Martha worked in the film and television industry in an administrative capacity for many years, beginning her career in the development office of a major studio. If she had stayed in that job, she probably wouldn’t have found it too difficult to qualify for a mortgage, because she worked regular hours and received a single W2 form each year.
After a couple of years, however, Martha took another job, as administrative assistant to a well-known director. In that capacity, her employer changed from project to project. With each film, both she and the director would be employed by a new production company and paid through a different payroll company. Depending on how many films the director worked on during a given year, Martha would receive up to four W2 forms. On paper, it looked like she never held a job for more than a few months at a time.
The same pattern continued when Martha moved into the nonprofit world and worked through a foundation that supported independent film projects. As administrative assistant to the directors of these films, she was still employed by a variety of production companies and was paid through the companies that did their payroll processing.
At several points during her career, Martha considered buying a house, despite the high real estate prices in the Los Angeles area. Each time, she became discouraged by the difficulties her friends in the industry were having when they applied for mortgages, and she made the decision to remain a renter.
Martha’s own sister, a set dresser, and brother-in law, a character actor, had a tough time buying a house. Their joint income was higher than that of non-industry couples they knew who had been able to get mortgages, and their credit histories were unblemished. But it wasn’t until a couple of years after Martha’s sister took a “regular” job in the insurance industry that a mortgage lender decided that their application met the underwriters’ criteria for employment stability and approved them for a mortgage.
Another married couple Martha is friendly with, a publicist and an actor, weren’t able to get a mortgage based on their joint income, which was substantial. But they were able to buy a home after a mortgage lender had the publicist submit a new application based only on her income, because she worked for an agency and received a single W2 form each year. Her husband felt completely discounted, though his income as an actor was higher than his wife’s annual salary. His pride was wounded, and the entire experience strained the marriage.
For nearly 30 years, Martha toyed periodically with buying a home. Twice she applied for pre-approval from a mortgage lender, but was turned down.
It wasn’t until three years after she took a salaried administrative position with a repertory theater that she decided to try again. Being able to show three consecutive W2 forms from the same employer made all the difference. “Like night and day,” she said. “I’m actually making less now than I was before, but this time, I got approved for a mortgage in only three days.”