My husband and I have been homeowners for almost a year and a half. I do not dislike our home, nor do I entirely lament its purchase. I simply recognize there have been pros and cons since we took on our mortgage, and there are certain aspects of the decision I wish we’d thought through a bit more in advance.
Before sitting down to create a list of homeownership pros and cons, I had a conversation with my husband. As we talked, a thought came to me that I’d never considered before: Since we both aspire to travel long-term, for me, homeownership symbolizes complacency.
I don’t mean we’re being complacent in an immediate sense. It’s advantageous for us to be where we are right now. We like living in Buffalo. We like being so close to, and having a relationship with, Paul’s family. We’re saving money which will ultimately end up funding our future grand adventures, whatever they may be.
When I compare homeownership with complacency, what I mean is, for me personally (this isn’t a judgment about your house or how long you choose to live in a certain place), if I’m still living in our house past the time I think we should have moved on, I will feel I have become complacent. My goal is to see more of the United States, and a lot more of this planet, than I have up to this point.
I’ll expand on these thoughts after I talk about our initial rationale for the home purchase, as well as some of the positives and negatives we’ve experienced.
Not long ago, my husband and I drove by a building where we almost rented an apartment, back when we still lived in DC and were searching for a place to live in Buffalo. We ended up choosing a townhouse to rent instead, which was aesthetically desirable but plagued with issues that caused us to want to leave as soon as we arrived. (When we opened the door on move-in day, haven given several months advance notice, the supposedly professionally-managed abode was filthy. Absolutely, disgustingly filthy. And our experience just went downhill from there.)
We’ve lamented more than once that we didn’t go with the first apartment, which was newly renovated but architecturally bland. I’ve often thought that if we hadn’t been itching to get out of the townhouse as soon as our lease expired, we might not have been so eager to buy a house. We’ll never know for sure.
What we did instead – as a married couple in our mid-thirties, with good jobs, enough savings for a down payment, residing in a city with affordable real estate – was start looking for a house to buy rather than sign a lease on yet another rental.
Suitability: We made a good decision where appearance and size is concerned. I like the style of the home, and I’ve always been partial to brick. We have just under 1500 sq ft, with three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, which is more than enough (and sometimes can even feel like too much) space for us. Also, the previous owner upgraded the kitchen and bathrooms, so we don’t have any large, costly interior renovations to undertake anytime soon.
Driveway: After many years of parallel parking on city streets, having our own driveway is something we don’t take for granted. I can park right beside my door to bring in groceries! No more circling crowded streets, praying for someone to exit!
Privacy: We no longer share walls with strangers living directly above, below, or beside us. Not having to listen to other people go about their daily lives – or worry we’re creating our own disturbance – is a wonderful thing.
Proximity to in-laws: Although I don’t like being farther from work, our home is much closer to Paul’s parents, which is super convenient. We visit each other regularly; they run over to grab our CSA deliveries when we’re out of town; Paul checks in on their cats when they’re on vacation.
Ability to change things: As a renter, I’d sometimes say how nice it would be to paint a wall without having to worry about changing it back before I left. I’ve put this in the positive category because technically we could paint if we want to…but guess how many walls we’ve changed since we moved in? Zero. The walls are neutral shades and I’m fine with them. Painting is a chore and I’d rather read a book or go for a walk.
Ongoing repairs and maintenance: This category has been the biggest pain, both financially and mentally. In the past 17 months since we closed on our home, we’ve taken an additional $20k or so from our savings account to spend on repairs and upgrades. We knew about two of those things before purchasing the house: we needed a new furnace (which was verified when the super-old model kept breaking down during a freezing winter), and the aging roof needed to be replaced.
When we bought the furnace, we also added central air conditioning because it’s cheaper to buy the units at the same time. That’s the only thing we’ve added which technically wasn’t required.
We thought we were done for a while. But then our basement started to flood during heavy rainfall. To stop that from happening, we paid a company to dig trenches in our front yard and lay pipes in the ground to divert excess groundwater out to the street. (Our basement hasn’t flooded since, so that expense was totally worth it.)
We were just congratulating ourselves on how much lower our house expenditures should be in 2016 when several rows of aluminum siding started to peel off (most of our house is brick, but there is some siding on the upper left and right sides of the house). The same day the siding repair was made, our hot water heater stopped working and required a replacement part.
We’re fortunate to have the resources to pay for these repairs and upgrades. It’s just…annoying. We’d much prefer to keep our money instead of pouring it into our house.
Smaller repairs: In addition to those things we had to do, there are things that should be done at some point but we haven’t gotten around to them yet (fixing a bathroom faucet; adding a dimmer switch to the dining room; repairing the ceiling in the master bedroom, which had some moisture damage before the roof was replaced).
If you haven’t already guessed, we are not particularly handy when it comes to doing our own home repairs. Some people enjoy tackling these things and saving a ton of money while they’re at it. While I would like to be that way, I’ve accepted I am not. We’ve done a few things on our own, but undertaking large home improvement projects isn’t something either of us enjoys.
Yard work: Paul takes care of mowing the grass, and I pitch in with snow shoveling and leaf raking. I had been a renter since I moved out on my own at age 17, so before we bought our house it had been a very long time since I’d participated in any type of yard maintenance. Especially when it comes to snow shoveling, being responsible for our sidewalks and driveway is a necessary evil; something to get through, not something we would do if given the choice.
Location: When we rented our downtown apartment, I was close enough to work that I was able to walk (often returning home for lunch breaks as well), which I sorely miss. Now both of our workplaces are farther from home; Paul takes the car, and I utilize public transportation (which I vastly prefer to having to drive myself, especially in the snowy winter months – plus, I can read a book during the commute). Our stay in downtown Buffalo was the only time I’ve ever been able to walk to work, and since I haven’t found a job yet that allows me to work from home full time, being in such close proximity to the workplace was definitely the next-best thing. I very much miss my 10-minute-by-foot commute.
Financial: Given the amount of money we’ve already spent on repairs (which doesn’t include other stuff that’s bound to come up over the next few years), I strongly doubt we’ll recoup the amount of money we’ve put into this house when we move. We don’t have plans to move anytime soon, but home values in our neighborhood have been pretty stable over the years; they aren’t expected to spike so much that we’d make a large enough profit to offset the cost of repairs.
While I have an equal number of items in each category, I feel many of the negatives outweigh the positives. There are things I really like about our house (a private driveway, not sharing walls), but we could have obtained those same advantages by renting a single-family home instead of another apartment.
Was there excitement involved in becoming a first-time homeowner? Yes. However, the novelty wears off quickly (I can track my deflating happiness with homeownership to the first time our basement flooded). It turns out I really like having a landlord come over and fix whatever’s gone wrong.
Paul and I have spent hours calling, meeting with, and receiving quotes from various home contractors – and that doesn’t include all the instances I’ve left work early to let them in the house. When I lived in an apartment, maintenance workers would let themselves in during the day and my issue would be fixed by the time I got home.
In hindsight, it’s not the act of owning a house that I needed. I just needed to find a space more suited to what I was looking for.
If I look past all the obvious advantages and disadvantages of owning a home, what I see is a structure that requires me to stay in one place. As a renter, I always had the option to leave, and I exercised that right often. In the past 19 years since I left my rural Virginia hometown, I’ve called 18 different places home.
Many people value having a stable place to live, somewhere they can put down roots. But for me, I’ve always found the prospect of a new home exciting. To live in the same house – or even the same town – for the rest of my life has never been a goal I’ve striven for.
If you told me to pack a single suitcase that I’d need to live out of for a year so I could travel to various places around the world, I would welcome it. In fact, it would pretty much be the most exciting thing I could imagine.
I realize I’m in the minority. I know many people who still live in the same towns or cities where they were born, who have only left for short vacations or to attend college, and who plan to stay for the rest of their lives. I don’t think less of people who prioritize a single geographic location. In a way, I envy their contentedness. Feeling content with my life is something I’ve only ever experienced in fleeting moments.
Should you be a homeowner? That depends on your goals. If you can afford the down payment and plan to stay put for a long time, the decision could make sense. If you have a wandering spirit like myself, you may want to stick to renting.