ven if you haven't met Mr. Right, you can still buy the right home, all on your own. Jennifer Musselman, described as "a savvy big sister" (Michelle Goodman, The Anti 9-to-5 Guide), is the perfect guide for single women contemplating homeownership. We'll chat with her today about why to take the big leap, and what to expect.
Jennifer Musselman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. She is the author of the newly released Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone, The Hip Girl’s Handbook for the Working World, and co-author of The Hip Girl’s Handbook for Home, Car & Money Stuff. She has been featured on television’s HGTV, The Other Half, Fox News, local television and radio news programs nationwide, and in For Me magazine empowering independent women with hip-how-to on everyday living matters including negotiating a salary, changing a car tire, safe-guarding home valuables and jump-starting a car.
She has also served as guest speaker at numerous colleges and low-income housing workshops as a girl-next-door, lifestyle expert.
Prior to books, Musselman began her writing career in magazines and has been published in Shape, Seventeen, Teen, CosmoGirl and Twist, among others. Simultaneously, Musselman has risen up the ranks at MTV Networks’ Nickelodeon Television Channel over the past 10 years where she currently works as a Sr. Director in the Communications department overseeing and implementing corporate initiatives in the media. She purchased her very first home, a humble but adorable condo, in Santa Monica, California where she currently resides with her playful and sweet puppy, Leo, who runs the house.
WOW: Let's start with your new book, Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone. What are some of the reasons a woman might consider buying a home on her own?
Jennifer: A woman should look at investing in a home as an investment in herself. She is ultimately responsible for her own emotional and financial security, even if she has help in her life. You never know what the future holds, and buying a home can give a woman a sense of security in the long run if well planned.
Also, if annual taxes pillage a woman’s salary, buying a home is a great option to consider. Of course, depending on the housing market, there are risks involved and there is no guarantee, but buying real estate is generally a long-term, lower-risk investment. Homes generally appreciate over time.
WOW: Those are great reasons to go for it. Still, it can be scary taking the leap into solo homeownership. How can you determine if you're letting excuses stand in the way of your dreams?
Jennifer: Only you know in your heart if you’re ready to take the plunge. I think buying a home is like a lot of things in life—you’ll never feel 100% certain before you do it. But once you do it, you’ll likely be surprised at how good it feels. If we let it, fear can hold us back from many things we want for our lives: healthy relationships, good health and weight loss, having children, changing careers and so on. So, yes, home buying requires a little leap of faith. But financial pre-planning, deciding what you want for your immediate future, developing your real-estate team and simply house-hunting can help alleviate your anxiety. Although not ideal, you can always sell or rent it out if life circumstances change.
“A woman should look at investing in a home as an investment in herself. ”
WOW: So many positive life changes require that leap of faith. There are valid reasons for not buying a home alone, though. Why might someone choose to wait, and what can she do in the meantime?
Jennifer: There are numerous financial and emotional reasons that a woman may want to choose to wait to buy a home. Financially speaking, interest rates or home prices may be too high; she may want to save more for a down payment to lower monthly mortgage payments, save more in her rainy-day fund; she may need to pay down/off high credit card debt (that often carry high interest rates). If she has children, there are other factors she may need to factor in like academics and extracurricular activities—like ice skating, violin, dance, basketball that needed to be budgeted for. Although, I truly believe one of the best gifts you can give a child is a stable home (rented or owned). And if you’re a single woman, successful homeownership is a great example to set for your kids, especially a daughter.
If you’re not ready to buy, you should still budget your money so that you are saving each month toward a good down payment. And give yourself a timeline to review your finances and the housing market to keep you on track with your goals.
WOW: So, get your financial situation in order, and keep saving all you can. Tell us how you came to purchase your home in Santa Monica, California. What was the process like for you?
Jennifer: I exhausted my options over two years, bidding and losing on two condos. I wasn’t finding anything else I was interested in for the money, so I decided to put my search on hold for a year, travel some more and save more money toward a down payment.
Home prices did increase in that timeframe, but the right place—the home I own now—came up 10 days after I’d resumed my search again and I jumped on it. It felt right and I think it worked out the way it was supposed to. I followed my gut.
The process of looking was fun. It was like dating. I had a great realtor, so he really made the purchase process less daunting. Still, I had much anxiety over which mortgage to get—it was a world I was a novice in. Fortunately, I had good people supporting me and guiding me through it who reassured me of my mortgage decision. Negotiating the contract was nerve-racking: It felt like I was in a game of tennis, trying to win. The escrow process was not as scary as I expected it to be. I just trusted whatever was to happen would; and it would be in my best interest because I’d smartly enlisted knowledgeable people who had my best interest in mind to guide me through the process.
“But, I do believe when it’s right, a man will adore and respect me more because I achieved this for myself. ”
WOW: We're glad that it all worked out for you, eventually! An unforeseen challenge surfaced for you, however, where "qualified dates" (potential partners) became sparse. What lessons did you learn about men and their reactions to strong, financially independent, single women?
Jennifer: That’s what I was worried about. What actually happened, I think, is I stopped attracting so many of those men…you know, where you try to make someone be okay with you…fit, if you will. In my case, it was me trying to make a man feel comfortable with my independence, particularly financial independence. Eventually, revealing that I’d purchased my own condo sort of became an instant weed whacker for me. Men who were not happy with themselves or secure with their place in life didn’t persevere.
And I stopped chasing them. I’m not suggesting that’s why every date didn’t work out—for some, there was not a connection or physical attraction or whatever—but, yes, some seemed intimidated by my accomplishment. Meanwhile, others were not. Unfortunately those dates didn’t work out for other reasons. Love is unpredictable. But, I do believe when it’s right, a man will adore and respect me more because I achieved this for myself.
WOW: That's a great attitude. Your book contains a lot of success stories and anecdotes. How do you find the best people to talk to? Aspiring book writers want to know!
Jennifer: Well, thank you. I have great friends! And they have great friends. It’s interesting how people can really relate to one another when you just ask and listen. People want to tell their stories; you just have to have the willingness to want to know what lies beneath the surface.
WOW: Own It! includes a lot of financial and technical information related to the home buying process. Although such detail is necessary for a how-to book, does that part of the research and writing ever feel tedious? Or do you enjoy it?
Jennifer: Tedious perfectly describes how researching and writing some of the technical information feels…and sometimes overwhelming too. There were days I thought I’d never barrel through it and felt like throwing in the towel. But, then there were the days where I really found some of the technical information really interesting. Honestly, I really learned a lot from collecting the information, talking to experts and extrapolating what I’d learned in a way for everyday women like myself. I gained clarity and learned about some mistakes I’d made when buying my place, and now I’ll know better for the next one.
“People want to tell their stories; you just have to have the willingness to want to know what lies beneath the surface.”
WOW: That's a good pep talk for writers working through the hard parts of a project. Could you share a favorite tip or idea included in the book?
Jennifer: I think my favorite tip in the book that I learned while writing it was in the case of housing market prices falling, you can get your home value reassessed and possibly have the property taxes lowered.
WOW: That tip may be helpful for a lot of homeowners, so thank you for sharing it! You've written two other books (with Patty DeGregori): The Hip Girl's Handbook for Home, Car, & Money Stuff and Hip Girl's Handbook for the Working World. How did you land your first book deal, which started the series?
Jennifer: Patty and I just did the “poor-man’s copyright” ourselves and then researched at the bookstore for publishing companies who had published similar books—on home, how-to’s and gifty kinds of books. Then we sent our proposal and a chapter to a handful of those publishing companies. Miraculously, one (Wildcat Canyon Press) came back to us almost immediately saying they wanted to talk to us further about the idea. Meanwhile, we got rejection letters from the others. The editor from Wildcat Canyon Press eventually talked us through the process and bam, within a couple months, we signed our deal.
The deal was not a hefty financial reward upfront. We were novices, and they are an independent publishing company. But, we did it for the experience, the belief in our book and for the long-term financial reward—kind of like investing in a home. That editor has since gone on to be my mentor and close family friend to me.
WOW: Your first book seems like it would be a good companion piece to Own It!, since it covers topics that could help a new homeowner (from navigating the breaker box to unclogging pipes, and even firing up a barbecue grill). Of course, it covers financial and automotive challenges too! Is it rewarding for you to provide information that gives women the confidence to take matters into their own hands?
Jennifer: It does. I’ve even had to pick up my books a few times to maneuver a situation I don’t deal with everyday. The next book for me will be more memoir and narrative, and about owning our vulnerability as women. Own It! was a great transitory book for me in that way since it’s written in narrative form, unlike my other two. Being strong, failing, and pulling myself up to succeed just comes naturally for me. Allowing myself to be okay with feeling vulnerable—in the right situations of course—is much harder for me. And I think for a lot of women of my generation. Embracing my vulnerability as a woman—and sharing the power within that with other women—will be equally rewarding.
“Being strong, failing, and pulling myself up to succeed just comes naturally for me.”
WOW: In The Hip Girl's Handbook for Home, Car, & Money Stuff, you also provide a ton of technical information, yet readers say the book is clever, entertaining, and funny. What's the secret to making practical information fun to read?
Jennifer: The secret to making practical information fun to read is writing in a conversational tone: storytelling, humorous moments, and just infusing my personality, my personal voice, whenever I could.
WOW: It does sound as though you're talking to your readers as a helpful, entertaining friend. The follow up book, Hip Girl's Handbook for the Working World, counsels women on the challenges of today's workplace. Could any of the advice apply to someone trying to create a successful writing career?
Jennifer: I really tried to make Hip Girl’s Handbook for the Working World cross-career friendly. So yes, it applies to writers. We all have someone to answer to even if you’re self-employed like writers. You have to manage your editor, compromise, negotiate, work with co-authors, and plan our careers, including our financial benefits. Each industry will have things that are specific or unique to that industry, but my book covers a breadth of scenarios someone will likely face…it just may manifest slightly differently than in a more conventional job. But, sales is sales no matter what uniform it's wearing.
WOW: Both of the Hip Girl books were a collaborative effort with Patty DeGregori, your one-time roommate. Do you have any advice about working on a project with a co-writer? What did you and Patty do that worked well?
Jennifer: What worked well with Patty and me is that we both have very simple tones in our writing styles. Actually, she was better at the “everyday” writing than I was, so she helped improve my own writing, I think. That made our voice pretty seamless. We also had a clear and aligned vision of what we wanted for a final product. We also split up chapters and worked independently. That helped us move things along quickly. Then we’d swap and edit each other’s stuff. That worked great.
What’s hard in working with anyone on a project is dividing the workload. Dividing the writing may be relatively simple, but there’s a lot of other work that comes along with writing a book—marketing, public relations, merchandising, and so on.
What’s also challenging about co-authoring a book is that each author’s investment and vision for the outcome should be matched. It’s kind of like marriage: If one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t, you have to ask yourself will this partnership work? Do we want the same things and if one “gives-in” to what the other wants, will the person doing the accommodating not work as hard raising “the baby.”
Because you both should want it equally or there will be resentment. Fortunately, Patty and I said “friends first” and that’s one of the best qualities in Patty; she can talk through things with you and hear your perspective and discuss it.
“What’s also challenging about co-authoring a book is that each author’s investment and vision for the outcome should be matched.”
WOW: That's great advice about co-writing. Should we be looking for another installment in the Hip Girl series?
Jennifer: I think we’ve run our course on the Hip Girls series. I think I’m ready to take my writing—and my life—in another direction.
WOW: And you're back on your own, writing-wise, with Own It!. What was that like, after co-authoring two books?
Jennifer: Patty co-authored the first of the Hip Girl’s series and then decided to not be as involved in the second one. Her life was changing, for good things, and writing wasn’t her priority. But her girl-next-door voice is very good and relatable, so she agreed to be a consultant—an editor of sorts—on the second of the series. That had its perks and negatives.
On the first book, we’d run into a few bumps in writing together that we just had to talk through. That’s what has made us such good friends for so long. Then, on the second book, it was more work for me overall, but her notes were really solid and I’m glad she was my consultant. Her opinion is valuable.
So, by the time I’d started writing Own It!, I was used to being a solo author. I like writing alone. Sometimes, the workload feels overwhelming, but in the end, the accomplishment does feel really great.
WOW: It's certainly a great personal achievement. Earlier in your freelance career, you wrote for magazines such as Shape, Seventeen, Teen, CosmoGirl and Twist. How did you get your foot in the door in those publications?
Jennifer: I just called up one of the features editors at the then “Sassy” magazine and got the most amazing woman on the phone—Jodi Bryson. She spent 10 minutes telling me—a perfect stranger—about how to pitch magazine articles. Jodi was a Godsend. And eventually, with enough perseverance, one of the many magazines I sent my query to bought it!
But, Jodi was my in. Most people wouldn’t even make time for that. Jodi is still writing for magazines today and I’m always inspired to give a helping hand when I can to someone who just needs a little guidance to achieve their dreams. That’s the only way I was able to do what I’ve accomplished thus far in life.
“Sometimes, the workload feels overwhelming, but in the end, the accomplishment does feel really great. ”
WOW: How wonderful to stumble upon such a generous mentor. That's a refreshing story! What magazine work do you still do, if any?
Jennifer: Since writing for books, I’ve stopped writing regularly for magazines. I may do it now and again, but writing and working my full-time job (and owning a puppy) has taken up most of my time.
WOW: Your full-time job must keep you very busy. I'm always curious about what people do for a living, especially a glamorous sounding position like yours. Could you explain what your job at MTV Networks’ Nickelodeon Television Channel entails?
Jennifer: My job at Nickelodeon is a cross between sales, advertising, marketing, journalism, customer relations, and “big sister.” Overall, my job is to increase awareness in the public and entertainment industry about Nickelodeon and our properties…and in the best light possible. Sometimes, that means simply nurturing a great story in the New York Times about a show that’s coming up or doing some crisis management, or helping one of my network executives come up with talking points for a story, or finding a story to tell where there doesn’t seem to be a story. It’s a business and so I treat it as one; however, I guess people see the celebrity of it—and going on production sets—as glamorous. To me, it’s just a part of my job.
WOW: Of course, we'd like to know how in the world you can write books and maintain a demanding career. How do you balance a full time job and your writing goals?
Jennifer: Truthfully, balancing my full-time job with my writing career is becoming harder as I get older. Now that I’m in my thirties, my body is naturally slowing down a bit. I used to truly be a work-a-holic. I see it now, and now I set boundaries and limitations on how much work I do. In fact, the publishing company of this last book had to extend my due date a couple times because I just didn’t have it in me to give up all my social freedom. Fortunately, Seal Press, and my editor Brooke, were very understanding about it. I learned that now, I need to write on my own timeframe—without the pressure of a tight deadline. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to the publishing company, if I don’t meet my deadlines.
WOW: It's a real challenge for writers who maintain other employment. Do you have any tips for writing around a day job? How can someone get herself to write after a long day at work?
Jennifer: You have to really want it! You have to be self-disciplined and you have to find time in your life to make it work. I mainly write in the mornings and weekends—my internal clock just works best that way. And I know I operate well under deadlines. But, when I’m writing a book, that means I’ve decided to minimize a number of other things I enjoy doing until the book is done: regular work-out routine, hanging out with friends… The older I get, the more difficult it becomes to be so disciplined with my time. But, if you want it, you just make time for it, like anything else in life.
“You have to really want it! You have to be self-disciplined and you have to find time in your life to make it work. ”
WOW: That's great advice, Jennifer. In an interview you did with Absolute Write, you said that you've never had an agent. Can you tell us about that?
Jennifer: I never have. I investigated it a few years ago. I met with a top agent at a BIG literary house in New York arranged through a friend. That was exciting, but that was the most vulnerable I’d felt in a long time. I felt so out of my league. The agent ultimately told me he didn’t like my writing. And that was okay. I wouldn’t want someone to represent me that didn’t believe in me.
I am thinking I should start shopping around again for an agent now that I want to move onto a new genre and perhaps start vying for publishing companies that have mass appeal. But we’ll see how my life unfolds…
WOW: We certainly wish you the best with your search for an agent. Our aspiring authors would probably also love to know more about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing? Do you have any favorite rituals?
Jennifer: I write when and where I’m inspired. I have found, otherwise, my writing sounds forced—because it is! I used to do more writing at coffee shops, but now that I have a dog, I do it at home a lot.
I do love taking my laptop on the road—getting away from my life—and going to exotic locations or to San Francisco or New York and writing there. I can focus better. Friends aren’t calling me to hang-out. I don’t get distracted by things I should be getting done around my house. On Own It!, I flew to Puerta Vallarta and stayed with a friend who was working all day, as well as, I went to London solo and did some writing there. It was a perfect set up, and a vacation to boot!
WOW: That sounds wonderful. What a great way to do it! Thank you, Jennifer, for taking time to chat with us today, it’s been fun. Do you have any words of wisdom that you’d like to share with our readers?
Jennifer: Simply listen to your heart. Ego will only get in your way.
For more information about Jennifer, visit her website:
Get a copy of Jennifer's latest book, Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone.
MARCIA PETERSON is a writer from Northern California. Her work has been published in The Contra Costa Times, The Willamette Writer, WOW! Women on Writing and SavvyGal.com. Recent awards include first prize in the SouthWest Writers International Monthly Writing Competition and first prize in ByLine magazine's short article contest.