You may remember Latisha Williams from the pages of ESSENCE magazine a few years ago. In 2007, we challenged several African-American women to take on the most important financial move of their lives and consider becoming first-time homeowners. Williams, a 31-year-old single mom from Toledo, Ohio, received one-on-one counseling and guidance from a number of esteemed players in the real estate industry for a year to prepare her to buy her first home. Unfortunately, life’s everyday challenges got in the way and Williams didn’t complete the program in the allotted year.
Although Williams moved slowly through the process, she moved at her own pace, making sure that her finances were straight before taking on this huge responsibility. Two years later, Williams is happy to announce that both she and her teenage daughter Bridgett have moved into their three-bedroom home for $69,900. She tells ESSENCE.com how she believes she got derailed from the ESSENCE Homeownership Campaign, what she learned from that experience and why ultimately waiting the extra few years made all of the difference.
ESSENCE.COM: The last time we caught up with you, you were moving to Chicago, looking for a new job and searching for the perfect condo. What happened after that?
LATISHA WILLIAMS: When the program ended, I was in Chicago looking for a new job for about two months and stayed with friends but that didn’t work out. Then it got to be later in the year and I had to put my daughter in school. We came back home to Toledo, which ended up being a good thing because I realized I needed more support than I thought. Once I got back, I just decided to concentrate on paying down on my expenses. I paid off my car note, which was over $10,000 a year. I found another job and took on a part-time job, which also allowed me to pay off some of my medical bills and even some of my parent’s bills. I didn’t want to have the stress of all these bills while I started looking for a house.
ESSENCE.COM: Did you still apply what you learned in the 12-month program to your most recent search for a home?
WILLIAMS: I still used all the paperwork I received and reviewed all the steps, particularly when it came to finding a Realtor. I looked at 25 homes in four months with one Realtor and then kind of fell off again. I got discouraged and started thinking, I don’t know if this is ever going to happen for me. Then a friend started telling me about her homeownership process. She gave me the number of her Realtor and she got to work right away. It was just a much better fit. She listened, was real with me in terms of cost and looked for homes in neighborhoods that I wanted to live in.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you save money during the last two years?
WILLIAMS: I was able to save 42 percent of my income for a year in a half. Once I paid rent, utilities and bought groceries, I saved the money I would have used to pay the other bills. Plus, I learned to be frugal finding out about free items and free events. Anytime I wanted to do something, I would just save up for it. For instance, this summer I went on my first cruise and planned for it by creating an online account that would automatically draft the money from my paycheck into a separate savings account. I just thought of it like another bill.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you end up choosing the home that was perfect for you?
WILLIAMS: I was trying to find a foreclosed home at first. I found one that was perfect but I had some issues with the location. I made a bid but ended up losing to someone who was willing to pay cash. I was upset about it but I had to move on. I wanted a home with three bedrooms, in a safe neighborhood in my daughter’s school district, and I didn’t want to have to do a lot of repair work to it. When I finally got to this house, I was just in awe. The previous owners were meticulous about everything so the home was very clean and well-maintained. They were looking to expand their family and needed more room, so it wasn’t like they were looking to hurry up and get rid of the house either. In fact, the house had been on the market for a year and I’m the only one who put a bid on it. Now, it’s mine!
ESSENCE.COM: After all this time, what does it feel like to have your own home?
WILLIAMS: It feels great. The whole process took about 45 days. We closed on September 11, but I officially moved in about three weeks ago. My appraisals and inspections went well. I have a living room, dining room, a full basement, my daughter and I have our own bedrooms and there’s an enclosed porch with a large backyard. I think we got a pretty good deal. I’m so excited because had I bought a home two years ago when I did the program, I don’t know where I would be today. I can actually say I was ready this time. I remember all the ESSENCE homeownership experts saying, “Don’t let anyone rush you because this is something you’re investing in for a long time.” I’m just grateful to have so many people supporting me along the way.
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