Victoria Cardwell couldn’t have timed the housing market better if she had a crystal ball.
The 31-year-old and her wife loved their condo in Essex County, New Jersey, for its close proximity to New York City and the fact that they had secured a 3.75% mortgage interest rate when they bought it in 2019 for $299,000, using a homebuyers assistance program to put $20,000 down.
But the couple bought one of the smaller units in the building, and with a three-year-old toddling around and dreams for another baby, they knew their time there was coming to a close. Plus, Cardwell, who works in software, was getting tired of working out of a makeshift office in a closet.
“We loved it, we wanted to live there. But we knew we just couldn’t stay there,” Cardwell tells Fortune. “That was always the plan, to stay there a few years and then get out.”
The couple started looking for something bigger; it took eight months before they found something in relatively decent shape that fit their budget (double the monthly $2,300 they were paying) and was large enough for their growing family. While they weren’t happy to give up their low interest rate, Cardwell says the down payment was the bigger issue, given that home prices have risen so much over the past few years.
Success stories are rare in the recent housing market, with its minimum inventory, rising interest rates that have increased monthly mortgage costs on the typical home by almost 8% in the past year, and prices that just won’t come back down to earth. Buyers tell tales of months and months of searching with multiple offers falling through; paying inflated prices; or giving up completely. Housing affordability is the worst it’s been in decades, with the median home now costing $420,000 (though rates have started to fall in recent weeks). More and more people report believing they will never be able to buy a home, with first-time homebuyers in particular struggling.
But Cardwell and her wife got lucky. Less than four years after buying the condo, they were able to sell it for a “shocking” $455,000, thanks to the recent boom in housing prices—$25,000 over their asking price. In fact, she says, watching other units in their building get snapped up at significantly elevated prices was one of the drivers for the family to move so quickly.
Courtesy of Victoria Cardwell
“I thought that would happen in my wildest dreams,” Cardwell says of the sale price. “I feel so lucky I was able to sell my condo. I wouldn’t have spent that much on it.”
Their timing was impeccable. When they bought a starter home in 2019, rates were lower—the average 30-year fixed was around 4.5% that year, compared to 6.95% now—and deals could still be found. Then they sold it this year, when each of the past eight months has seen an increase in the average housing price, and used the equity to buy something better.
The sale allowed them a sizable down payment for their next place, which cost $780,000. The house they found a little further west in N.J. is an upgrade in almost every respect, save the interest rate, which now sits around 6%. Their monthly mortgage payment has more than doubled, to over $4,600.
But their child—and any future kiddos—has a yard to play in; Cardwell and her wife have found they have a knack for home renovation, including masonry; and they love the close-knit feel of their neighborhood. The couple has been slowly updating their new home, installing new lighting, adding crown molding, and even updating the stone fireplace on their own.
“Mortgage rates were not going to change our plans,” Cardwell tells Fortune. “We weren’t going to base our lives on that.”
Better still? She now has her own office, with windows overlooking the backyard.
“We do see ourselves being here forever,” she says. “I don’t think we can find another place like this.”