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On Making Good Choices: When NOT To Buy A House.

Pay attention for a second, because I’m about to get real.

Last weekend one of Justin’s troops from our last duty station stopped by for a visit while traveling up the coast. He’s a young, intelligent, nice-looking guy with loads of potential for his future career, whether it be with the Air Force or as a civilian. He —

Wait. I have to explain something to you first.

Now that I’m an old person, I’ve developed a “bit” I like to use with the young’ns. You know, my schtick. The catchphrase that they’ll remember me for long after they’ve forgotten what I look like or how they knew me. It started last spring when my dear friend’s daughter was heading off to prom. She’s always been an amazing girl — wicked smart and funny and full of lovable quirks that remind me of her mother. She’s not the type to make bad decisions, but something about seeing her wearing a sparkling long dress and makeup for the first time — looking not like her cute, self-conscious self but like a woman about to get out after the world — I couldn’t help but shout as she headed out the door,


“Have lots of fun! And… and make good choices!”


I heard her laugh before the door closed behind her, and I knew. If a bad choice presented itself to her that night, she’d at least think about my parting shout before exercising her autonomy in some annoyingly teenage way. And the truth is, that’s the most we can hope for the people we care about.

So this guy Justin used to work with — he’s also not the type who needs to be told to make good choices. For someone his age, he’s unusually adept at assessing a situation and making fact-based decisions. What’s more, he’s come incredibly far in the way he carries himself from the shockingly quiet, awkward kid I first met several years ago. And he knows this about himself. So when we sat down over beers and he told us his next step was buying a house, my first reaction was, of course, “Wow! That’s amazing! Congratulations!”

But then he looked a little uncomfortable and fidgeted in his chair. “Well… I’ve been looking into it and I realize how little I actually know about the home-buying process.”

Now. I recognize an advice-giving window of opportunity when I see one. Even when there isn’t one. I live for this stuff.

So I shot Justin my very best “I’ve got this” look and launched into a speech about the pros and cons of using a realtor (almost always a plus when buying a house, though maybe not so much when selling one), what qualities he should probably look for since re-sale is always a concern for military buyers, and what kinds of things he should be financially prepared for because when it comes to owning a house, you can’t just call your property manager when the air conditioner decides to crap out during the middle of a humid, North Carolina summer. And throughout my brilliant soliloquy, he started to look more and more uncomfortable. And as he did, it occurred to me — he’d said step. He hadn’t said buying a house was his next “goal,” but step. When I finished, he said, “Wow. I guess I didn’t realize how little I know about buying a house.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “It’s totally worth it if your goal is to be a home owner.”

He laughed nervously.

“Well… why do you want to buy a house?”

“Honestly? Because I’m tired of sharing a wall with my neighbors.”


And this, m’dears, is what we call a “slap-yo’-forehead” moment.


Justin and I exchanged a glance. “You do know you can just rent a single-family home, right?” Justin asked. Of course he did. But home ownership is so ingrained in the minds of young people as the next natural step in the “growing up” process, that it didn’t occur to him that he could choose to not buy a house.

“It’s just that I kind of like doing projects around my townhouse, and it might be nice to do them for myself rather than for someone else,” he explained. Valid point.

“But the other difference is,” Justin interjected, “it’s not as fun when the projects have to be done. When there’s something to do every weekend.” He shot me a sidelong glance.

“What he means to say,” I laughed, “is that it’s not as fun when your wife is always nagging you to work on the next project!”

We all laughed at that, but here’s the thing — home ownership can be stressful on a relationship. Especially if one partner is a relentlessly ambitious perfectionist (*cough*me*cough*) and the other prefers to take a more lackadaisical approach to getting ‘er done (*cough*Justin*cough*). And while the closest I’ve probably come to airing our dirty laundry on Domestiphobia is when I literally aired our dirty laundry on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago (which, by the way, is my most popular Facebook post this month, you voyeurs) —

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 9.13.39 AM

I’m not going to lie to you and say that there’s never been any strain while dealing with having our kitchen torn out for months, or creative differences in design decisions, or the fact that I want it all done now so we can relax, and Justin just plain wants to relax. I mean, the guy works hard. Yet I’m the kind of person who, above most else, values being heard. And Justin values not being told suggestively motivated about what to do. What I see as discussion, he interprets as orders. And that can be problematic when we’re supposed to be partners.

So my point is this:

If it’s not a personal goal of yours — if you’re not looking at it from a sentimental or an investment perspective — if you don’t enjoy manual labor, thankless upkeep, and the idea of throwing buckets of money into something that may or may not be worth it in the end, don’t have children.


I mean a house. Don’t buy a house.


As smart as he is, our friend hadn’t really thought about everything that goes into home ownership. Often it literally stakes claim to your blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes all at once.

So why do we do it?



First-time buyers of a LOT of work and a weed bed, circa 2007. Oh, the naivety.

The sense of achievement is the highest of highs.

What’s holding you back from buying a house? Or, if you own one, do you regret it?


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ughhh can you share some of that advice with me?? I want/need someone to tell me what to do!. I’m moving to denver (!) in novmeber (!!) and i’ve been dying to buy a house. i’ve looked at what i can get for renting out there and its usually a 600sqft nothing for $1800/month. I know i’ve been spoiled in cleveland, but holy sticker shock. then i look at the home buying option and it just seems to make so much more sense. logic tells me to live there for a year to get my bearings/see if the job is a good fit and THEN buy a house if i still want but :( i’m SO SICK of moving id rather just get somewhere and stay there


DENVER??!! That is NOT what we discussed. ;) (On the plus-side, my mother lives in Parker, so maybe you and I will get another visit next time I get out there!)

Listen. There’s really no “wrong” choice here. All you can do is make the decision that makes the most sense to you, knowing what you know right now. (You’re not allowed to get mad at yourself later for things you didn’t know at the time you made a decision. Deal? Deal.) With the internet today, you can learn SO much about a neighborhood without ever actually stepping foot in it. Forums (I found City-Data particularly helpful) and street view on Google Maps are two wonderful tools to get started. If your heart is telling you to buy and you can find a good deal, I say go for it!! I completely understand not wanting to move again. But if you’re kind of fickle and think you might change your mind easily, you might want to consider renting — even just short term — until you get your bearings. Is it an option to put your things in storage and live in a short-term furnished apartment for 3-6 months? Would be a pain in the ass, but might be a solution to get the best of both worlds.

I hope a congratulations is in order on the move!!


ah! i know i’m sort of going the complete opposite way, geographically! i never expected to get the offer out there but i just applied on a whim, and what do you know, i got the job! i’m excited/nervous/sorta sad to leave Cleveland but i’m hoping its just a fun adventure and if i hate it, i can apply like crazy to get back here. i mean how many people are dying to move to Cleveland? haha! my new agency is paying for relocation so i think they would pay for temporary storage, not really sure of the specifics yet, the travel folks haven’t contacted me. all i know is i have the job and sometime between now and november 17, i will be moving gahhhhhhh. totally solid advice though! i will check out city-data, i had never heard of it!


That is so great! And super exciting!! I’m envious, simply because I love moving. (I know — I’m weird.) Not the actual hassle of moving, but the idea of getting to know a new place. Denver is a way cool city, but go in knowing it always takes time for a place to start to feel like home. You’ll probably feel a little land-locked for a bit, and pack PLENTY of lotion (it’s very dry out there), but there are so many fantastic things within a day’s drive when you want to get out of the city. (And don’t forget the free Coors brewery tour in Golden, CO!) I still think Cleveland is on the brink — either of becoming “up-and-coming,” or heading south. I hope it’s the former, because it’s a neat town. Congratulations on the job and good luck with the move!! Keep me posted on what you end up doing.


I’m condo people, not house people. Maybe one day, I’ll be townhouse people, but even that I’m not sure of. I’m not a fan of yardwork and anything with a ground floor door fills me with serial killer fears.

We did buy our condo though, and I love it. Financially, are we going to come out ahead? Maybe in many years. Mostly because we’re seeing our mortgage as a savings account with a really low return, which for us works better than rent, which was more like just throwing the money away. Our monthly bill is a bit higher than it would be with rent, but realistically, we would have spent that extra money on dinners out. We wouldn’t have saved or invested it or anything.

I’m also not DIY people. My husband and I aren’t handy. I know the value of my time and I know that in order to do anything right, we’d probably be re-doing it a time or two. Painting one room a few months ago took a lot of stress and more time than either of us wanted to spend. We prefer to save up and hire well-recommended professionals to do it right the first time.


I own a house, I love the house (sort of, could use another bedroom) but want to pick the house up and move it somewhere else! My gypsy ways call and I have been here 7 years, the longest I have been anywhere and I am itching…just dying to go somewhere else – that is the regret I have with home buying – it can be a constraint on a traveler.


That is exactly how I felt about our last house! As someone who loves to travel, I still love having a comfortable home base to return to, and our last house was just about perfect for us. I feel a bit more stressed in this one because there’s a chance we could be here for a VERY short time and have to rent it before it makes financial sense to sell… we’ll see. Such is the strain of home ownership! Maybe you should consider finding a new place in your city, just for a change of scenery? That is, if it makes sense market-wise.


Andi – if you are looking to travel – perhaps you can do a house swap with someone in the area you want to visit? My girlfriend swapped homes (& cars) with a couple in the Netherlands. Everyone had a great vacation. I just googled “house swap vacations” and there are dozens of web sites/clubs.

Shelly – if you haven’t found a Realtor, give Patrick Finney a call. He’s a young, smart, broker/owner:
Finn Real Estate
55 Madison St Suite 710
Denver, Colorado
(303) 999-0187
Open 24 Hours
Tell Patrick that Kathi sent you! We met at the Orlando RE/MAX Conference a few years ago.


GREAT idea on the house swap! I will let Andi know in case she doesn’t see this. And I’ll pass along your referral to Shelly as well. Thanks, Kathi!

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