Bryce Dishongh never wanted to own a home, which is different from most Americans. But he was sick of seeing his rent go up every year and thought that buying his own place would be a good way to stop that.
He tells CNBC Make It, “The main reason I wanted to buy a condo is that rent changes.” “I wanted it to stay the same for as long as I could see.”
So, in 2017, Dishongh bought his first home. It was a one-bedroom condo in Austin, Texas, that was 600 square feet. He got the house for $140,000 with only a $6,000 down payment, which is about 4.2%.
Dishongh’s own place also gave him the freedom to make it his own in every way. He spent another $9,000 to fix it up from top to bottom with custom-built cabinets, a wooden ceiling, and a built-in desk that fits his tall frame perfectly.
Today, the 37-year-old, who makes over $100,000 a year between his full-time job as a senior front-end developer, his pet portrait business, and his part-time job at a doggy daycare, wants to pay off his mortgage as soon as possible, hopefully within 10 years.
“I don’t like debt.” “This condo is the only thing I owe money on,” he says. “I bought my truck and paid it off in the same year.” He rents out his condo on Airbnb and spends many nights sleeping in a camper he built himself and keeps in the back of his truck.
“I can just go back there whenever I want and have a little adventure.”
At first, Dishongh wanted to live full-time in a van, travel around the U.S., and work from home. But when he did the math, he saw that it would take more than two years for the costs to even out.
He came up with another idea: rent out his condo on Airbnb and spend most of his time living in the solar-powered camper he built into the back of his 2018 Chevy Colorado. “I can just go back there whenever I want and have a little adventure,” he says.
Dishongh spent about $6,000 to set up the camper. It looks and feels like a smaller version of his condo, with wood paneling and a retractable screen for watching movies. Around the outside, there are twinkling Christmas lights, and in the back, there is a rolled-up camping mattress.
He also put a battery in the truck’s bed to power fans, lights, and other electronics. He also made a ventilation system and put hardwood flooring all over the inside.
It’s well-built but small, and there’s no kitchen or toilet. “Everyday tasks have become very hard,” says Dishongh. He often cooks his dinner in the woods over a campfire, using a small cast-iron skillet and a single flame.
Still, the sacrifice is worth it because his Airbnb listing brings in so much extra money. “I make $1,700 a month just by showering at my gym,” he says. He puts it all towards his mortgage principal, and on average, he pays about $1,500 more per month.
I saw a lot of overpriced places that investors had bought… I didn’t want to be a fool like that.
The process of buying a house was pretty easy for Dishongh. He realized that it would be better for him financially to have a fixed mortgage payment than to see his rent keep going up. He called a friend who was a real estate agent and started looking at places right away.
At the time, Dishongh was paying $1,200 a month to rent a flat. He wanted to find a condo that would cost about the same, including things like property taxes and homeowners association fees. He had saved up enough money to make a small down payment without much trouble.
He looked at about 10 homes in Austin, but “I saw a lot of overpriced places that investors had bought and were trying to flip,” he says. “I didn’t want to be that sucker.” Every time he made an offer that was close to or the same as the asking price, another buyer beat him out with a higher offer.
He finally found a condo that was affordable, had low HOA fees, had well-kept grounds, and wasn’t too old. Dishongh made an offer at the price the seller wanted, and the seller accepted it a few days later.
The median price of a home in Austin is more than $400,000, making it one of the fastest-growing big cities in the U.S. But Dishongh was able to find a cheaper place to live by staying away from the more popular neighborhoods.
“There are a lot more people who want to live in South Austin, so I bought north,” he says. “There is a lot of room for growth here.”
Even though he knew that putting less than 20% down would mean paying for private mortgage insurance, Dishongh felt good about the percentage he chose. “The minimum was 3%, and I wanted to put more than that, but I didn’t want to spend all of my savings,” he says.
Besides the down payment, Dishongh had to pay $150 for an inspection and about $1,300 for closing costs. He didn’t have a lot of furniture, so he didn’t need to hire movers.
His typical monthly housing costs are as follows:
HOA fees: $240 (covers water, trash, and internet)
Property taxes are $167 a year, or $2,000 a year total.
Private mortgage insurance: $100
Homeowners’ insurance costs $33 per month or $395 per year.
Extra mortgage principal payments: $1,500 (varies by month)
“I tore everything down without any plan to fix it.”
After he closed on the condo, Dishongh’s real work began. Because the down payment was small, he was able to put more money into fixing up his new home. He says that at first, it cost him more time than money.
Once the space was his, he decided to start making it his own. He says, “I don’t know what got into me, but I just started knocking everything down.” “I destroyed everything without a plan for how to fix it.”
Dishongh had a general idea of the atmosphere he wanted and saw the condo as a “sandpit” to play in. He says, “When I was young, I had a lot of crazy ideas about what I wanted to do, but now I can actually do those things.”
He spent about $9,000 to redo the living room, kitchen, and bedroom in their entirety. Almost all of that went towards tools and materials, since he did almost all of the building himself, like building a floating desk, attaching wood flooring to the ceiling, and making custom speaker mounts.
He’s not a carpenter by trade, so he spent many hours watching YouTube tutorials, looking things up online, and figuring out how to do things as he went. The best thing about having my own place is that I can change things to fit my tastes.
It was worth the work. “The best thing about having my own place is that I can change things to suit my tastes,” he says. “Everything is perfect, which makes me so happy.”
Dishongh is happy with his life right now, even though he spends most of his time in his camper instead of his condo. But he can’t wait for the day when he will own his condo outright.
He says, “I’ll feel better knowing this is my space, it’s paid off, and I owe no one anything.” “Right now, that freedom is my top goal.”