Buying a house in SLO County is a high-priced challenge. Here’s how 5 homeowners did it

For many San Luis Obispo County residents, the prospect of buying a home can seem like an unaffordable and out-of-reach fantasy.

To start, the price for a median-priced home has now reached $640,000, which requires a salary of $129,290, according to the California Association of Realtors (CAR) quarterly housing affordability index.

Meanwhile, the median household income for county residents has in now way kept pace with the cost of housing. At $67,175, only about 25% of residents can afford a median-priced home, according to the CAR index and U.S. Census Bureau data.

Even so, homebuyers find a way to own a slice of Central Coast paradise. Some save up, others get help from family and still others use loan programs to make the numbers add up.

Here’s how five homeowners throughout the county were able to make the dream a reality.

Kristian Olsen stands with his pets outside the condo he bought in May 2019. Olsen’s job as a Bay Area software engineer helped him save up enough money to purchase his home. Courtesy of Kristian Olsen

Solo homebuying in San Luis Obispo

Kristian Olsen is an outlier among SLO County homebuyers — he bought a house by himself in San Luis Obispo before even hitting his mid-thirties.

Olsen’s solid salary is a big reason he could purchase his home. As a software engineer for a Bay Area company, he earns more than many people on the Central Coast.

“I love the coast, but there aren’t a lot of good-paying jobs,” Olsen said, a problem he himself faced initially.

The 33-year-old began saving to buy a house about three years ago. During that time, he tried to purchase homes in Los Osos and Arroyo Grande, and would continue to house-hunt on and off.

At the time, he was working as a manager at the Mac Superstore in San Luis Obispo, but then, he got a new job working remotely as a software engineer, which doubled his salary.

That was the difference-maker.

Olsen ultimately found a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo off Los Osos Valley Road for $480,000. He closed on the house in May and is happy he no longer reports to a landlord, especially with a dog and a cat.

“It felt like it’s my house, and not somebody else’s,” Olsen said.

He said feels more free to spend money on “fun stuff” and investments. Plus, he can get another dog.

“It finally feels like the pause button on my life is finally lifted, “ Olsen said.

Wendy Greene stands in the doorway of her Los Osos home. Greene’s housing costs are more expensive than she anticipated due to Los Osos Wastewater Project supplemental property taxes. Courtesy of Wendy Greene

Surprise expenses make Los Osos living a challenge

When Wendy Greene bought her Los Osos home in 2017, she was tired of renting and wanted a place to call her own.

“I didn’t want to keep throwing money away on rent,” she said.

Greene used funds from her 401(k) account and money from her mother to purchase a $458,000, 1,368-square-foot house with a mortgage that was close to what she was already paying for a San Luis Obispo rental.

But then she found out about the supplemental property taxes she would have to pay to help fund the community’s recently constructed Los Osos Wastewater Project.

Greene quickly refinanced her mortgage, but still ended up owing hundreds more per month than she anticipated. She now spends a large portion of her take-home pay on her housing.

“I think I just rushed into the house a little sooner,” she said.

Greene, who works as an environmental compliance director for an energy company, is considering taking a supplemental job or renting out a room to help with her housing costs.

“I love owning here, but I’m not sure it’s going to be sustainable,” she said.

Marisa and Adam Peltier sit with their dog and two children on the porch outside their south Atascadero-Santa Margarita home. The couple previously rented a condo from family, which allowed them to save enough money to buy their 2-acre North County property. Courtesy of Marisa Peltier

Saving for a house with land in the North County

Marisa and Adam Peltier had been renting a San Luis Obispo condo from family members for 10 years when they began house-hunting in earnest.

Thanks to their affordable rental, the couple had been able to save money and start a small business — Peltier Glassworks, a bottle screen printing company — while Marisa continued working as a landscape designer.

The family’s business was successful, and the couple wanted to settle in an area where their two children could spend their school careers.

The Peltiers decided to looks for a home in the North County because they didn’t want a condo and had a budget of about $500,000 to $550,000.

Using their savings and inheritance money from Adam’s grandmother, they were able to buy a $544,000 house with two bedrooms and two bathrooms in the south Atascadero-Santa Margarita area.

The property also came with 2 acres of land, so the family is able to keep horses, goats and chickens.

“Now we can do whatever we want,” Marisa Peltier said. “Our kids can be as loud as they want.”

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Nichole and Rich LaRue at their new home in Paso Robles. Nichole bought her first home with help from a USDA loan program. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Buying with a loan program in Paso Robles

When Nichole LaRue and her husband, Rich, began thinking about purchasing a house, they didn’t know how they would be able to afford a down payment.

“There’s no way we would have $70,000, $80,000 to put down on a house around here,” Nichole said.

Nichole does marketing work for a tech company, and Rich does custodial work for the Post Office and Templeton Unified School District.

The LaRues began talking to a mortgage broker, who was able to help them secure a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) home loan.

Their income fell just within the required range, and the loan required them to pay only a good-faith deposit plus closing costs.

But buying a home using the loan program brought its own challenges. The couple’s house had to comply with certain USDA rules to qualify, and they had to compete with buyers paying in cash and purchasing properties to turn into rentals.

Eventually, the LaRues found a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom house in Paso Robles for $249,000 that fit their criteria.

They wrote the seller a letter describing their experiences as San Luis Obispo County natives who wanted to buy a house and stay in the area, and their offer was accepted.

Now, five years later, the couple has a daughter. They recently sold their first house to buy a new three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, also in Paso Robles.

“I would never have been able to buy a house without having that option,” Nichole said of the USDA loan.

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Lindsey Altman, who runs a side business selling macrame crafts, works on a piece in her home office. Since buying a house with her husband in Atascadero, she now has a whole room devoted to her business. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

RV living to an Atascadero house — with help from family

When Brad and Lindsey Altman had to move out of the Los Osos granny unit they were renting, they decided to give RV living a try.

They rented a spot for the $4,000 RV in Atascadero for four months — including much of the summer.

“We were ready to not be there after a few months,” Lindsey said.

Brad works as a civil engineer, and Lindsey nannies for a San Luis Obispo family while selling handmade macrame crafts on the side. Together, they earn about $100,000 a year.

When the couple found an 850-square-foot Atascadero house for $390,000, Brad’s family came through with $40,000 for the down payment.

The property comes with one-third of an acre, which gives them room for boxer mix, Boomer, along with their old RV.

“We were super grateful,” Lindsey said. “It was a huge relief. When you own a house, you just have some nice equity and you’re more likely to be able to stay.”

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.