More House Than We Needed: A Cautionary Tale

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Disclaimer: this is not our house. We are not, in fact, members of the Royal Family, nor are we descendants of the Rockefellers. We did buy a bigger, more expensive house than we needed, though, and it had implications that we never thought about before buying.

We made the decision to look for a house almost a year after getting married. We had started talking about it, but after witnessing our landlord drunkenly make grass angels and yell obscenities in the front yard after a NFL game, I formally announced to my husband that the search was on. We knew a real estate agent through some friends, so we told her what our budget was and the general area in which we were searching. We also browsed through listings by ourselves, and that’s where my husband found The House.

The House

The House had plenty of square footage, a nice open floor plan, wooden floors, a fireplace, 3 acres of property, and a great location. As soon as we saw it, it was love at first sight (even as I write that, I realize how stupid it sounds. It’s a house, not Tom Hardy, for Pete’s sake). But that’s how we felt. We didn’t want anyone else to have The House. It was Our House. It was also at the very  top of our budget (in the red, “we can probably go there if we HAVE to, right?” section). We came back to look at it one more time, but we knew that it was ours. We put in the offer, haggled a little, and then…it really was ours.

The Honeymoon Period

At first, we loved The House. We did some painting and fixed a few things, added a snowblower and a new oven, and had fun arranging it just how we wanted. The first week we were in The House, I recall singing, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” at the top of my lungs at 9 p.m., just because I could. There were no upstairs or downstairs neighbors; it was just us. We set a small monthly budget for upkeep and decorating expenses, and that was that. We began paying our mortgage, and despite the fact that it was much more expensive than our rent had been, I felt proud. We were Homeowners.

Reality Sets In

A few months after we moved in, we found out that I was pregnant. Nine months later, I began to see The House in a completely different light. No longer did the square footage look like something we had earned after years of living in crappy apartments. Instead, all of the extra space seemed to mock me. You see, after I had the baby, I started to daydream about staying home with her, rather than returning to work–something that had never occurred to me that I would want. I crunched the numbers every way I possibly could, but they never worked out in my favor. In every scenario, I had to return to work, because otherwise, we couldn’t pay our mortgage.

We also began to run into the reality of what having a baby does to your time. No longer did we have time to dust and vacuum all of the different rooms or clean the bathrooms regularly (sorry, family and friends). The huge yard suddenly seemed overwhelming to take care of, especially since only one of us could be working on it at a time. Then we had to have an enormous tree cut down, costing us even more time (and money).

Today

Don’t get me wrong–there are still so many things about The House that I love. We plan to be here for a long time, and as our family grows, we know that our kids will have a wonderful place to grow up. If I could rewind the clock, though, there are a few things that I would do differently.

For anyone who is considering buying a house, I would strongly urge you to take a few extra steps before buying:

  1. Pay off all of your debt first: Oh, how I wish we would have done that. It probably would have only meant 1-2 more years of renting. Adding a mortgage to a pile of existing debt was much more stressful than either of us thought it would be, and it further limited our ability to do what we wanted with our money.
  2. Look at more than one house: We only looked at this one, so we didn’t have anything to compare it to. We were certain that we had lucked out, and wouldn’t find another one that we loved just as much. Realistically, we probably could have found another, slightly smaller and more reasonably priced house where we would have been happy.
  3. Consider ALL of the costs: This house had been “flipped,” so we didn’t think that we’d have to spend much money right off the bat. We didn’t factor in the painting, or appliance purchases, or a snowblower, or all of the small items that add up quickly when you transition from renting to owning. Try to estimate what your expenses will be–in both money and time–and remember that the larger the house, the more resources you’ll have to use.
  4. Calculate for the future: Sure, the mortgage might make sense in your budget right now, but what are your future goals, both near and distant? Do you plan to have kids within the next few years? Do you want to go on annual vacations? Don’t just think about the definite “yeses,” think about the “mights” too. Is there any chance that you might want to have one parent stay home? Will you be able to afford it with the mortgage, and all of your other expenses?
  5. Put at least 20% down: We did not do this, so we were required to carry Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). In the moment, it didn’t seem like it mattered, but now we recognize that the extra few hundred bucks a month would be a big help in other areas of our budget.

Buying a house is a big investment, and it should be an exciting time. Make sure that you do the right things at the front end so that it can be a blessing–not a burden.

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