenced.  Under $100.  Craiglist and Buy Nothing and TIME.  I slowly accumulated parts and pieces and with huge gratitude my dad and brother installed it years ago.

My family helped me a lot.  My family helps me a lot. I couldn’t keep this sliver of independence without them.  I couldn’t be reaching for FIRE, or FI without them.  The cost of help I would have had to pay for would have put me into so much debt.

But my mortgage is $331.  I’ll be debt free in a month or so aside from that.  If nothing goes go hell, I might be able to pay my house off in five years.  Can you imagine?  Could you imagine this possibility for yourself? I couldn’t until six years ago when I found FIRE and MMM. Even then, it was a struggle to believe it could happen for me.  For me on $1,400 a month at the time.  Now $1,800.  But family, Buy Nothing, research skills, and persistent creativity have gotten me to the precipice.  I have to say that I’m real unsure about what happens next.  After debt free?  After mortgage pay off?  Do I invest? In what?  What will that cost me in terms of benefits?  There are a lot of unknowns.  I’m taking the time now, to prepare, to research, to learn.  When an opportunity comes along: I’ll be prepared.

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