Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: Home

There's a lot of pressure on newlyweds to buy a house.  I don't really know where it comes from, except that once society is done telling you that you must have floral centerpieces, they are telling you that you must have a house.  Like weddings, home-buying is a touchy subject.  Once this post goes up, a number of people will comment with, "we bought a house but it made sense for us because of XYZ."  Ff you bought a house, I really hope it made sense for you!  You do not need to validate yourself to me, even to my judgmental badger face.  Like weddings, there's a lot of people out there who tell you what to do, because that's the choice they made and they're defensive.

House envy hit us hard when all of Mark's friends bought houses while I was in law school.  Occasionally he would come home and say, "man, I'm the only one who doesn't have a house."  I would remind him that he was the only one who had a landlord that shoveled his sidewalk (although we don't have that anymore) or how nice it was to have somebody to call us a plumber or stop by to fix the dishwasher (or oven, as ours broke last night).  Nonetheless, house envy can be an ugly thing.  It can make you feel inadequate for not being at a place in your life where you can afford a house, or it can make your future wife feel like a drain on the family for going to law school.  Not to mention that people who buy houses often go around putting down people who weren't "smart enough" to buy right now and acting defensive because well, spending $200-500,000 on a big risk can make you feel kind of vulnerable.

We looked at houses briefly last year, especially with the tax credit, but we like city life and the schools aren't great, but the property taxes are insane.  We also talked about it and decided that since we'd quickly pay back in property taxes what the tax credit saved us, it didn't make a lot of sense, and the tax cost of homeownership annually would only be a little more than we spend renting now.  The market also makes me very nervous, as does the idea of having a mortgage when I didn't know if I would have a job.  So instead we found a truly awesome apartment, with a whole lotta space, that we plan on staying in until our family outgrows it.  We're not even aggressively saving "for a house" right now the way many of our peers are.  Once I get a (permanent, long-term, salaried) job and our incomes are more even, we will save money, but I don't really want a house yet.  I want to go to Australia and South America and go on fantastic dive vacations and run for public office.  Being not stupid, we're not going to spend our money on trips at the expense of our savings, but if living the way we want to now means we have to wait a little longer for a house, that's a decision I think I'm okay with.  (I know a lot of people who are taking the same approach to having kids, so I don't really see how it's that different.)

I've also watched a lot of people get screwed over by mortgages, even from reputable companies, and the idea of taking on that.much.debt scares the living daylights out of me.  I mean, we're talking about something where you put down a 10-20% down payment, and then spend forever paying it off.  That scares me.  I kind of approve of Jenna and her husband, who are waiting to pay for a house in cash.  I'm sure that there are a million reasons why wanting to buy a house outright is a dumb policy, but for now, while we still have a lease and a lot of good reasons for renting, I'm not interested in them.  They are something I will learn more about when we are actually thinking about buying a house.  We're also not in a high enough income position to need a house and mortgage for a tax break, like some people I know, so we don't have to worry about that (or learn how it works).

Another thing about city living and home ownership is this:  Houses in the city are often small, especially ones in our price range that don't need a lot of work.  They are narrow and they often only have one bathroom and no closet space or parking or real backyard.  We could get a much nicer place by renting, a place we actually like to live in and want to come home to, and not spend all our spare time on home improvement, than we could have if we bought a place in the city.  I also don't want a starter house, because the people I know who have had to sell houses after a few years get put through the wringer over it.  Oh yeah, and our marriage could fail, so I'd rather wait it out a couple of years and not set ourselves up for a miserable property settlement.  So I didn't want to buy a house with the assumption that we'll be selling it in 3 years or 5 years or when my shoes overtake the closet (6 months).  A lot of city homes need a lot of updating as well, and we are simply not at a place in our lives where we want to devote every.single.weekend to home improvement projects and installing a new dishwasher/water heater/backsplash.  I like projects and home improvement, but see above - I want to travel and generally enjoy being married.  (If home improvement is part of you enjoying being married, then go forth and enjoy it!)

So there you have it.  For now, we rent, and we live vicariously through our sisters, who are both in the process now of homebuying.  Are you renting?  Did you buy?


  1. We bought, and we did so pre-marriage. I'm absolutely in love with our home, but I also have moments of jealousy when I see bright apartments, when I see re-purposed churches in the city, and when I think of spending a year abroad and knowing that we'd have to have someone sub-let to do that. It feels rooted, but that also comes with a flip-side of feeling tied down. I have apartment-envy, I guess, at times.

    I'm very happy, but I also do NOT preach my decision as the be-all end-all of happiness. It comes in many forms, and I want to hear all about your trips and lovely apartment!

  2. Interesting post! I'm currently having the opposite of homebuying envy - my fiance really wants us to buy a house together (he already owns a house, but if we lived there my commute would be over an hour each way, so we are looking to find a new place), but to my commitment-phobic self, buying a house is just another part of adulthood that I'm not ready for yet. Getting married is scary enough! I know everyone says stuff like this, but don't let the pressure get to you - when the time is right, it will be right! (And prices are expected to stay low for a long while, anyway.)

  3. I totally see the smartness of renting, but personally, we are dying to buy a house! Prices are super-low in our city right now, and it would give us a chance to fix up whatever fixer-upper we will be buying before babymaking time commences. Plus we want to get a grape arbor, some fruit trees, an asparagus patch, a chicken coop, and a home recording studio going, which are all things we're going to need to own a home to do. I think Portland is a little less city-ish than Baltimore though, so we'd be buying right in the center of our metro area - less compromise for us. If we had to move out to the 'burbs in order to own, we would probably rent forever.

  4. We rent, because right now it makes absolutely no sense buying. We have no idea where we will be living in 3-5 years. I can't imagine buying a house I thought I would live in less than 10 years. We are much too migratory.

    However, when we know we'll be staying in a rental for awhile, we do make upgrades. We never do anything too terribly permanent, but we do have a tendency to invest more in an apartment than most people are. We'd rather take a small loss and live in a place we truly love.

  5. After we got married, I was surprised when everyone started to ask us when we would be moving from our city condo that we own. I figured they would be asking about kids but nope, they wanted to know when we'd be getting a house. We own already & we adore city life so it will be awhile before we get a house. I think it will only happen we have kids & we are bursting the seams of this condo :-)

  6. We rent and just resigned our lease until July of 2012. We are actively saving for a down payment, but are actually aren't sure we are going to buy then and will likely resign our lease until 2013.

    I have house envy---I want a bigger space to decorate! I want a yard! But then I remember I don't have to fix ANYTHING that stops working. If we buy a house, we'd like to stay near the neighborhood we live now and that might require 3-4 years of saving so that we can get the payments down to something we are comfortable with (I don't want to be house poor).

    Plus, we'd love to have a baby next year and the thought of not having the worry about home maintenance while we're adjusting to becoming parents is VERY appealing--our place is plenty big enough for one baby!

  7. MOB and I rented until we both had sort of jobs. Then we bought a broken down Termite infested converted rambler with a leaky basement, bad wiring, and pipes that leaked. Homeownership is not for sissies. The house was well located but had been owned by a lunatic family that had been very hard on it. MOB and I spent a week installing new copper pipes. I found out that she was better at sweating pipe than I was. My kind of girl.
    We lived in it for two years, then rented it out for 8 years to tenants who completely trash ed it. We came back and tore it apart, built a second story and still live there very happily 22 years later.
    Oh, I forgot to mention that I bought the house from my parents. It was the house I grew up in.

  8. This part describes exactly how I feel about house ownership: "[...] but if living the way we want to now means we have to wait a little longer for a house, that's a decision I think I'm okay with." If we end up wanting to buy later in life, that's cool, but we don't want to now and we may not later.

    And like Ms. Bunny, we also do upgrades in all of our rental apartments. Like you said, it's worth that investment of $X to have, for example, nice curtains in a color that makes me happy every day!

  9. After living in 6 states and 3 foreign countries, I was kinda ready to put down some roots after we got married. I love to garden and really looked forward to putting in plants that I could see mature over multiple years.
    Home ownership is not exactly easy though. We have had some pretty expensive repairs (new roof) and improvements (fencing) over the course of the last year. If I had gotten married a lot younger, I would not have had the financial resources or the desire to be tied down to a house. In some places it does not make financial sense to buy. It may also not be the right choice for other reasons. I think the extreme pressure to buy a house and have babies is annoying. People have to find their own path through life that may or may not include marriage, children, or home ownership.

  10. When we first got married we weren't at a place in our lives where buying a house made sense, but we are now :-) I think that is different for everyone, and you shouldn't let anyone pressure you.

    When you think about it buying a house is a lot like getting finally decide you are ready to make the commitment and then there are all these people who give you advice or tell you what you should or shouldn't do, and there are important choices to make, big house? small house? spend all the money on the best house and have nothing left for furniture? Buy a house that needs a lot of work to make it nice? or something that will be easy and not require a lot of DIY? I thought that our wedding would be the most expensive day of our lives, but now I think it will be the day we close on a house...but I guess getting married helps prepare you for the decision making far it has been much harder than we thought it would be, but hopefully when it is all over we will have no regrets! :-)

  11. omg. I just wrote the longest comment ever and blogger ate it. GAH. To summarize: we rent, happily, and people don't ask us about it much because they probably assume two writers can't afford a house. ;) We live in a neighborhood we could never afford to purchase in and love the flexibility of being able to move if we want or need to. Landlord lives downstairs, is super handy and pretty quick to fix problems.

    Lots of people my age have bought, probably bc of the favorable market, but I think there's a bit of "I'm X yrs old, time to buy!" Though, if you're sold on your city, why not buy? We may or may not be here in 5 years, who knows.