I was a renter. Then I bought my house from my landlord.

I was a renter. Then I bought my house from my landlord.
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A man and his daughter posing for a picture on a bench in the woods.
Dom Guerra was renting a two-bedroom home in Ohio until it bought it himself.

  • Dom Guerra, 27, was renting an apartment in a duplex near Cleveland while trying to buy a home.
  • After other deals fell through, he ended up buying the duplex from his landlord in 2024. 
  • He is now a first-time homeowner and landlord, but he doesn’t plan to raise his neighbor’s rent.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dom Guerra, a 27-year-old IT specialist and veteran in Parma, Ohio, a small city south of Cleveland, and his experience buying the duplex where he was previously a renter. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.

About four years ago, when my landlord bought the property, I was his very first tenant. I was renting it with my daughter and my girlfriend.

There’s an upstairs unit and a downstairs unit in one building. I live downstairs, and I share a basement with the upstairs tenant.

Before the pandemic, I had been in the market for quite a long time looking to buy a house. The houses that I was looking at just weren’t speaking to me. There was no time I said, “Hey, I love this house.”

I was buying with a VA loan, and the real-estate agent I had mentioned to me that it wasn’t appealing to sellers because sellers wanted cash or no restrictions. That kept striking me out.

When I signed that first rental lease with my landlord in May 2020, I completely pulled myself out of the market. About a year and a half ago, I decided to get back into the market, and I asked my landlord to put me on a month-to-month lease.

My landlord decided to sell, which was tempting

In December of 2023, I was locked into a contract for a house a few blocks away from where I’m living now, and it fell apart.

After being bummed about that, a few days later my landlord texted me saying, “Hey, I’m putting this house on the market. I’m just letting you know there are going to be people coming in and out.”

He actually owned two duplexes — they’re just down the street from each other. When I first moved into this home, he was living in another duplex that he owned and renting out the top.

He shared with me that he bought his own place and that he was no longer going to be living in that house. He said he just didn’t have time in his life to address four units, so both of them were going on sale.

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I was still trying to get over the hump of the fact that the deal to buy this other house had fallen apart, and I just wasn’t sure what I should be doing.

Both the tenant upstairs and I weren’t comfortable. We didn’t know what the situation might be. There were a lot of scenarios that could happen with whoever was going to be the owner — especially because I was on a month-to-month lease.

They could have asked me to move out so that they could take the place, or they could have raised my rent. I was paying way under market value for the rent. When I first moved in, my rent was $750, and about two years in, my landlord raised it only around $50 more. Especially having a kid, it wasn’t a very stable situation to be in.

I decided to make an offer — and it was accepted

My girlfriend had become a real-estate agent, so she was the one helping me out through all this. She kept bugging me and saying, “I think you should do this. You’re already living in this house and we know the tenant upstairs. If we put in a decent offer, I think we could really knock this out.”

A man and woman posing for a picture with their daughter.
Guerra, his daughter, and his girlfriend, Selena Tovanche.

Even my upstairs neighbor said, “I don’t see why you wouldn’t take a shot at this.”

I thought about it for maybe about a night or so, and then I was like, “Let’s do it.”

We made an offer and literally that week it was accepted. My landlord had it posted for $200,000, and I offered him $210,000, and I asked him for 4% in seller concessions to pay for the closing costs. On top of that, he provided a one-year home warranty. I received a check that covers both the upstairs and my unit’s security deposit and my neighbor’s prorated rent for the month of March.

My payment will be around $1,700 a month, and the upstairs tenant is paying $850 a month in rent.

When we were discussing the house, my girlfriend said the market value of the rent should be anywhere from $1,100 to $1,200.

To me, it wasn’t really a decision of trying to make money.

My neighbor knew if I were to come in, I didn’t have any ill intent, like to ever try to raise rent on him or to change the situation. I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted us to basically continue to live as we were under the previous owner.

There’s a program by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency that applies to military veterans and public-service veterans. The program offered a mortgage discount rate, so whatever rate I had initially, they would buy down a point for me for free.

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I paid $0 down. I didn’t have to move. I now own a duplex with a tenant upstairs, who I have a great relationship with. I have this one-year home warranty. I hit the ground running on this deal.

After four years of living here, I can finally make it my own

When the house closed, I didn’t know what to feel — I’m still, to this moment, kind of scared. It’s a big jump, but it’s a very exciting feeling knowing that everything fell the way it was supposed to.

Especially with a kid, too. She’s six and in kindergarten. Having to move and possibly change schools — and this is mid-school year. So that was a big relief off of my shoulders — to know that I didn’t have to do all that and put my daughter through that.

A man taking a selfie in a mirror with his daughter on his shoulders.
Guerra and his daughter.

I’m so very grateful for the way it played out and excited that it didn’t have to mean moving. My stuff is here, and now I can make it mine. I can paint or I can decorate, I can add stuff to the house. I can just make it truly a home for me.

As a renter, it never really feels like it’s yours. When you make changes, you have to think subconsciously — if you ever leave, it needs to be reverted.

Even in my daughter’s room, I didn’t try to put too many things on the wall. I knew that if I were to ever move out, I would have to take it all down. So it didn’t feel like home yet. So I didn’t do anything — and my girlfriend kind of gave me so much crap about it.

I’m a first-time homeowner and a first-time landlord

First, you’re the owner of a house — that’s already a big jump if you’ve never owned one. And then making the jump of being an owner and a landlord.

It’s a very scary thing. I have to tell myself, “You’re in this now, so you’re going to have to figure it out.”

I had to have a very long conversation with my girlfriend and talk about all the pros and cons: “This is the situation: What do I get out of it, and what do I give to others?” It came down to: no risk, no reward.

There are so many codes and ordinances that we need to follow. As a renter, you don’t have to worry about that. You don’t even think about that — you just pay your rent and everything gets taken care of for you.

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But now that you’re the guy who’s paying the mortgage and the property taxes, you have to deal with that. And with elections coming up, there are tax levies on the board that may affect your payments. It’s so much more than just one payment.

It’s not just getting the keys and making cash flow off of this property. I knew right from the gate that that was not going to be the situation. I knew that I would have to be involved with every appliance that runs both my unit and the upstairs unit.

There are two of everything for the entire house. There’s not just one water heater, there’s two. I don’t have one furnace, I have two. I have a washer and dryer set, and there’s another one for the person upstairs, too.

My upstairs tenant is such a great guy. He’s very willing to work with me and even take on some of the load and say, “Let me help you here so that you don’t have to pay to do this.”

This is a guy who’s very knowledgeable and knows more than me, so I take that as an opportunity to listen the entire way and help. I’m learning everything from all my resources around me.

Initially, my goal wasn’t to make money, but I might buy another duplex in the future

I think the long-term goal is to make it a cash-flow asset. If the market changes and falls more to the buyer side, I’m going to try to repeat the cycle again: Buy another duplex, live in the bottom, and rent out this unit and make it a cash-flowing asset.

The long-term goal is to definitely bring it up to market value. I don’t think I want to be one of those landlords that just raises rent and doesn’t provide value for it. I think I’d like to upgrade a few things around the house — give a reason it should be that much.

That’s the same approach the previous landlord had. I’m learning from him and trying to do more of the same.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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