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Photo of house with green stepped garden

One unusual way to save up for a down payment

By Liz Keuler

October 2019

If you're a millennial, you probably know at least one person who taught English in Korea for a while. It's a pretty good deal: usually housing is included, so you spend less of the money you earn while immersing yourself in another culture.

For Natalie and her husband Wayne, teaching English in Korea together for a year was a wonderful way to see some of the world before they settled down – while building up funds for a down payment on a home. When they returned to their roots in Omaha, Neb. in 2018, they moved in with Natalie's parents while they decided where to settle.

Staying close to their roots

Natalie is a remote customer service coordinator and her husband is an accountant, so relocation would have been relatively easy. But in the end, staying in Omaha seemed like the right decision. Housing is relatively affordable in Omaha, and they were eager to begin building equity.

I had been saving since graduating college in 2012," Natalie said, "Not specifically for a down payment, but I knew I would need a nest egg for something!" Natalie and Wayne accelerated their saving while teaching in Korea – both in their year abroad together and an earlier 18-month stint for Natalie.

Keeping their options open

It's a seller's market in Omaha right now, so Natalie knew they would need to keep their options open to find the right house at the right price. They met with a few lenders to get preapproved.

They had based their initial budget around making a 20% down payment, but one loan officer encouraged them to get preapproved for a higher dollar amount and consider using mortgage insurance." He encouraged us to look at homes in a wider price range, just in case," Natalie said." It was helpful to get that advice and see all our options."

Being flexible in a seller's market

Taking their loan officer's advice, they saw 16 houses in about 6 weeks, some outside of the original budget they had set for themselves. They faced disappointment early in the process when they lost a bidding war to another buyer, but soldiered on.

After another false start on a home that was purchased out from under them before they could make an official offer, they were pretty discouraged.

But in a surprising twist, the listing agent from the first home reached out to see if they were still interested. After a home inspection showed some problems with the air conditioner, the initial buyer dropped out. An unreliable air conditioner didn't faze Natalie and Wayne; they just asked for some concessions to make up for the cost of repairs.

They may not have considered the house at all if they hadn't been keeping their options open. "It was over the initial budget we were considering," Natalie said, "But that conversation with a loan officer made us really consider what we could afford."

Happily ever after

They closed about 30 days after their accepted offer and immediately went about making their first house into a home. A handy friend helped them build a new counter to fill a wasted space in the kitchen. Her dad gifted them with a tomato plant. Their next move? Figuring out the best way to tackle something they never had as renters: a huge yard.

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Liz Keuler is the editor of Readynest. She spent a decade meandering through radio, nonprofits and the corporate world before convincing MGIC to hire her based on her staunch grammatical convictions. She lives in a charming 100-year-old bungalow on Milwaukee’s East Side. Her interests include old Ernst Lubitsch films, new action movies, 60s girl pop, Regency romance novels, word games, sewing and shallots.