If you live in the United States, there's a lot of cultural pressure to become a homeowner. It's an official part of the American Dream™, and most people consider it a natural progression in the steps to growing up and becoming a real 'adult'.
But the question is worth considering: Do you really want to be a homeowner?
For a lot of people, buying a house is a mistake. If your timing is wrong, owning a house can tie you down financially and physically in ways that might prevent you from fully exploring and shaping a career or life path.
The best job opportunities for you might not be in the same city in which you bought that first fixer-upper. The person you're meant to fall in love with might live somewhere else too!
Owning a home isn't necessarily a ball and chain; obviously, you can sell it, rent it, or (bad idea) abandon it. But having a mortgage payment definitely makes life's more spontaneous decisions a little difficult. Picking up everything you own and moving across the country to follow your dream is just a bit easier when you don't own that much, and you don't have a house to pack up.
Likewise, even if moving all over the place isn't a high priority for you, home ownership usually comes with a high financial opportunity cost. Meaning: when you close on a home you've just tied up a large chunk of your monthly income on a line item that can't easily be redirected.
On top of that, a mortgage always comes with a lot of hidden costs. You will end up spending a lot more in home maintenance, improvements, assessments and taxes than you ever expected when you walked through the door for the first time.
So that's a bunch of money (mortgage, maintenance, taxes) that, even if it turns out to be a good long-term investment, you can't do anything else with right now.
And what else would you want to be doing? Well that's the point, isn't it? If you're at a stage in your life where trying new things (travel, relationships, education, a new job) is a high priority, or a reasonable possibility, then maybe buying a house isn't the best idea.
"So, Bruno," you might ask, "how come you've spent the last ten years of your life buying and fixing up houses and making a web site dedicated to that stuff?"
Well, the answer to that is simple!
I don't know!
Just kidding: I kind of know. I mean, I bought my first house when I was just 22 years old, so some of the advice in this post comes from my own experience, and my thoughts about opportunities I might have missed out on due to owning a home.
But in my case, owning a home dovetailed perfectly into what I ended up doing as a career. I was able to turn a lot of those challenges (mortgage, home improvement costs, etc.) into opportunities. The person I was meant to fall in love with ended up being right here, in my hometown (same high school, actually). And I think something about my upbringing (immigrant parents who were, themselves, children of recent immigrants) made me yearn for stability.
Of course, there are a ton of great things about owning your home (I'll write more about that next week). You get the freedom to change it, improve it (or in some cases, worsen in) however you want. You can also create a deeper and more permanent bond with the community you're in. If you're lucky enough to live in a really awesome neighborhood (we are), then that can be a really positive, life-changing experience.
But the idea that every home purchase is a no-brainer, hole-in-one, sure-bet money-making investment is just not true. And, financial concerns aside, owning a home is a big life step that might not be right for some people, or for certain people at particular times in their lives.
And here's the great thing: whether you own your living space or not, you can still make it a place you love, that reflects your values and personality. Most of the stuff we write about here on Curbly applies as well to renters as it does to homeowners. Here are some good posts to start with:
- This roundup of updates renters can do without bothering their landlords
- Tips for building a garden for renters
- 8 ways to improve your rental bathroom
- Quick ceiling fan fixes (rentals tend to have ugly ones)
- How landlords can make rentals more tenant-friendly
- 10 Big Impact Lighting Solutions (No Electrician Required)
If you're considering buying a house (or feel like you should be considering it), make sure you're doing it because it's the right choice for you and your family, right now, not because everyone says that's what grown-ups do. Think about these questions:
- Are you at a point in your life where financial and geographic freedom (and opportunity) are really important?
- Do you like being a homeowner (i.e. amateur janitor, yard-care person, carpenter, painter and decorator)? Seriously! I like those things. You might not.
- Do you want to develop a deep and lasting connection to your community? Do you have other ways of doing that besides being a homeowner?
Next week, I'll be back with the opposite take: why I love being a homeowner, and why you should too.
Think owning a home is all fun and games? Check out some of my previous, only-funny-in-hindsight, experiences: