My Family Drained Our Savings to Buy a House in This Crazy Real Estate Market—And We Have No Regrets

Draining your entire savings, mid-pandemic, when you have a toddler and a new job, is scary. Any financial advisor would have said: Don't do that. But we went ahead with the plan anyway.

An image of house keys.
Photo: Getty Images.

At the end of 2020, my husband and I made a big life decision: We were going to move from Florida to Colorado as soon as we could. Like many others who had an existential crisis (such as changing careers) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, living during these unprecedented times helped us evaluate what we valued in our lives and how we wanted to move forward.

And so, we realized that we could not raise our then-9-month-old in a state that was not taking COVID-19 safety precautions seriously. And despite my parents living nearby, I had never felt at home in Florida anyway, so I was thrilled when my husband suggested that we expedite our long-term plan to leave the state.

But what I hadn't considered is how dramatically our life and finances would change after making the big move. Despite our desire to leave, we had gotten quite comfortable in the house that we owned in Florida—and now had to make a big decision about whether to buy a house in a city we didn't know amid the white-hot housing market of 2021.

Ultimately, we went for it—and completely drained our savings account in the process.

To Own or Rent?

One of the most significant decisions most people make is where to live—and whether to rent or buy. As a millennial who graduated at the start of the Great Recession in 2008, I never thought I would be a homeowner. I didn't care if I owned a house or not, because I had spent most of my adult life living in New York City—where most people rent for their entire lives. But when I moved to Florida at age 30 and met my husband, my priorities changed.

We wanted to have a family, and he had beautiful memories of growing up in a house that his parents owned. My reasons for not wanting to own—feeling stuck in the same place, stressing about house repairs, and worrying about affording a mortgage—quickly dissipated as we weighed the pros and cons shortly after getting married. Eventually, we bought a house with down payment help from my parents (who have been working in real estate for 20 years) and settled into our Florida life.

We could not raise our then-9-month-old in a state that was not taking COVID-19 safety precautions seriously.

But when the pandemic hit, and we subsequently decided to move, the question of whether to own or rent came up once more. There were so many things to figure out, such as how close we wanted to live to my husband's new job, whether we would like to be in a house or apartment, and how much we could actually afford—considering that we were moving to a more expensive city.

The decision to buy or rent is not to be taken lightly, and it's rarely an easy one. However, as an immigrant whose parents thrived owning a real estate business, owning a house had a big pull for me; it would fulfill the so-called American Dream. For my husband, on the other hand, owning a house also represented success—and stability for our growing toddler.

But, as we had learned while owning a house in Florida, owning also comes with its challenges—such as having to pay for any and every repair yourselves, versus relying on a landlord to fix things. Plus, we were moving to a whole new area where we barely knew anybody—and certainly didn't know enough about the location to make a 30-year commitment to a new mortgage.

When my husband received an employment offer after almost four months of intensive job hunting, we still didn't know if we wanted to rent or own. So, for weeks, while we packed up our house, we debated and changed our minds almost daily. Ultimately, though, we made the leap to buy a house in Colorado—sight unseen.

Moving During the Pandemic

Moving 1,608 miles during a pandemic to a city you have only been to once is, needless to say, extremely stressful. What's more, it was clear the Colorado housing market had been quickly growing for years, and the pandemic only made that market skyrocket: According to 5280, housing prices in Denver County rose by 23 percent, and inventory of available homes fell by 70 percent in February 2021—just a couple of months before we began our housing search.

After joining some local groups on Facebook and connecting with a real estate agent who specialized in cross-country moves, I learned that we would have to move fast if we found a house we liked. Like, really fast. Our realtor told us that houses were being snatched up quickly due to such high demand. Every place we saw on Zillow went under contract just a few days after appearing on the market—and often sold for $20,000-50,000 more than the asking price.

When we finally found a house we liked that met all of our basic needs, we jumped at the chance. But, unfortunately, the competition was fierce. We got into a bidding war and ultimately lost out; the other would-be owner could offer cash, whereas we would have to go through the lengthy mortgage application process.

When we regrouped with our realtor, we decided to be a bit less picky and move much quicker when we made an offer. Thankfully, we lucked out and got the next house we liked—just a couple of days after losing our previous bid.

Unfortunately, we went under contract so quickly that we had to jump at the chance to buy this house without actually setting foot in it. I had to trust that my realtor and the FaceTime walk-through he took us on were enough to know if this house was the one for us. The process was utterly terrifying.

No Savings—but No Regrets

To buy a house in the pandemic real estate market, we had to put a lot of trust in other people. First, I had to trust that my realtor had my best intentions in mind. Second, I had to believe that my mortgage broker would expedite the process, since we needed to be on a plane within weeks. Finally, I had to cross my fingers that the advice and insight I received from strangers on the internet who lived in my new hometown was honest and heartfelt.

Ultimately, I hoped that the decision we made—both in buying and in the house we chose—was the right one for our family.

The most challenging part of all of this? The fact that we simply weren't financially prepared to buy a house at that time. Like most fellow millennials I know, owning a house has always felt like a pipe dream—what with all our student loans, the costs of childcare, and more. But we got fortunate that my parents were able to help us buy that first house in Florida—and, due to the market there, we saved on housing costs because our mortgage was lower than what we had been paying in rent at the time.

Thanks to these fortunate circumstances, my husband and I could save $20,000 before having our son. And because the pandemic hit just a few weeks before he was born, we ended up working from home and managing to not spend our savings—since we didn't have to pay for childcare as we had expected to. Plus, we were no longer going out to brunch, sneaking off to the movies, or going on random shopping trips. As a result of the pandemic limiting everything we had wanted to do with our newborn son, our savings account stayed at $20k—until we bought our Colorado house.

Draining your entire savings when you have a toddler, a new job, and many other responsibilities is pretty scary. I'm sure every financial advisor on the planet would have told us: Don't do that. After all, what would we have done in case of an emergency? I honestly don't know.

But, we went ahead with our plan anyway.

Draining your entire savings when you have a toddler, a new job, and many other responsibilities is pretty scary. I'm sure every financial advisor on the planet would have told us: Don't do that.

Would I advise someone to do the same as we did? Probably not. But for us, setting down roots in our new state was meaningful. Plus, when we did the financial math, we knew that we would ultimately save money by paying a mortgage instead of paying rent. That's not necessarily the case for everyone.

Still, our options to buy were a lot more feasible than our options to rent as a family with a toddler and three pets. We're currently saving at least $300 a month in housing costs compared to our previous rental. For one thing, we don't have to worry about paying extra to a landlord simply because we love our pets.

Despite the worries we initially had after draining our savings account to buy our house—and some unexpected debts we had to take on after moving—I don't regret a thing.

I am much happier having a smaller savings account but knowing that any improvements I want or need to make to my house are ultimately helping its value. And, when I see my toddler running around our backyard with our dog, I know without a doubt that we have made the right choice in buying a house right now. This house has quickly become our home—and I can't wait to see my son grow up here.

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