What buying a house as a single woman was like

Sarah never imagined buying a house, let alone buying one on her own. It had ups and downs, but now she feels like a badass calling herself a homeowner.
Woman smiling and excited, holding up key
The author with the first key to her new home

I’ve never been particularly interested in owning a home. I saw nothing wrong with renting and wasn’t totally convinced buying a house was a good investment — wasn’t I better off just focusing on saving for retirement and affording the lifestyle I wanted? Plus, isn’t a mortgage usually more expensive than rent anyway? How is that good value?

Then I got a new, higher-paying job, and for the first time in my life, buying a house actually seemed like a financial possibility. I live in a city where the real estate market has consistently gone up in value (Austin, Texas) but the prices haven’t yet reached the impossible levels of many major metro areas, and experts think they’ll continue to rise, so it seemed like it could actually be a good investment to make right now.

“I couldn’t fathom buying a home as a single woman”

But it wasn’t just about money. Part of what kept me renting for so long was not feeling sure I wanted to stay in Austin long term — who knew where my life and career would take me? And though it’s hard to admit, I couldn’t fathom buying a home as a single woman. I always thought that I’d buy my first home with an adoring partner. We’d have lighthearted arguments over what color the sofa should be and whether we really needed a 70” TV in the extra bedroom. We’d paint bathrooms on the weekends. I was more bought into the idea that my life would really start when I met the man of my dreams than I even realized.

But as I got older and started to get more comfortable and confident, and my happiness grew as a single person, something changed in me. Financial and emotional independence started to feel good. Real good. And moving into the tech sector made me feel like I had plenty of job options in Austin, no matter what happened. So I started an aggressive savings plan to buy a tiny piece of Texas.

I started looking at places online and found I could easily picture myself living in them alone. Look how gorgeous my bedroom would be! Ooh, and that’s where I’d host dinner parties! Not long after, I started visiting places. My realtors were wonderful, excited that I was going it alone and as hand-holdy as I needed them to be as a first-time buyer.

Homebuying: Thrilling and terrifying

After going through a phase of not seeing anything I liked in my price range and worrying that I never would, one day it happened. I walked into a duplex so adorable and with so much character I knew I was finally ready. But make no mistake: making an offer on this house was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. 

As I debated how much to offer in order not to get outbid, but also not overpay, I realized that I was totally alone in making the most expensive decision of my life. No one was going to give me “permission.” Though I called my parents frantically to get their advice, I had no partner to debate and discuss things with, and the decision was completely and totally mine — for better or worse. I’m not one of those people who says, “I don’t feel like an adult.” I do feel like an adult. But in that moment, offering up the largest sum of money I had ever fathomed, I couldn’t believe this was something I was allowed to do. It was thrilling and terrifying.

Closing on a house: Like having a second job

The next two weeks were a total blur. My offer was accepted and almost immediately there were so many things to do in such a tiny window of time, I couldn’t imagine how people without flexible jobs ever bought homes. I was on the phone constantly with inspectors, insurance agents and title companies. It was like having a second job.

It felt surreal the day I signed the papers and the house officially became mine. When my realtor handed me the keys, I couldn’t believe I didn’t need someone’s permission to go let myself in. That night, my brother, a friend and I went over to celebrate. We ate pizza and drank champagne out of plastic cups while painting squares of white on the wall to compare. It felt special and important to commemorate my first night of homeownership.

But the house still needed a lot of work before I could move in. I had zero interest, talent or time to do any of the work myself, so I hired a contractor and his team got to work right away. 

Fatigue sets in

Luckily, when I closed on the house, I still had six weeks left on my apartment lease to sit back a little during renovations. At this point, I was so exhausted from the buying process that I got lazy and really phoned in the renovation project management. I made a few of the important decisions up front (what color to paint the walls, what kind of carpet I wanted in the bedrooms), but dragged my feet on everything else. 

I was like a teenager whose teacher had to ask them again and again where their homework was, except it was all the choices about my house and the necessary materials. It felt overwhelming and miserable to have to research curtain rods or faucets for hours on end. I had never considered a doorknob for more than two seconds in my entire life, and suddenly I had to choose which ones I wanted to look at for years. Luckily my contractor was a patient, flexible miracle worker and all of the work was done before my move date.

Can you die from packing?

Though I had moved constantly in my 20s, I had been at my last apartment for five years when it came time to move. I pride myself on not having a lot of stuff, but that felt laughable as I started packing, alone. At one point I texted a friend, “Can you die from packing?” When packing didn’t kill me, I was sure the move would. 

Though I hired movers (and was so grateful when they magically transported my whole life from one place to another that I’m sure I was effusive and weird), I made a big mistake in not getting my new place professionally cleaned before I moved in. This would be a smart move under any circumstances, but especially since so much renovation work had been done, there was a fine film of white dust on everything. 

The relief of having all of my belongings under one roof wore off fast and made way for the panicked realization I would have to clean my entire home before I unpacked anything. The next few days involved inhaling so many cleaning supplies, I was sure aspirated Windex would be a part of my superhero origin story. I fell into bed like a dead woman each night.

The slow joy of homeownership

I wish I could say that once I unpacked, I immediately felt amazing. But I didn’t. Many of the things I brought from my apartment felt worn out and out of place. I had no idea what type of furniture I wanted for the new place or how I would afford it after just having made the biggest purchase of my life.

Mostly, my house didn’t feel settled yet — it didn’t feel like me yet — and a few months in, it still doesn’t. It feels silly to admit that I sometimes yearn for my modest, one-bedroom apartment, but I do. It’s not the place itself that I miss, but how it made me feel. That apartment held me as I experienced so many triumphs and losses over the past five years. And it was the place where I learned to love spending time alone. I walked into that place and was immediately the most comfortable and authentic version of myself. So it’s OK that I still feel like I’m setting into my new home. It takes time to do the things and generate the memories that really make a place yours. 

Aside from that, I can’t believe I own a home and am so proud of myself. And honestly, I’m glad I did it alone. So many people end up fighting over a home, or broke, or without a place to live when they break up, separate or get divorced. I feel so glad to have this investment all for me no matter what happens in my romantic life. It feels like sweet, self-sufficient, financial relief.

And that’s one of the most badass things I can think of. 

 

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