J.R. Ruiz has lived in Austin her entire life. Since graduating college, sheâ€™s rented seven different places, lived in five Austin ZIP codes and rented three storage units. Itâ€™s when she tallies up the numbers of her cumulative rent payments â€” approximately $130,000 â€” that she begins to feel the pain. But relief is on the way for the first-time homeowner.
Earlier this month, Ruiz went under contract on a single-story townhome currently under construction in Tarrytown. Though itâ€™s the third time Ruiz has gone under contract, it is the first time sheâ€™s gotten past the option period without her nerves getting the best of her. And there are no signs of cold feet; instead, she is looking forward to stepping warm-foot-first into the doors of her brand-new home this summer.
â€œI am at a place in my life when I donâ€™t want to put big decisions on hold any longer â€” I am ready to own,â€ said Ruiz, a management consultant for Deloitte. â€œI was trying to make a home meet me where I was and have it be all things for an unknown future. But the reality is that I just needed to find a place to meet me where I am right now.â€
Ruiz is a data-driven person and owning a home really began to make sense when she started running the numbers. For the past two years, Ruiz has rented a 1 bedroom/1 bathroom, less than 1,000-square-foot apartment in the Ashton. Sheâ€™s enjoyed the lifestyle downtown living affords: the infinity pool overlooking Lady Bird Lake, the movie screening room, concierge service, valet laundry and the ability to live, work and play in the same area. But it all comes at a steep price, and she realized itâ€™s an amount that doesnâ€™t stack up to what she will be getting with her new 2 bedroom/2 bathroom, 1,300-square-foot home with a yard.
â€œIt felt silly to be spending what I am on rent when I thought about all the comparable homes and condos where I could be earning equity and having a stake in something,â€ she said.
Ruiz grew up in the Jester area of Northwest Austin, attending Doss Elementary, Murchison Middle School and Anderson High School before venturing down the road to college. She earned a bachelor of arts in English literature from The University of Texas at Austin and a masterâ€™s from its Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. But it wasnâ€™t until her college days when she left North Austin and fell in love with life down south.
â€œOnce I came down here for college, it was like going to another city in my mind,â€ she said. â€œI never wanted to go back.â€
Over the years, Ruiz has experienced an array of South Austin lodging within a few miles. Her apartment on South Congress, right across from Joâ€™s Coffee when Docâ€™s was still a motor shop and First Thursdays were just starting, was where she first developed an affinity of living near the trails. As a triathlete, she loved living a short jog from the trails, riding her bike to wherever she was going and being able to swim at Deep Eddy. From renting a little place in Bouldin off of Dawson and Barton Springs during the first years of the Austin City Limits Music Fest to renting a house in Travis Heights with a few downtown apartments speckled in between, each new move made her desired location more apparent.
â€œGrowing up in Austin, it was so nice being next to all these things without having to drive 20 or 30 minutes to get to them,â€ she said. â€œThe idea of living in the middle of it all was so fun. It is the epicenter for all my athletic interests.â€
But until recently, Ruiz said owning a home just never felt quite right.
â€œI have a buyerâ€™s remorse about many things in my life, and real estate is certainly no exception,â€ she said. â€œThe first time I went under contract was on a condo in the 360 building downtown when I had the chance to take part in the pre-sales process. I knew the unit I wanted. I put down the earnest money. But it is always that option period that makes me nervous.â€
Ruiz was doing all the research and she felt like the supply was going to outweigh the demand with all the other residential construction happening in the downtown area.
â€œI couldnâ€™t wrap my mind around the data â€” it just didnâ€™t add up,â€ she said.
A few years and rentals later, and Ruiz fell in love with an adorable older house in Bryker Woods and went under contract Memorial Day of 2011.
â€œIt was a precious house, but I got ready to have the inspector come and I just got cold feet again,â€ she said. â€œI had been riding my bike through the neighborhood a few times, and I started to feel like it wasnâ€™t for this stage in my life yet.â€
Less than two years later and Ruizâ€™s nerves are nowhere in sight. She said she is looking forward to owning a brand new home in a sustainable urban development just a short jaunt from the trails and downtown. She just passed her option period without any signs of cold feet; however, that might have been due to strategic planning on her part. She wisely spent the option period warming her bare feet in the sand at a yoga retreat in Hawaii.
â€œI had a lot of time to think about where I wanted to be,â€ she said. â€œThis home is meeting me where I am. And on midnight, the day my option period ended, it felt good. I feel like I have done what I wanted to do and I was ready for this step.â€
If you are teetering on the fence between renting and buying, heeding Ruizâ€™s advice might help you recognize whether it is the right time for you to own a home.
Ruizâ€™s real estate revelations
1. Dollars and cents. â€œWhen your rent begins to meet and/or exceed a mortgage for a home, take stock,â€ Ruiz said. While it may sound like a no-brainer, Ruiz said itâ€™s also something that can creep up on you. â€œIt has been incredibly helpful to have friends in real estate, and to continue doing my own market research year to year, in order to continuously gauge where things stand,â€ she said. â€œFor quite a while, my money in rent was going further, but there was definitely a moment when things shifted. It was important to see it and move.â€
2. Find the right now home. â€œIâ€™m a big Sex and the City fan and there was an expression often used on the show about Mr. Right Now,â€ Ruiz said. â€œMany peopleâ€“â€“mostly my Realtor friendsâ€“â€“told me over and over again, â€˜J.R., this doesnâ€™t have to be your dream house.â€™ And although I heard them, I wasnâ€™t really listening. The expectations I put on these poor houses and condos were incredibly unreasonable. I somehow expected them to be all things to me at every possible phase of life, and that is clearly ridiculous. There is something to be said for getting the house that is right for you, right now.â€
3. Location, location, location. At the point when you realize that you have lived in several zip codes, separated by an artificial border or the river or the trails, then Ruiz said it is time to acknowledge that you have centered in on the area that is right for you. â€œSo just pull the trigger,â€ she said. â€œEspecially if youâ€™ve done the analysis on dollars and cents, and the market and your circumstances line up.â€