When it comes to real estate in 2022, it’s not a first-time buyer’s market, to say the least. Prices of houses are soaring, particularly in metropolitan areas that are queer-friendly. And mortgage interest rates are once again starting to rise. Would-be buyers who are LGBTQ+ also face unique hurdles like safety concerns and income disparity, which can make the experience particularly challenging.
Amber Ryland has navigated these issues firsthand. A lesbian realtor and certified mentor with eXp Realty (amberryland.exprealty.com), Ryland went through the process of buying a home with her wife Morgan and their young sons Hudson, Asher, and Westin. Below, she offers advice from her personal and business experiences.
The housing market can seem overwhelming right now for first-time buyers. What is the first step you’d recommend folks take in the process?
The best thing you can do as a first-time buyer is find yourself a qualified real estate professional that you can trust. It’s their job to take what is inevitably an overwhelming process and turn it into an enjoyable, exciting, and stress-free journey for you.
The second thing you should do — and a good agent will tell you this — is you must get pre-approved for your mortgage loan. Don’t even think about house hunting until you have a pre-approval in hand. If you don’t know where to begin, a good agent will be able to recommend some great lenders to you.
LGBTQ+ families face their own unique hurdles in homebuying. What advice would you offer them in their search?
There’s often an underlying fear of homophobia throughout the entire process for LGBTQ+ families, in everything from how a real estate professional may treat them to whether or not they lost out on a house simply because of who they are. Make sure you work with an LGBTQ+ agent or an agent who is an LGBTQ+ ally so you’ll feel supported and confident that they have your best interests at heart and will do everything they can to protect you as their clients.
Then do your research, and I don’t just mean on the computer. Find neighborhoods and areas that you can afford and go spend the day there with your family. Attend an open house at the local school. Have dinner in a local restaurant. Take the kids to the local playground. How did you feel there? Once back at the computer, you can take a deeper dive into the neighborhoods you liked. And again, the right real estate agent can be a great resource in helping you screen potential neighborhoods.
The down payment can be a sizable obstacle for buyers. How would you advise would-be buyers without the cash in hand?
It’s a common misconception that you need to put at least 20 percent down to buy a home. You can buy a home with as little as 3.5 percent down. Speak with a qualified lender about options to help with the down payment, because there are a lot of programs you can explore that assist first-time homebuyers. Even with a low down payment, there are other ways to make your offer appear appealing to the seller, so don’t count yourself out!
The Federal Reserve System is raising interest rates. What does that mean for LGBTQ+ buyers?
Higher rates make homeownership more challenging for buyers because it means an increase in their monthly mortgage payments and a decrease in their overall buying power. The Fed’s increase in March influenced mortgage rates to rise to an average of 4.5 percent at a 30-year fixed rate. That means on a $500,000 home, you’ll be paying roughly $425 per month more on your mortgage than you would have last year if you’d locked in when the rates were historically low at 2.6 percent. And that isn’t the only increase experts are expecting from the Fed this year, so expect your buying power (budget for your home) to decrease as the interest rates rise.
Should we rush to buy now, or is it OK to wait?
I’d hate for anyone to feel rushed in what is obviously the largest purchase of their life, but if you have the means to buy now then I would advise you should. Real estate experts aren’t expecting a collapse or any bubble to burst — despite what buyers may be hoping for. That means properties will continue to gain equity year over year. So that house you passed up at the top of your budget earlier this year will likely be out of your budget next year. The ability to lock in right now with low interest rates is something buyers should not overlook.
Is there a cautionary tale you can offer of what can go wrong?
There are a lot of moving pieces in a real estate transaction so there’s a lot that can go wrong. That’s why having a real estate professional represent you is key in protecting yourself. I don’t have a specific incident to share, but in general, I don’t ever recommend waiving the inspection contingency unless you have a bunch of extra money to throw around. If you’ve waived it and find out there’s a major issue with the home and want to back out, you could lose your deposit. And if you stick with the house knowing there are major issues, it could become a bottomless money pit.
As a realtor, what has been the most rewarding experience for you of matching a family to a home?
It’s hard to put into words the joy I get in being part of the process that helps a buyer find the right home. A house is just a house until a family moves in and makes it a home. To get to see that come to fruition and watch as it evolves is really special to me. I stay in touch with all of my clients and their willingness to open their home up to me is not something I take for granted. I will admit, it feels extra special when I get to help “family” because I can relate on a personal level. Living in a state like California in the time that we do, where LGBTQ+ people can not only be their authentic selves, but purchase a property with their partner or family just like everyone else, genuinely gives me goosebumps.
What was your own homebuying experience like?
Like many first-time buyers, we had unrealistic expectations of what we could get with our budget, which slowly led us to widen our desired location preference. The extra 15 minutes we thought we weren’t willing to go were worth it when we found the right house. We had two must-haves: a great school district and a big backyard with a pool. We got both! Our neighborhood was known for being more on the conservative side, which worried us a little bit, but we quickly found everyone to very gracious and accepting of our family. In the six years we’ve been here, there hasn’t been one incident where anyone has made us feel discriminated against, unsafe, or any less-than because we are a lesbian couple with three children.
What are the rewards of owning a home for your family?
Having a place that you can call your own, that you can decorate or renovate however you like is a great feeling. It became especially rewarding during quarantine because although we couldn’t leave the house, we had a beautiful backyard where the kids could play and a pool to keep us cool in the summer. Of course, knowing we made a good investment and have built up equity over the years is very rewarding as well.
What’s the importance of your family to your career — and life?
My family is everything to me, so to have a career that allows for freedom and the work-life balance that I desire is invaluable. Running a real estate business is hard work, and I put in long hours, but I enjoy the people and the process so much that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My wife and I reflect all the time on what a beautiful life we’ve been able to create together. We’re building generational wealth through multiple streams of income and long-term investments in real estate. The idea of a family business has always been a dream of ours, and we hope that someday our sons will want to be involved as well.
Any final words of wisdom?
Investing in real estate is something everyone should explore at some point. Don’t just assume that you can’t afford to purchase a home without at least speaking to an agent first. There might be more available to you than you realize. Call me! I would love to help you map out and achieve all of your real estate goals.