Schizophrenia and Housing, Part Three

  • A home of one's one is the ultimate goal as I talked about in the first two SharePosts in this three-part series.  Being able to afford a home is the difference between shattering into homelessness and finding a sense of security and stability in your recovery


    Your apartment is the command center of your life.  Years ago, I lived in a housing complex in a dangerous neighborhood on the outskirts of town.   Cracks vials littered the hallways.  I'm glad I've come a long way from then.


    Buying a home could be an option for some of us so I want to talk about this now. 


    The New York State agency SONYMA offers a 4 percent interest rate to people with psychiatric conditions who are first-time homebuyers.  It's the Home Of Your Own (HOYO) program.  It is offered through the Department of Mental Health in Albany.  You need to meet the requirements and get financial counseling; however, once those things are in place, you qualify.

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    Yes, you are entitled to this program only because you have a psychiatric condition.


    Investigate whether your state has a similar program.  If it doesn't, and even if it does, keep your credit score as high as possible so that you'll get a sweeter deal on your interest rate. To get a better deal from a lender, your FICO score should be 740 or higher.  The lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate.


    What I can tell you: real estate agents are sellers.  They want to get their commission so will often use pressure on you.  Get your own agent to represent you as the buyer.  Have him or her get the answers to your questions promptly from the seller's agent.


    Be as dispassionate as you can and don't take it personally how you're treated if you're treated in a way that seems less than respectful.  You're not talking to friends.  Soon you will not see these people again.  Remember: it's a business transaction.  That's all it is: they want their money and you want your house.


    It goes without saying not to tell the seller of the apartment and any of the agents or anyone else involved that you have a mental illness.  You definitely keep it private at all times.  The co-op board you meet with will screen you out or in.  The board will determine if they let you in the building.  It is possible they will not.  Be professional and dress smart when you have the meeting.


    You can be hit with an unexpected assessment when you own a co-op or condo so be prepared to have a significant emergency fund should you need to cover the cost of the assessments or home repairs.


    It will be stressful searching for a new home, regardless of whether you plan to rent or buy your place.  I suggest that you don't tinker with or change your medication routine while you're conducting this search unless it's absolutely necessary.  Rely on your support network when you go on the hunt.  I did this and I also attended a peer support meeting as often as I could.


    Buying a house requires you get a home inspection.  This could be optional if you're interested in a co-op.  If the property doesn't pass the inspection, you get the price lowered or repairs taken care of prior to the closing date. 


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    The closing date is when you and the seller and each of your attorneys meet and you sign the mortgage and after much waiting get the keys to move into your new place.


    The mortgage and real estate taxes, and maintenance if you buy a co-op or carrying charges if you buy a condo, have to be paid by the due date or else you could wind up in foreclosure and have the home taken away from you.  I would save up as much money as you can so that you can use at least 20 percent of the purchase offer price as the down payment. 


    The lower the down payment, the higher your mortgage will be and thus your monthly housing costs will be higher.  A good rule of thumb is that your total housing cost is 28 percent or less of your earned income.  Your total debt load including this housing cost should be 36 percent or less of your earned income.


    If you have a higher income, it might be possible for you to place less down and carry a higher mortgage, yet I would be realistic about this and not overextend yourself even if you are in this position.  Mortgage interest and real estate taxes are currently deductible on your income tax return.


    The money you lay out when you move will be significant: to get the walls painted, buy packing boxes and hire a moving truck and mover and buy any new appliances and houseware items you need and the furniture.  So I would make a budget that overestimates by 20 percent how much you will need to take care of these things.


    Expenses will include yet not be limited to title insurance, a home appraisal, homeowner's insurance, closing costs and points, and possibly private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you use less than 20 percent as the down payment. 


    You will also have to pay your own real estate attorney to work with you from the beginning of the purchase through the contract of sale signing, and at the closing.


    On August 11, I celebrated the one-year anniversary in my new apartment.  I intend to host a housewarming in October when the weather is cooler.  I'll serve whole wheat penne with eggplant and a mixed greens salad and caprese salad.  Dessert will be a mud cake.


    I recommend that if this requires too much effort or money or time you simply call up the best pizza shop in town and order a specialty pizza for your own celebration.


    Whether you rent or own your place, I'm a strong advocate that you paint the walls a color.  White walls are dispiriting and can rob you of joy.  If you're required to paint the walls back to their original white when you move out, so be it and do this.  The cost of getting the walls painted a color is well worth it.


    Pop open a bottle of champagne or sparkling cider and toast this major life milestone.  Cheers.  You've earned this victory.

Published On: September 09, 2012