Win $10,000 Toward Your First Home

Becoming homeowners was a decision Valerie and Ron Francois made well before they got married in June 1999. Valerie, 34, had grown tired after years of renting in New York and New Jersey, and Ron, 36, was determined to do as his father had done–work hard to raise a family in his own home. The couple made a conscious decision to forego a lavish wedding and instead used their money for the down payment on a $117,000, three-bedroom townhouse in East Windsor, New Jersey. They moved in three months after their nuptials. “You could spend $30,000 or $40,000 on a wedding,” says Valerie. “We wanted to start out as a married couple with something substantial–something we could build on.”

The couple felt strongly that their first home should be the very best house they could afford. They approached the purchase like an investment because they wanted to make sure they would be positioned to trade up to their dream home when the time came. “There was a [good] school nearby. It was near the turnpike, and there was a bus stop that could take you to New York, which was good for commuters,” explains Valerie, a corporate communications executive for Siemens Corp. “All those are things we thought would make it easier to sell when the time came.”

After five years of marriage and with a second child on the way, the couple decided to sell their home and look for a larger place in 2004. That’s when the value of homeownership really became apparent. “When we purchased the first home, we knew we only wanted to stay there for five years,” says Ron. “The plan was to pay our mortgage and save as much cash as we could, and when the opportunity presented itself, we would take the savings and the equity and apply it toward our second home.”

Their East Windsor townhouse sold for $230,000, giving them more than $100,000 in equity to apply toward a four-bedroom, single-family home with a two-car garage that sits on a third of an acre of land in central New Jersey. Ron says their new home, which is right outside of affluent Princeton, appraises for about $500,000. “From an investment standpoint, that’s the direction that we wanted to go,” he says.

Valerie notes: “We couldn’t have bought our second home without building up equity in our first. If we had rented during those first five years of marriage, we would never have been able to save enough money to make that purchase. As we went through the process, we came to understand that [building equity] is what people do.”

When Maria and Cameron Saulsby realized how much money they were wasting to pay for a home they didn’t own, homeownership became a regular topic of conversation in their two-bedroom Orlando, Florida, apartment. “We were just throwing our money away to somebody else while renting,” says Cameron, 27, a marketing associate at Sysco Food Services. “We knew the best way to get out of that was to