“Yes, you can” own a home and 2019 is the year for it!

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Chitra and I had a child marriage, so we joke. She was 24 and I was 25. We had not lived away from our parents, we had not had any prior relationships, we were very naive, and we started with a zero bank balance. So if we could manage to buy our first home a year after marriage, I bet you can too.

It was 1997, we were in the second year of our MBA school. Chitra would, at times, drive her dad’s 118 NE (Fiat car) to our school. We took many drives along Palm Beach road in Nerul, New Mumbai, India – back then it would be scenic, quiet and romantic. A landmark we crossed often was, NRI Seawoods Complex (an upmarket residential community) and one day I remember telling her “I will own three homes and one will be in Seawoods!”. Important to state here, I was a very big Amitabh Bachchan (a Bollywood superstar) fan and had seen movies like Deewar countless times. If anyone remembers the scene where Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) gifts his mom an entire high rise, where she had once worked as an hourly wage laborer. I certainly had a theatrical flare brewing within me.

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My obsession of owning a home dates back to my high school and college years. Our family had gone through many financial turmoils and we would move from one rental to the next. Most of my friends back then had lived in one or two homes since birth. My ambition of owning three homes would have certainly seemed far fetched to Chitra. But then we were young, madly in love and said “yes” to everything the other person desired! Poor girl, she did not know what she was signing up for. 

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We both started our first job(s) in June 1998, got engaged in January 1999 and married in April 2000. If you are a couple making the decision of owning a home, I can’t emphasize how important it is for both parties to be totally sold to that goal. My family experiences had driven me to the point of being obsessive in chasing this goal. Chitra, however, came from a different background. She had never witnessed financial upheavals in her life. Before marriage, she had probably moved homes three times and owning a home was never in her immediate goals list. Visiting places, having a good time with me and being able to shop freely 😉 would have been her ideas of newly wedded bliss. She, however, bought into my dream and looking back I don’t think I gave her a choice. So Chitra, here I publicly announce “you made my dream come true and I shall always be indebted to you!”. 

I will not bore you all with our hardships of living on ultra savings mode during the first year of marriage or being obstinate about not taking a single Rupee from any of our family members. But here are some stories which we can never forget and will hopefully humor & encourage some of you on your path to first time home ownership.

Let me jump straight to 2001 – we were ready to buy our home. We selected a property and started our home loan application with ICICI Bank. Interestingly, I had signed their Credit Cards business division as one of Blue Dart’s (my employer) largest banking clients in the country. Also, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan was their brand ambassador, appearing in many TV commercials. Their marketing message was something in the lines of “aapka sapna, humara sapna” (“your dreams are our dreams”). So it was a shock, when ICICI declined our loan application a few days before our scheduled purchase date. Our dreams were being shattered due to a “technical error”. With assistance from my clients in ICICI, I got the email address of their Home Loan division chief and sent him a strong yet emotional plea. To my surprise, our home loan application got approved in 48 hours after sending that email. Mr. Bachchan continued to be one of my favorite heroes for many more years.

In 2002, Chitra started a new job with Euro RSCG, an advertisement agency. This move would bring us more money into the bank and help ease our month end agony of making ends meet. On her first day at work, their CEO had called for an employee town hall. The big announcement was that they had lost their biggest client ‘Phillips’ and operations were to get challenging. Chitra vividly remembers walking over to her manager’s office – Suman – and enquiring about the financial stability of the agency. Suman had laughed and stated “you don’t have to worry till they start cutting back on toilet paper!”. In later months, he also quoted “When you first buy a home, you feel broke. In a few months, you get used to being broke” A true leader and motivator! 🙂

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I had two close friends – Raj and Amal. Both these guys were single, lived with their parents (very common in India) and were unable to relate to my life. We all worked in the same office and spent a lot of time together in our commute to and from work. While I would talk to Chitra about depleting laundry supplies, groceries and bank accounts, they would make me the butt of their jokes. Many of those jokes would bring us all to tears. I had little then but that laughter helped me keep light of the situation. Life has made us all busy, but I can never forget both these jokers. Especially Raj, because he, like me, would be short on cash almost around the same time as me. Did I mention, that he had a very colorful lifestyle! Some Fridays, the three of us would visit a restaurant next to our office – Tunga Paradise – to eat some non-vegetarian food. It was a luxury for all of us and a break from the vegetarian food served in the office canteen. Our order used to be pretty standard – butter chicken, another meat dish and one veg dish or dal (lentil). At the end of our meal, the server would ask us for “any dessert” and our answer would always be “no, thank you”. He would get the bill with sugar coated fennel seeds. We would take time to pay, but very diligently finish off the sugar coated fennel seeds. That would be our dessert and not having to pay for it made it sweeter! A few visits later, the server started presenting the bill with very small portions of our ‘free dessert’. That would not stop us from asking for more and these sessions continued till we all moved on from that office. I hope some day we can all visit that restaurant and have some ‘free dessert’ together!

The only furniture in our new home after a year was a 7 x 7 feet custom ordered solid wood bed. We had designed it from scratch and the day it got delivered, I truly felt like a king. Even the mattress had to be custom ordered and like my brother would say “yeh bed nahin, ship hain!” (this is not a bed, it is a ship). We had bought a big home – it was a penthouse, with three bedrooms and three full baths and three large balconies. However, we didn’t rush to furnish it. We both left for work very early and returned equally late. The one thing we wanted was a comfortable bed, and my ‘ship’ rested us well. I can’t emphasize on how much I appreciate Chitra, for adjusting to these decisions. I may not have been so appreciative then but looking back, she was an angel. Ok honey, you have done enough damage since then with your shopping sprees! 

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Buying a car or a home? Early on in our lives, we had the choice of buying a car. We decided not to go that path and saved up for our home. In 2003, we had reached a stable financial position and were considering ownership of a car. I am a “BIG” car enthusiast and could not have been happier researching my options. After taking into account the monthly car payment, maintenance, parking fees, etc it came down to petrol (gas) cost. We had shortlisted the Tata Indica (diesel) and Maruti Suzuki Wagon R. Not able to make our choice, I took to some live data gathering! Getting stuck in Mumbai traffic was a daily occurrence on my commute to work. Whenever our auto (a three wheel taxi) would stop next to a Wagon R or Indica, I would knock on the window and motion the owner to roll the window down. Answering my questions the proud owner would share their pleasure of owning their car and specifically share with me mileage their car would give for a liter of petrol/diesel consumed. We were just a few weeks from a purchase decision when my company decided to relocate me to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Today on Indian roads you see the best of  car brands but every time I see an Indica or Wagon R, it brings a smile to my face. A big ‘cheer’ to all Indica and Wagon R owners.

Did our decision to buy a home so early on pay off? 

A definite and resounding “YES”! In 10 years our first home’s value appreciated 329%. We have since then bought and invested in four properties. Do share with me your stories. Let 2019 bring you good health and memorable moments in your home!

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