How I bought a house in Las Vegas
In this series, NerdWallet questions new homeowners across the country about their unique home buying journeys and the financial decisions that have helped them along the way. E-mail [email protected] to share your first home buying story.
Brittany Hilzinger, a 31-year-old restaurant waitress and part-time dog sitter who has been saving for a house since the age of 17, recently purchased a $ 136,000 condo in Las Vegas.
The San Diego native moved to Las Vegas with her husband Jesse earlier this year. But it wasn’t all easy: a few months after starting the search, she was unexpectedly turned down for a loan and worked overtime to pay for the condo with cash.
Read her home buying story and find out what she would have done differently. (This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity and length.)
What brought you to Las Vegas?
I moved in January. I’m originally from San Diego, but my husband and I have vacationed in Las Vegas a lot. We looked at San Diego properties before deciding on Las Vegas, but house prices in Las Vegas were so much more affordable. It’s also relatively close to San Diego, so it’s easy for me to return to my family. I also knew that I could make roughly the same salary (or more) as a catering server there.
Why did you decide to buy a house in Las Vegas?
When I was 17 I realized I wanted to buy a house someday and started saving back then. I was in high school and would save half my salary from retail jobs. I loved the idea of owning something and making it my own. I have always been interested in the real estate market and also knew that house prices in Las Vegas were on the rise.
What were you looking for in a house?
My budget was $ 250,000. I wanted something not too close to the Strip, but still close to restaurants and shopping. We were originally looking for a house with a yard as we have dogs but were unable to get pre-approved so we went with a condo. And after being unexpectedly turned down for a loan, I saved enough money to buy a condo. We figured we could possibly rent it out for passive income.
What was your home buying journey like?
We started talking to a real estate agent in August 2018 and started looking seriously in October. We made an offer on November 30 for the condo, and it was accepted right away.
Unfortunately, even though I was pre-approved for a loan, the loan company called me in December – about two weeks after we accepted our offer – and told me they couldn’t approve me for a loan because my 2016 taxes didn’t. did not show enough income. I had not claimed all of my cash winnings from my services. I had great credit (over 800), but since I earn a large portion of my salary in cash and didn’t claim everything, my income wasn’t enough.
It was the worst week of my life. It was really stressful. We wondered if we should continue to rent or just buy the condo with cash. I had saved more than the price of the condo ($ 136,000) in cash, so we decided to buy it. We had no room to negotiate the price; the owner was firm. We have been doing a 45 day shutdown since we moved from San Diego and wanted to give myself time to buy new furniture and work like crazy as it was a cash purchase. We closed on January 15, 2019.
How did you know the house was right for you?
For us, this is a home from home and we don’t plan to live here for more than three years. It’s three bedrooms and two bathrooms. I asked my agent to take pictures and give me his honest opinion. Although I didn’t see the exact unit, I had a good idea since I had seen two other condos in the same complex. Ours was an incredible deal; it was between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000 less than others in the resort. Because it needed new floors, we reduced closing costs by $ 2,000 to help offset costs. We are also in a better location in the complex and facing east, so the [afternoon] the sun does not shine on us.
What is your approach to financing and how did you save for the house?
I am a born savior. I look at the big picture and still have goals that I want to achieve. The few things I splurge on are travel and my dogs, because I like to buy them toys and treats.
When I was 21, I found a job as a restaurant waiter. The restaurant closed, so I started working in professional sports. I had a paid internship with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 and moved to Philadelphia in 2013 to work for them for six months. But serving gave me a lot more income than sport. After that I returned to San Diego and have been serving gourmet pubs and craft beer restaurants ever since.
In 2014, I started dog sitting for Rover, a market for pet sitting and dog walking. I can earn anywhere from $ 800 to $ 1000 per month using the app, and I put all of that into my savings. At one point, I was working three waiter jobs and a sitting dog at the same time.
Were there any surprises or challenges? Would you have done something differently?
I would have claimed more of my cash tips from the previous tax year. At the time, I was the one who thought I had more money in my pocket, so I was afraid to do that. I now know that claiming them will help me achieve what I want in the long run. [Editor’s note: To comply with IRS requirements, report your tips to your employer monthly if they total $20.]
What advice would you give to someone considering buying a home in Las Vegas?
I work with a lot of people my age who just rent, and some waiters laughed at me or thought I was joking when I told them I was buying a house. But servers can make decent money. I hope to inspire more people to think about it.
Advice for first-time home buyers
Jason Garcia, the real estate agent who helped Hilzinger find his home, discussed some things new buyers in the area can keep in mind.
Inventory in Las Vegas is increasing. Good news for buyers: there are more homes coming onto the market. “You have more choices,” Garcia says. “This means you don’t have to be in such a rush to buy and can take your time comparing different choices. You might even get help closing costs. “
Consider living further from the Strip. Buyers tend to flock to the bustling, casino-lined stretch south of downtown Las Vegas, which means they end up paying more for real estate. “There are great opportunities for people who might want to go to the Northwest, where you can get more for your money,” he says. “In addition, the traffic is not bad in Vegas. You can get to anywhere in the city in 30-45 minutes. “
Your offer is more than the number. Garcia points out that there are things you can bring to the table that are unrelated to the dollar amount. “It’s not always the highest price,” he says. “Sometimes the seller wants to move out and doesn’t want to be put in a temporary home, so you can offer a few weeks of free rental. These factors are sometimes more important. “
Top photo of Brittany Hilzinger and her husband Jesse. Photos courtesy of Brittany Hilzinger.