Buying a home is usually a tiresome and lengthy process, while equally exciting, terrifying, and humbling all at once. I went through the process a few years ago with my husband and looking back now, we were wholly unprepared. While we were super pumped about becoming homeowners, we were certain we could withstand any difficulties and wouldn’t care about any hardships we encountered.
Spoiler alert: we ended up caring a lot.
We faced two main hurdles during the homebuying process:
- I was a full-time freelancer.
- We were two married men buying a home together.
The first hurdle was surprisingly easy to deal with, especially compared to the second.
Unfortunately, for LGBTQ+ couples like us, buying a home comes with a few extra hoops to jump through. That’s exactly why I wanted to write this piece. I’ve curated a list of tips, some of which are based on my own personal experiences, to help LGBTQ+ homebuyers realize their dream of homeownership.
Carefully Vet the Location
Before you start searching for your dream home on Zillow, I highly recommend you not only research the area you’re thinking about buying in, but actually spend some time there as well. I learned this lesson the hard way. My husband and I found what we pictured as the perfect home for us. It was an old but recently renovated home situated on a small apple orchard in New England. What wasn’t there to like?
Unfortunately for us, the location was a bit rural, and as is true for many rural places throughout the U.S., it wasn’t the most welcoming place for LGBTQ+ couples. It became clear when we were touring the home that the neighbors and real estate agent for the seller weren’t thrilled with our presence, even though we had come prepared to make an offer that day.
To avoid this same situation, do your research beforehand or ask your real estate agent to look into the demographics of the city or town.
Understand Work Options in the Area Where
You Plan to Buy
While you may already have a job, whether it be remote or in the area you’re buying in, you might not have it forever. If you do foresee yourself needing to find a job in your home’s area, you also want to make sure there are employers you feel comfortable with.
When you’re evaluating a neighborhood or city for an accepting feel, consider the local businesses as well. Would you feel comfortable working at one of them if you needed or wanted to?
Know Your Rights as a Homebuyer
Thankfully, there are laws that protect various communities against housing discrimination — the LGBTQ+ community being one of them.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. While the Fair Housing Act doesn’t explicitly state LGBTQ+ people as a protected class, more and more states and courts are starting to include LGBTQ+ people.
In addition, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act also prohibits lenders specifically (mortgage lenders included) from discriminating based on sex and gender. Plus, if you are denied, the ECO Act requires lenders to give a written explanation as to why.
Understand How to Report Discrimination
Despite the laws in place, housing discrimination happens frequently, unfortunately. In fact, a National Academy of Science study found that LGBTQ+ buyers are 73% more likely to have their mortgage applications declined, and pay higher fees and interest on the loan if they are accepted.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of this discrimination due to your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) by calling (800) 669-9777. You can also contact your local FHEO office or file a complaint online.
While filing a complaint with HUD or the FHEO office can help you get the justice you deserve, it doesn’t mean you’ll get the home you were denied. If the seller chooses to sell quickly to another buyer, there’s no stopping them, since a discrimination suit could take some time.
Work with the Right Realtor
My husband and I got lucky, as my aunt is a real estate agent well-versed in the area we were looking to buy in. Most buyers, though, will end up working with a real estate agent they aren’t entirely familiar with. You’ll need to spend a lot of time with your agent, so make sure they’re someone you feel comfortable with.
To find a real estate agent who supports (or is a part of) the LGBTQ+ community, you can look through the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance. You can search by location and find full profiles for each agent you may be interested in working with. From there, set up a few interviews to get a better sense of who will work best for your needs.
Look into Homebuying Assistance
While there are no federal homebuying programs specifically for LGBTQ+ buyers, there are loan programs that can be especially beneficial. For first-time buyers in particular, consider the following programs:
- FHA loans – FHA loans are designed specifically for first-time homebuyers and let you get away with a 3.5% down payment.
- USDA loans – USDA loans are meant for “rural” areas, but you can find homes in surprisingly urban areas. The best part is you don’t need a down payment to secure this kind of loan.
- VA loans – LGBTQ+ veterans or service members can get some truly incredible loan options through the VA. Some of these loans don’t require a down payment or mortgage insurance.
- Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae loans – These are government-backed loans that offer low down payment options. You can secure a mortgage with just 3% down.
In addition, do a quick Google search to get a sense of any state programs offered. You can type “LGBTQ+ homebuying assistance [your state or city here]”. For example, in San Fransisco, the SF LGBT Center offers homebuyers free courses that help them become well-versed in the homebuying process. With the certificate you receive upon completion of the program, you can apply for various loan assistance programs or the Below Market Rate program if you have a low or moderate income.
Raise Your Credit Score
LGBTQ+ borrowers are almost two times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ borrowers to report they have poor or very poor credit scores. Women and people of color in the community are even worse off, reporting more often that they have poor credit.
Having a good credit score, or at least an average one, is vital to securing a mortgage loan. Without one, you’ll end up with sub-par interest rates, which can add tens of thousands of dollars to the life of your loan.
For ways to build credit quickly before you buy a home, you can check out our piece: Want to buy a home? Here’s how to build your credit first.
Be Careful How You Approach Your Offer
The housing market ebbs and flows, but over the last few years, it’s become increasingly difficult to purchase a home due to soaring prices. To get the edge over other buyers, you may consider writing a personal note to the seller explaining how much owning the home would mean to you. I’m not saying this isn’t a good tactic (it really is), but it can be a double-edged sword for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
If the seller prefers to sell to a non-LGBTQ+ couple or individual, you could wind up having your offer turned down. While this is discrimination, in a hot housing market, a seller can simply say they got a better offer. So, when crafting your offer letter, be as honest as you’re comfortable with, but consider who your seller is.
Set Up a Power of Attorney
We live in the 21st century, so not all couples who buy homes will be married. While that process can be difficult enough, the complexities can become two-fold for same-sex couples. The political climate around LGBTQ+ rights is constantly shifting, and not always for the good.
In the event that you and your partner buy a home without being married, you’ll want to seriously consider setting up power of attorney and last will and testament to make sure the home is left to your partner and any children.
There’s no telling how things will go. With talk of overturning Roe v. Wade, many LGBTQ+ folks are rightfully concerned that marriage equality will be next. If that happens, things can get messy quickly. Setting up as much legal paperwork as possible will ensure your loved ones are taken care of.
Buying a home is a challenging process for everyone, but there are a few extra hurdles for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Not only do we, as a group, struggle to make enough money to purchase a home, but getting our credit scores up to secure the best rates also poses a significant obstacle. Plus, when we do get to the point of actually looking for a home, we need to over-consider location and lenders.
There are currently some protections in place, and hopefully, as time moves on, more protections will arise.
Featured image: Chan2545/Shutterstock.com