If you’re wondering what it’s like to be a first-time not-wealthy homebuyer in Maine right now, I cried in the parking lot of the Buxton Hannaford for 20 minutes this afternoon.

I don’t know why I feel bad. After all, I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. I was told that getting an advanced degree in a field that I was skilled in and passionate about would lead to financial stability and general success. Sixty-nine thousand dollars of student loan debt later, that has not exactly been the case.

But OK, I regrouped, found a good job, worked for that company for five years and was laid off three weeks into a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

Now that one I can forgive, I guess, since nobody could have predicted all the economic peculiarities of 2020. So I got another job, one that I’m good at. Doesn’t “medical secretary” just scream respectability and stability? I’ve been living with my mom so I could save up a $20,000 down payment and build up a credit score that FICO officially ranks as “very good.” I make $17.75 an hour, which should be livable if you aren’t in Greater Portland, and I’m not. I applied for a mortgage through my local credit union, and was approved for $140,000. I was told to find a good real estate agent, and I did. (Her name is Sandra, and she is my new best friend.) And then it was time to look at houses, and then – I can’t put sound effects in print, so at this point in the column, please imagine the sound of a balloon deflating slowly.

There’s basically nothing out there, which is, quite frankly, outrageous. My down payment plus my mortgage is $160,000. This is not a ton of money, but it’s not nothing, either! I guess I was just surprised because as an American, I’m used to having products available for purchase if I have the money for it. The product quality varies based on price point, of course – if you need a winter coat, and you don’t have a lot of money, you go to Goodwill. If you have a lot of money, you go to L.L. Bean. If you have a medium amount of money, you go to Target. But if you have money to spend, there’s an option for you.

I have money. I wish to make a purchase. And there are basically no options. I’m not an economist, so I can’t diagnose whether or not this constitutes a “market failure,” but there is definitely a major issue with the traditional supply-and-demand ecosystem. Though the demand is here (please picture me desperately waving a wad of cash in the air), the supply is very much not.

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At this moment, speed is the name of the game in real estate. I’m not a naturally speedy person, either metaphorically or literally. My nickname on the Catherine McAuley High School track team was “the Sprinting Turtle” for a reason. I am a plodder by nature, and my natural instinct is to go slowly and carefully when attempting to buy something as large and as permanent as a house. Several houses that I was interested in were bought before I could look at them – because I can’t just leave work randomly in the middle of the day whenever I want to.

And by the way, I’m not looking for anything fancy. All I require is one functional bathroom and two rooms I can use as bedrooms, and for the house to be on its own land. The bedrooms don’t even have to be official bedrooms; I can make do with one real bedroom and one miscellaneous space with a door that shuts and enough room for an average-sized adult human to lie down horizontally.

The two features I would really like to have are for the home to be a 30-minute commute to work and to have a nice yard for Janey to do zoomies in. This weekend, I made an offer on a house that had basically no yard, because it was on a ledge, and was 40 minutes away from work, because it was there and it was in my price range. And I still got outbid, which led to my minor meltdown in the Hannaford parking lot. Well, that and the fact that I had just had a doctor’s appointment at the same location my dad used to go to for his cancer treatment, so I was in a bit of an emotionally vulnerable state to begin with. (Everything is fine. The kidney donation program just needs to double-check that I don’t have a bleeding disorder.)

I’m very persistent, and I have a lot of people helping me out. Sandra says that I’m doing great and that my dream home is out there somewhere and that she will for sure help me find it. I’m inclined to believe her, since she has a lot more experience in real estate than I, or pretty much anyone, does. Still – if you or anyone you know is looking to sell a house, or a trailer, or a Quonset hut with a porta-potty duct-taped to it, get in touch.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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