Kaitlin Wadley and Bryce Bordenkecher in their dining room

How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed

How a couple of freelancers bought a home in a seller’s market.

Image: HouseLogic

Names: Kaitlin Wadley, 30, and Bryce Bordenkecher, 32

City: Minneapolis

Year of home purchase: 2018

Sale price: $249,900

Home style: 103-year-old bungalow

Professions: She’s a freelance illustrator who also runs an online vintage clothing store; he’s a photo retoucher.

After nine years in a 550-square-foot apartment, Kaitlin Wadley and Bryce Bordenkecher were ready for more space and their own place. And since Kaitlin works from home, they weren’t just shopping for a house; they were shopping for a workplace, too. But they had a challenge: These creative professionals were both self-employed. Getting a mortgage can be a little harder when you’re a freelancer.

Plus, they were in a seller’s market, with houses getting multiple offers as soon as they were listed. Here’s how they made it work.

You’d been in the same apartment for nearly a decade. What finally made you say, “House. Now.”?

Kaitlin: I work from home. I was like, “I need out of this tiny apartment.” I was the one pushing to buy. I wanted another cat, and we needed more room for that, too.

Did you know what kind of house you wanted?

Kaitlin: We wanted something older, with architectural details. We didn’t want anything built after 1950. We didn’t want a 1970s house covered with carpet and paneling.

What was the first thing you looked at?

Kaitlin: A condo, because it was cheap, $150,000. It was seven blocks from where we were living, and it was in a 1915 building. We went the first week it was listed and put in an offer. It wasn’t accepted. We realized we needed to be serious.

And being serious meant?

Kaitlin: Zeroing in on what we wanted. You couldn’t just casually browse in that [seller’s] market. We sat with [our agent] and had a candid conversation about what we were looking for in a house. The style, condition, number of bedrooms, price range, and neighborhood. He took us on a first round of showings, so he could get an idea of what we wanted.

Then he set up a custom search that would email us new listings every night that fit our criteria, and we would go through those and see if there were any we wanted to look at. You had to put in an offer that minute in that market, so screening the houses helped us move faster.

How long did you shop before you found The One?

Kaitlin: Two-and-a-half weeks. But we looked at a lot of homes. We saw a three-bedroom house we liked and decided we wanted to make an offer, only to be told that the seller had accepted an offer while we were looking at it. We had to pick up the pace of things because homes were going fast.

How did you know that a bungalow was the house for you?

Kaitlin: The size and the architecture were right. It’s Arts and Crafts, a style that goes with any type of furniture. It had two bedrooms, so we would have one to use as an office/studio space and one to sleep in. We liked the neighborhood, and there were mature trees in the yard. It didn’t need a lot of work. The price was right, too.

You were in a tough market. Was it hard to get the house?

Kaitlin: There were three offers in addition to ours. One was an escalating offer. But the owner took ours because our agent has a good relationship with the seller’s agent. He convinced the seller to take our offer. I don’t know why, but I think it was because we were a young couple buying our first house.

Getting a mortgage when you don’t have a W-2 is tougher than when you do. What was it like for a couple of self-employed creatives to get a six-figure loan?

Kaitlin: It was tricky. Bryce had two years where his income was, like, $16,000 less from one year to the next, because he had taken on fewer clients. He had to provide a couple of years [of tax returns] to show it was a one-time dip. He also had to write a letter explaining that it was because he had taken on [fewer] clients.

[The lender] didn’t ask for lists of clients, and we were glad. A friend of ours who’s a freelancer referred us to our broker, and I think the fact that [our broker] had worked with freelancers in the past probably worked in our favor.

What type of mortgage did you get?

Kaitlin: We went with traditional. We had enough to put 20% down without using up our savings, and we didn’t want a mortgage where we had a lower down payment because it felt good to get a chunk of that house paid for.

What’s your advice to first-time home buyers?

Kaitlin: Don’t start looking until you have saved up your down payment. Get an agent. It’s worth it to get one to help you hone your search. Know what you’re willing to compromise on because the faster you can come to a consensus on a house, the better.

There’s also a really scary period between when the offer is accepted and your financing is secured and when you close on the house. It’s totally normal to get cold feet and worry you’ve made a mistake. Chances are, you haven’t.

Related:  Know-What-You’re-Willing-to-Compromise-On Worksheet

Finally, did you get that cat you wanted?

Kaitlin: Yes. We got our fourth one when we knew we were moving. It was another one of those things where I had to convince [Bryce]. Now that’s his favorite cat.

More in They Did It. You Can Do It. New Home Buyers Tell All

See the full spotlight