Published in The American Genius
The thirteenth house that Kelly Johansen visited that day turned out to be the lucky one.
Alongside her Realtor® Michelle, Kelly spent an entire Saturday in the fall of 2018 touring properties across Northern Virginia. Like many Americans who have purchased a home over the past half-decade, Kelly felt the pressure of an immensely competitive market, particularly in one of the more sought-after regions of the country.
Still, she didn't want to be rushed into a decision she would later regret. And she was willing to pass up the options that didn't feel quite right.
Fortunately, after a dozen misses, their last planned stop of the day was the one that would change Kelly's life.
"After a quick look around, I stood in the living room and I just started crying," Kelly recounts today from that same room. "I said,
'Michelle, this is my house. This is my house. I know it is.'
"And Michelle just told me, 'Don't cry, we're gonna get it for you.' It was a beautiful moment, and I just absolutely knew that this house was destined for me."
Michelle, of course, was able to help her client close on the house of her dreams. Kelly has now lived in the Arlington, Virginia, townhome for almost four years. Here, in a neighborhood that once served as military housing barracks, she's built roots, community, and some significant housing equity.
Before making the decision to buy, Kelly rented for nearly 11 years. She longed for homeownership, but as a self-professed "terrible saver," she didn't think the goal was realistic. That was until Michelle helped her realize she could buy without bringing 20% to the closing table.
As a single female, Kelly makes up a rapidly growing share of homebuyers in America.
The National Association of Realtors®' most recent Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, published in November 2021, found that 19% of all homes sold over the preceding year were bought by unmarried women. This is now the second-largest homebuying demographic in the U.S., behind only married couples.
There are some 83 million property owners in this country. And countless others aspire to achieve their own version of the American Dream. That's been especially evident as home prices have remained steady while interest rates rise and inflation strains budgets for families everywhere.
This and every June, America recognizes National Homeownership Month.
For NAR, it's a time to celebrate all of the life-changing, generational wealth-building opportunities that come with property ownership.
We often tout statistics like the one showing a homeowner's net worth is, on average, about 40 times that of a renter. It isn't hard to see why, either. The typical U.S. homeowner accumulated nearly a quarter of a million dollars in housing wealth over the past decade.
Still, thanks in part to a historic, nationwide shortage of available homes, too many aspiring buyers remain on the sidelines. This six-million-unit gap is the consequence of decades of underbuilding and underinvestment, according to research conducted last year by the Rosen Consulting Group.
As a result, many of those who are able to find and close on the perfect home can feel like they've won the lottery.
That's a reality that isn't lost on Dorothy Edwards or her wife, Rachel Pryately.
The newlyweds relocated from Seattle to the East Coast last winter to be closer to their parents and siblings, finding temporary accommodations as they got acquainted with the area. Hoping to start a family, they knew the added support would be appreciated someday soon.
Dorothy and Rachel sensed, however, that they needed to be settled in a community of their own—with a home of their own—before they'd feel comfortable beginning the next chapter of their lives.
Today, as they spend nights on the deck of their single-family home in Huntington, Va., hearing kids outside playing until after the sun sets, they know they've found the perfect environment for a young, growing family.
"We are so lucky and privileged to be able to put down roots for our family in this way," Dorothy reflects today from their home just a few miles off the Potomac River.
"Buying our home and building community has kickstarted some of our life goals and has been so important with all of these upcoming milestones."
"It's just such a happy thing. The process of creating a home together with my wife has been so sacred."
The fact is, however, that the act of becoming a homeowner shouldn't feel like such an extraordinary, exclusive achievement. It is, of course, a milestone in the lives of so many, and it's something that should be celebrated for everything it represents: freedom; financial security; safety; comfort.
But this is where we are reminded that the work of ensuring homeownership is available and accessible to everyone in America still has a way to go.
"We never imagined homeownership for ourselves," Dorothy says. "We didn't think it was possible for us, so it was never a goal. But once we realized it could be possible, and with the help and support of our families, we went all in and landed in the perfect spot. We are so grateful to have gotten to this point."
Today, both Dorothy and Kelly say they continue to encourage friends and family who are still renting to make the leap into homeownership.
For Kelly, who works in the service industry, it can sometimes be difficult to convince colleagues – many of whom are reliant on tips and live paycheck-to-paycheck – that they too have the ability to manage and pay down a mortgage.
"I'm super proud to be a homeowner, especially given this market," she says. "Anybody I know who rents now I'll tell them, 'You're throwing your money away. For the same amount of money, you can have a mortgage.'
"And I know personally they don't even need to put that much money down. I tell them, 'Don't worry, just have a conversation with Michelle and she'll hook you up.'"