home buying in your 20’s

It has to be said that I could buy a house tomorrow. Financially, no. Pinterest-dream world, yes. I could tell you every detail that I (already) have planned out from the number of bedrooms to the type of counter tops I would install. Moving from a studio apartment to a (still pretty damn small) carriage house, I have been able to release some of those design endorphins on my current home, and yet, it just never seems to be enough…

Starting this blog, I knew I wanted to explore all kinds of interiors – styling a friend’s reno, refurbishing a co-workers vintage bar cart, capturing the homes of my peers that have a style I different from my own. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of photographing my good friend Sara’s town home.

Sara, 28, is an attorney here in Charleston. I met her when we both lived in studio apartments, a floor apart from each other. Since then, she has dug her feet into the ground and bought her own home. As a more-than knowledgable knower of all things real estate, I sat down with Sara to get the 411 on doing it on your own – buying in your 20’s.


Tell me about your moving history:

BEFORE: Sara's living area pre-built-ins
BEFORE: Sara’s living area pre-mantel and built-ins

I live in a fee-simple town home, meaning I own the land and structure and manage it without an HOA (home owners association). There are no covenants or restrictions on what I can do to the structure itself. I moved into a blank space – I had no furniture! Then I renovated the entire downstairs.

I can’t imagine. What was the renovation process like?

I added the crown molding though out the entire house (adds instant architectural character). In the kitchen, I knocked down a wall of cabinets, built a breakfast bar, replaced counter tops and added granite (it was 1981 laminate!).  I added a backsplash, 2 pendant lights, and refaced the cabinets. I also added overhead lighting and the built ins in the living room. Lastly, I painted and added a doggy door for my dog, Marley.


Did you do all of this on your own?

I saved money by painting myself, but for everything else I used a contractor. One of the things I regret is not looking at several contractors. I went with the first one that gave me an estimate. My three pieces of advice for renovating would be:

  1. Ask around for recommendations on contractors and get more than one quote
  2. Get everything in writing
  3. Plan to go over budget

Make sure that you can be at the job site daily. No matter how great the contractor is, things will get messed up. It’s important to go in before its too late to correct things. Even if it’s as simple as centering a light fixture over a table…

What advice do you have for someone thinking about buying a home?

If you’re interested in buying, don’t shrug it off like you can’t afford it. Smaller banks/regional banks are the key. They’ll work with you and they are a huge help. For me, they were the ones to say “if we can get you into a home, we will.” Once you’re in your home, it will feel a lot like paying rent – it becomes clockwork. It’s just that initial process of buying that the difficult part.

One thing to remember is you can’t change location. Don’t write off a house just because its ugly or blank. A 1981 classic can become something great in the right location, but a beautiful house in an awful location can’t be fixed.

Try to pick a place that you can rent out: a 2-bedroom with 2 master suites is a highly desired rental. You’re not buying your forever home. Think of it as your starter home – some place you would love to live.  If you love to live there, others will too.

Also, remember that it’s your first home. The bank will likely tell you you’re approved for an amount far greater than you may want to spend. You’re in your 20’s! You don’t want a large mortgage to prevent you from traveling or going to concerts. If done right, a house can be a huge financial stepping stone and can become a valuable asset.


What is your favorite part of your home?

It’s small. It’s a great fit for me and Marley. It’s the perfect type of cozy. When I was thinking through designs, I didn’t want it to be so perfect or so fussy that guests couldn’t feel comfortable coming in and kicking off their shoes. I wanted it to look put together, but also very welcoming.


Sara’s kitchen before and after renovation



What is your go-to spot for furniture on a budget?

  1. Craigslist – scope out brands and be patient
  2. Overstock.com
  3. Target is great for smaller things, like a side table.
  4. If at all possible, have one antique (mine is my credenza).  It makes everything – including a Target side table – look more expensive.
Sara and her handsome pup, Marley


 Thank you Sara (and Marley) for hosting me! 




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