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Multigenhousing hero
• Jun 7, 2024

Jennifer Retana's home-buying journey is the stuff of destiny.

Through family-owned businesses and smart financial planning, Jennifer's family lived comfortably when she was growing up. But that all changed in 2008.

After the great economic recession more than 15 years ago, Jennifer and her mother, Maria, moved out of their New Jersey home and relocated several times, before eventually settling in a smaller property in Trenton. While the goal was to stay for just one year, they ended up living there for seven.

"Our lifestyle changes were very apparent to me," she said. " It was different living in a city with more congestion, and the things that come along with it like more noise, difficult parking, and all that kind of stuff."

Her mother and father also divorced around that time.

"My mom deserves the world," she explained. "We've struggled so much and moved a lot. And so I think we deserve to start living the good life."

The Long Journey to YES!

But before Jennifer and her mother could purchase their dream home in central New Jersey, the doting daughter had to work through "No" to get to "Yes."

For Jennifer, her home-buying journey began years ago.

"I've actually been saving since I started college, which was probably like 10 years ago," she said. "I was probably 19, 20 years old at the time … thankfully my mother was very kind. I had the luxury of being able to go to college and live with her."

Living at home gave Jennifer the opportunity to save money for the future instead of paying for necessities like rent and more.

But starting to save money early doesn't guarantee the ability to purchase a home.

"It took a bunch of 'No's' to get here," she said.

The very first time she reached out to the program at Habitat for Humanity of South Central New Jersey, unfortunately, she just didn't meet the income guidelines. So, she was rejected.

Habitat for Humanity has homeownership programs nationwide for low-to-moderate income households. Generally, income can't exceed 60% of the area median income, according to the website, but those guidelines can vary at the local level.

"I was completely defeated," she admits.

But a year or two later, Habitat's Homeownership Program reached out and said there was an opening. Still, she was dejected and thought her dream of owning a home was a long shot.

"I thought there was no chance, and I just kind of filled it out for fun at that point," she said. "I went into the application thinking, 'Okay, it's probably going to happen again, and I'll get denied, but let's try.'"

Jennifer and her mother closing on their home

A Roller Coaster Ride

To Jennifer's surprise, her application started to go through the process without a denial.

"We started to have these conversations that gave me hope," she said.

And while she had saved the down payment and was working full-time, some of the numbers were off at the end. She was informed that if she wanted to purchase the home alone, she would need to come up with a larger down payment so that her loan would have a more affordable monthly payment.

"They told me you have two options," she said. "You put more money down or consider adding a co-borrower. I didn't feel comfortable with the first option, just because it's my life savings."

She decided to bring her mother into the process to be able to afford the home, but to also give her mother the good life they always envisioned.

This is one of the reasons so many first-timers turn to multi-generational home buying. Bringing in a close family member to help financially, but also to be able to spend more time with their parent or even grandparent in their golden years.

"I wouldn't do this with anybody else. No doubt in my mind that with her, she was the right person to do this with," she said.

The duo worked with TD Bank and eventually closed on their home in April of this year. In addition to working with Habitat, Jennifer utilized a grant in the amount of $10,000 from Address Yourself, a program offered through a New Jersey based non-profit organization, that provides first-time home buyers with up to $30,000 in grants to be used toward down payment and closing costs.

"I just love how quiet it is," she said of her new home and neighborhood. "There's something about just hanging out on the front porch or the deck out back, it just feels tranquil."

Truly America's Most Convenient Bank

Another surprise came when Jennifer realized TD was not your normal bank.

"I was under the impression that everyone was going to be stuffy and serious and matter of fact," she said. "But I think the person that left the most significant impression on me was Lillian. She was just so amazing to work with."

Lillian Hernandez, TD's Mortgage Sales Manager for the greater New Jersey area, treated Jennifer like a friend, in addition to being a client, during the home-buying experience.

"That made the process so much more human," she said. "I was very anxious about the paperwork that would come in. There were certain terms I didn't understand, and she made me feel so comfortable."

Advice for Other First-Time Home Buyers

Jennifer says income is the first thing to consider.

"Having failed during our first attempt to buy a home, the income for sure, is probably the most important," she said.

Just as important as income is need-based homebuying, particularly when you're going through an organization like Habitat for Humanity, noted Jennifer.

For instance, the organization also considers the stability of your current housing situation, whether or not it is transitional, unstable, unsafe or even overcrowded.

"They go through all the applications to see if you're a good candidate for that, and I think we were a fit based on our story," she said. "When I applied, we had several people living in our old home in spaces and rooms that we'd converted into bedrooms."

Next, Jennifer said a denial or rejection isn't the end of your journey.

"You may get rejected and it might even happen a few times but just don't give up. You know, as cheesy as that sounds," she said. "You have to keep going."

Another thing that helped her through to owning her first home was that she continued to grow her savings, even amid the buying process.

"I had enough savings but then came the closing costs. So thankfully, you know, that wasn't an issue as I continued to save," she said. "I didn't have to worry about that. So just continue saving even when you think you've saved enough."

And finally, ask questions.

"Anything, even if it's common sense, just ask," she said.

"Because I definitely went into it not knowing, but Lillian, TD, and Habitat helped educate me during the process. They made me feel comfortable enough to call them up, to text them, to just say, 'I was wondering about this….' So, just, you know, ask questions," she added.

Lillian was absolutely floored that she had such an impact on Jennifer and her mother.

"That truly makes all the hard work worth it," she said. "I pride myself on being honest, transparent and realistic with all my customers. And the buyers from Habitat often require additional help given the intricacy of the property acquisition process. So, I'm glad that we were able to make these dreams a reality."

Lillian closed by sharing the praise.

"I have the best teammates in the industry, and they treat our consumers with respect and transparency as well," she said. "It's truly One TD."

We hope you found this helpful. This article is based on information available in June 2024 and is subject to change. It is provided as a convenience and for general information purposes only. Our content is not intended to provide legal, tax, investment, or financial advice or to indicate that a particular TD Bank or third-party product or service is available or right for you. TD Bank, N.A. is not affiliated with Habitat for Humanity.

For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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