HOUSE HUNTING and dating have a lot in common. Both involve long lists of must-haves — three bedrooms, stable family, walk-in closet, higher education. But just when you think you’ve found “the one,” there’s always a compromise. That corner home with the immaculate lawn? Termites. The new guy in accounting? Two kids.
But in real estate, like love, the unexpected doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, as Jennifer Musselman says in “Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone” ($11, Seal Press), due out on June 1.
Imperfections add character, right? And many gals love fixer-uppers, really.
To that end, “Own It” almost reads like a dating manual, with chapters titled “Growing Out Your Roots,” “Dirty Little Costs of HomeBuying” and “Are Your Signs Compatible?” But Musselman’s main message is empowerment: Twenty percent of home-buyers last year were single women, according to the National Association of Realtors — which means no waiting for McDreamy to show up before you make that down payment.
» EXPRESS: The book reads like it’s written by a friend giving advice, not a real estate agent. Why?
» MUSSELMAN: I am not an expert in home buying, I am not a financial expert — I am an expert in being the girl next door. My books have come from first-hand experience and going through the failures in order to succeed. It’s been my journey, and maybe someone can learn from it.
» EXPRESS:So, why do you think women are reluctant to buy real estate by themselves?
» MUSSELMAN: It’s two-fold. There’s the psychological part of it, the fear of doing this by myself. And there’s the financial side of it, which just feels overwhelming. You have these women who say, “I’m an independent woman; I’m already relatively successful in my career. If I buy a home on my own, will men still see me as someone they want to partner with?” In the whole Cinderella fairy tale of women wanting to be saved, I was afraid that might be a turn-off to a man, because I do want to have a family. We feel that decreases our dating pool.
» EXPRESS: What was the hardest part of buying your condo?
» MUSSELMAN: The whole house-buying process: What is an escrow? Signing my name to contracts. Asking, “Can I afford a mortgage on my own?” But what seemed like an enormous burden at the time, in retrospect, is freedom. Like changing a car tire, until you’ve done it once, it’s overwhelming.
» EXPRESS:How have men reacted to your owning your own place?
» MUSSELMAN: It actually has helped weed men out. It empowered me to not just settle. Any man who is afraid of my happiness, success in life and accomplishments, I see that right away. I’m not wasting my time with men who, in a month, I would have found out are not a good fit.
» EXPRESS:Has making that mortgage payment felt like a financial burden?
» MUSSELMAN: For the most part, it’s made me smarter about how I spend my money. I have to budget more, but I’m not scraping by in the way I feared I would. I’m not splitting a rent payment with friends anymore, but I still take the same amount of trips, I still go out to dinner with my girlfriends. I just prioritize more.
» EXPRESS: Ever felt any buyer’s remorse?
» MUSSELMAN: Life circumstances will always change, but buying a home will not keep you from those things you want. From the outset, it looks very daunting and like too much of a commitment, but it empowers you because it’s an investment in your life.
» EXPRESS: What do you think is the biggest adjustment for new homeowners?
» MUSSELMAN: When you’re renting, if your toilet overflows or your dishwasher isn’t working, your landlord is supposed to come out and fix it. Now it’s not just one-stop calling. One of the things I say in my book is get an “A team” and a “B team” — repair people you automatically call, so when a problem does arise, you aren’t scrambling to find someone. Talk to your friends and neighbors about plumbers and electricians they use and like. It’s kind of like finding a hairdresser. Word of mouth works best.
» EXPRESS: What do you hope women take away from reading this book?
» MUSSELMAN: I really wanted to encourage and empower women of all ages to take charge of their emotional and financial happiness. Men can be part of our support system, but they shouldn’t be our whole means to survival or happiness in life. Home-buying should be seen as an investment in ourselves and our futures. A lot of times, I think, women, as smart as we are in business, put ourselves second in our personal life.
Written by Express contributor Josie Roberts