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This millennial pastor and breadwinner got priced out of the housing market after a brain tumor forced him to sell. He can only get back in by splitting a mortgage with his in-laws



In October 2022, Stephen Drew, along with his wife Laura and their two sons, found themselves compelled to relocate for the third time in merely six year. Doctors had discovered a tumor in Drew’s brain—originally thought to be cancerous, “very rare, and also very fatal,” Drew says. His case underwent extensive assessment by top review boards at the University of Oklahoma before medical professionals recommended that Drew seek treatment at Northwestern University.

With this diagnosis, Drew had to sell his home in Oklahoma City where he and his family had lived for just about a year and move back to Crystal Lake, Illinois. He had bought the Oklahoma City home in October 2021 for $385,000 at a 3.2% mortgage rate on a $45,000 salary as a pastor. But the sale of this home at $450,000 (generating $104,000 in equity) still wasn’t enough to cover a new home purchase back in Illinois. He was effectively priced out of the housing market there, thanks to rising home prices and mortgage rates.

Drew fought the brain tumor and the housing market simultaneously upon his return to Crystal Lake. His major frustration, he says, was that he should have been able to buy a home there, having finally—after nine months of searching—landed the “best-paying job” he’d ever had as an account manager for a financial advisory firm, earning $65,000. Plus, he had owned two homes before—one in Illinois and one in Oklahoma. 

Even finding a suitable rental home in Crystal Lake became challenging for Drew. Most rentals require three times a tenant’s gross monthly income to qualify, which was still difficult even on his new salary. Drew and his family have been forced to live in a “pretty gross house” that’s only about 800 square feet—meant to fit him, his wife, and their two sons. Drew’s wife homeschools their children (ages four and six), but has started doing more side work, including wedding coordinating and photography.

Their current rental home “hasn’t been cared for—we’ve had issue after issue,” he says. “There’s mold in the home. It’s been awful, but that’s really the only thing that we can afford. This is coming from living in very large homes that we enjoyed living in and good neighborhoods. Now we can’t even find a rental that is even decent.”

While on the housing hunt, Drew soon realized it would be “impossible” to purchase a home on his own with his new salary, even with $15,000 left in the bank from the sale of the home, good credit scores, and no debt besides student loans, “which I had bet on Biden taking care of,” Drew says. Even health care costs for the family would be less burdensome for the family because doctors at Northwestern have downgraded the tumor in Drew’s brain to be benign without indication of regrowth, Drew says.

“I kid you not—there were zero affordable homes,” in Crystal Lake, Drew adds. As of late last week, there were only nine homes available in their budget within a 20-mile radius, “and most of them are literally trashed,” Drew says. The median sales price of a home in Crystal Lake, Illinois, is $349,000, according to Redfin.  

After months of turmoil, the only viable housing solution that Drew and his family have reached is purchasing a home with his in-laws. They found a property with two homes on three acres of land, costing about $525,000. The property has two homes that are connected, and the in-law suite has its own kitchen and bathroom. Split in half, that’s the maximum that Drew could afford, he says. 

“It works but it’s very unique,” Drew says of purchasing a home with his in-laws. “If this didn’t work out, I don’t know what we would do. I don’t know where we would rent. I don’t know how we would buy a house.” 

Although a unique situation, Drew says that the process of securing a loan for the new home purchase with his in-laws has been relatively easy. His lender put together a joint loan after he and his in-laws had individually submitted their documentation. Drew’s in-laws helped significantly, he says, because they have a lot more money in the bank and a more extensive history of a higher income. 

“It’s a big decision to make together,” he says. “And thankfully, we’re in good relationship with them.” 

The compounding frustration with the housing market today is that Drew had previously owned two homes on a pastor salary, making about $45,000 per year. Drew had purchased his family’s first home in 2016 for $220,000 at a 4.5% mortgage rate. However, Drew decided to sell the home just a few years later because they were having difficulties affording it at the time, he says. 

“We poured our lives and the little money we had into rehabbing it,” Drew tells Fortune, and in 2020 sold the home for $356,000, making a profit of $128,000. “I had hoped this would set us up well for the future,” he says.

Drew then took a new job as a pastor in Oklahoma City in 2021, reinvesting half of the equity they had made in the sale of their first home into the purchase of their second home. They purchased the Oklahoma City home for $385,000 at a 3.2% mortgage rate and had planned to use part of the property as an Airbnb to generate extra income for the family. (The current median Oklahoma City home sales price is $268,000, according to Redfin). Upon purchase of the home, contractors told Drew that renovations to the home would cost about $40,000. But after closing, that amount skyrocketed to about $80,000. 

“We know how these things go. It’s always going to be more money than even that quote,” he says. “But it just left us so discouraged because we were really going to be dependent on producing more income from the house to even afford it.” 

Aside from general issues of affordability and rising mortgage rates, Drew says a major challenge for Millennials like himself in the housing market is competing with Boomers. Throughout his home-buying journey, Drew has seen Boomers beat out Millennials in home purchases by coming in with all-cash offers. 

Indeed, one of the first homes that Drew and his family had been eyeing in Crystal Lake when they moved back this year was listed at $387,000. “It probably would have been too much for us at the end of the day, but we went to look at it,” Drew says. The home had 50 showings during its first day on the market, Drew says, and a Boomer purchased the home in all cash at $15,000 over asking. 

“That’s crazy. I don’t understand that,” Drew says. “We could never compete with them. We could never even come close.”

Drew has spoken with Boomers about the issue of housing affordability, and they’ve told him that mortgage rates are much lower than they were when they purchased their first home. 

“But I’m like, ‘okay was inflation that high? Was housing costs that high?” Drew questions. “No, no. It was a different life. There’s still this detachment from what our generation is facing right now.”

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