In 2003, we signed the paperwork to start our little version of the American Dream. We bought a new house, being built in a new community. We were recently married, I had a good job, and a few months later I would be pregnant.
I’ll admit we were surprised at what we were buying. A four bedroom two-story house with an attached garage. The price was low compared to many homes in Columbus, but to us it still looked a little scary. Could we really afford this beautiful home?
Our Beazer Homes saleswoman only smiled at us and told us they wouldn’t approve us for the loan if it was outside of our means. Aaron was finishing school, so it was only my income they based it on. We were quickly approved without any problems, and Aaron and I figured that he would soon have a job as well, which would make it even easier to afford this starter home.
The saleswoman showed us what our payments would be, and we agreed that it looked reasonable. We were offered an FHA fixed rate loan with a 2/1 buydown, meaning the builder pays 2% of the interest rate the first year, and then 1% the second year. It is supposedly designed to help ease the buyer into mortgage payments. I considered myself a savvy person when it came to money, and I grilled her with questions. But she glided past each question, showing us that at the very most, our mortgage would never go past $1000 a month.
After delays in building (which is another story entirely), our house was ready in May 2004. The first year we had no problems paying the bills. We even managed to buy some new furniture to outfit our home. The second year, when our payments jumped $100 a month, we were a little nervous, but still managed to handle it, even after I had quit my job and taken a part-time job.
We just ended the second year, and now the payments have gone up again. But not just the $100 we expected it to jump, according to all of the numbers-sheets Beazer gave us. Oh, no. Last night I opened the envelope and was met with a payment for nearly $1300 due! That’s a jump of $400 per month.
It seems Beazer underestimated the property taxes that would be assessed on our house. We haven’t had large jumps in property taxes around here – they’re the same they were when the house was built, and the house hasn’t gained any value. They simply chose to not fully disclose what the true costs of the house would be.
We’re not alone in this sticker shock. In our neighborhood, at least four homes have been lost to foreclosure. At least double that have been placed on the market, as the owners desperately try to sell the house before they face foreclosure as well. Others have been forced into alternative refinancing options that are simply a bandage on a fatal wound.
Luckily, Aaron got the new job. It does pay more, although now it seems a significant portion of that raise will go directly to the raise in our mortgage. Had the new job not come through, we might have been facing the loss of our house, just like many of our neighbors.
Looking back, I don’t understand why we were approved for the amount of our loan when it is now clear that it would have been impossible to pay it. Well, I guess we could have paid it, but we wouldn’t have had enough money left over to heat it, or pay for the electricity to microwave our ramen noodles.
We’re not ignorant people – we did our research – but we were given misleading numbers to begin with. If I tried to bring new numbers into the conversation, our saleswoman (and our mortgage broker) were skilled at twisting said numbers to show me how they were wrong. Since I have no formal education in mortgages, I trusted them. Me – the person who doesn’t trust anyone – somehow believed what they told me.
The entire situation makes me furious now. I feel betrayed by the people who smiled so nicely and sucked us right into that vision of the American Dream, all the while knowing we would be in financial hardship two years later without a big change to our income. I watch helplessly as our neighbors are forced to give up their dreams as they are forced from their homes due to predatory lending.
Even if we wanted to sell our house, we wouldn’t be able to. The home values in our neighborhood have not gone up because of the foreclosures. We probably couldn’t even sell the house for what we paid for it. It’s a losing situation for everyone except the builder, who happily leaves the mess they made behind with a fat bank account, soon to find another tract of land to repeat the process all over again. They prey on those in the lower middle class income bracket – those who want their first home, and make just enough to possibly cover the costs.
If you are thinking about buying a new home, get outside assistance. Don’t let the builder’s mortgage company show you the numbers – get them confirmed by an independent source. Learn more about buydowns and educate yourself before signing the paperwork. And don’t let someone try to sell you the American Dream with plans to rip it out from under you in two years.
Edited to add: Thanks for the responses so far. Just to clarify, we’re fine, and we will be able to keep the house without problem. The new job came in at just the right time to save the day. But I do still feel sorry for neighbors and those in other neighborhoods who aren’t so lucky.