My husband and I bought our first house at the age of twenty-two. When we signed the loan papers the closing agent looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are the youngest couple to ever sit across the table from me. You should be very proud of this accomplishment.”
I remember feeling a rush of emotions as I sat there with loan papers in one hand and a pen in the other. It felt like we were jumping hurdles in a race that hadn’t started. We were buying a house in our early twenties well before any of our peers.
Just six months earlier I was living in a 9-by-9 room in a group house with five other people upstairs and two more in the basement. Was it really possible that I was moments away from owning my own home?
Rather than wondering how I got to that moment I should have been asking where I wanted to go? In retrospect I should have paused to ask, “Does this investment make sense? Is this a house I love? Am I too young to buy a house in the first place?”
With a little more time and thought I could have avoided many first-time homebuyer mistakes.
Group Houses Suck
The group house I lived in was a dump and a fire hazard. Anytime the upstairs renter used the hair dryer the breakers providing electricity to my room would trip. To flip the switches I had to walk outside of the house and knock on the door to the basement. If the basement renters were home, (I prayed to God they were in the middle of winter), they would have to push their beds away from the wall so I could actually reach the breaker panel.
In that crappy house full of fruit flies and never-ending mounds of trash I paid $310 a month. I shared a bathroom with five other people, which meant I couldn’t urinate when I needed to or shower with hot water. I used a dangerous electric heater to stay warm in the winter and a low producing window unit to keep cool in the summer.
As a recent graduate sharing space was par for the course. It was an easy way to minimize rent and expenses. In college I shared a room, so having my own bedroom, (even a ridiculously tiny one), felt unbelievably freeing.
House hacking makes a whole lot of sense when you are young. Most of us share a house or dorm in college, so it’s easy to continue living the same way after graduation. I didn’t feel the need to lease my own studio apartment at the time. Actually, even if I did I couldn’t have afforded one.
Buying a Single Family House
My roommates in that group house were in their mid-thirties. They enjoyed low cost rent and socializing. I understood why they stayed, but two years after graduation I was ready to move on to a bigger, cleaner space.
My husband, (then boyfriend), and I talked about buying a place. We milled over the idea of purchasing a townhouse, but somehow settled on a detached, single family home in a well established neighborhood.
Buying a house sounded like a great idea, but I wonder if it was the best decision for us. All of the sudden we went from two twenty year olds with no responsibilities to two people with a whole lot of chores to complete.
Chores, Chores and More Chores
Our new house hadn’t been painted in over a decade so we bought new brushes and got right to work. The previous owners used a dark shade of blue that took us forever to cover up.
We spent days and weeks applying primer to the walls and crown molding. After awhile we fought about how many coats each wall needed and which colors to choose.
Nobody ever cleaned the group house. Sure we took out trash from time to time, but none of us swept, vacuumed or even wiped down the counters on a regular basis.
In this new house my husband and I were responsible for cleaning three floors by ourselves and four separate bathrooms. The house wasn’t particularly spotless when we moved in, so it often felt like I was just moving dirt.
We also had to mow the lawn, prune flowers, rake leaves and shovel snow. Our weekends began to consist of unpleasant chores. I yearned for the few times of year where I didn’t need to complete any outside work.
Growing Up Too Soon
When I look back on those years I yearn for the carefree life I gave up. My friends called their landlords when problems arose. My husband and I investigated issues, tinkered with solutions and brought in reinforcements when problems popped up.
Aren’t your twenties supposed to be full of fun and adventure? Why didn’t we travel around the globe, follow our favorite bands around the country and live it up?
Instead of enjoying our youth we spent a lot of time, stress and money on that house. I found myself paying a hefty mortgage on a house and lifestyle I didn’t love.
A Wise Investment
I had blinders on when I bought that house. I only thought about the purchase from a financial standpoint. Of course I didn’t want to waste money paying rent. Renting was “throwing money out the window.” It was much wiser to buy a house, right?
On paper my house was a wise investment. The value has more than doubled since we bought it. In 2009 we used a cash-out refinance to buy a third property outright. We began aggressively paying down our mortgage the month after. In fact, despite the cash-out, we are only one year away from paying off our house. Total payoff time from start-to-finish: 19 years.
Financially speaking it was wise to buy our house, but I still wonder if it was a mistake.
We rushed into the purchase of our house. I didn’t ask myself enough questions or take enough important factors into account.
My husband and I weighed the financial factors. We made sure we could easily pay the mortgage and property taxes. We also carefully planned for upgrades and repairs. I just wish we’d factored in other decision points.
For example, there aren’t any young people in our neighborhood. Our closest neighbors are in their seventies, eighties and nineties. They are all lovely people but we don’t have much in common with them.
I’ve gotten used to this, but in the beginning I craved a greater sense of community. I wanted to live in a place with block parties and backyard barbecues.
I wish someone had talked to me about the work involved in owning a house; the constant cleaning, straightening, organizing and repairing that takes place. The sheer number of hours spent gardening, mowing and raking.
The house created a ridiculous amount of resentment between my husband and I. We experienced many conflicts the first few years after buying. My husband imagined we would stand side by side working happily together in the yard. He was sorely disappointed to find out I despised those chores.
We’ve resolved most of those issues over the years, but the fights still leave a bad taste in both of our mouths.
When we purchased our house I was way too young to think about having children. At the time we didn’t research the local school or read about its rankings.
Unfortunately it doesn’t fulfill the needs of our family for a variety of reasons. Rather than receiving a free education we spend thousands of dollars on private school tuition.
As a forty year old with children I’ve come to love my home, but as a twenty year old with other priorities I could have done without it.
My neighborhood is lined with gorgeous old oak trees that provide a shady reprieve during long walks and bike rides. We live within a mile of three different playgrounds. Just a bit farther out is a robust public library.
My youngest son attends a magical preschool a few blocks from our home. Our neighborhood also lies in the backyard of a prestigious university. My children grow up watching football and basketball games at our alma mater.
Over the past four years we’ve spent a ton of money on upgrades. We’ve knocked down multiple walls, replaced the windows and remodeled our kitchens and bathrooms.
Nearly two decades after purchasing our house I’ve finally come to love it. Of course, all these years later it looks nothing like the home we first purchased.
If I could go back in time I would reverse my decision to buy our house. I might still buy a place, but I would choose a townhouse or small condo.
At twenty-two I didn’t need a large, single family house with three bedrooms and four bathrooms. I would pick a place that took less time to clean and care for.
In retrospect I should have spent more time focusing on where I wanted to live, what type of neighbors I wanted and what amenities I needed access to.
I would also prepare my relationship for the purchase. My husband and I should have talked about chores and home maintenance long before buying. There are a lot of important topics we failed to discuss prior to signing our names on a thirty year mortgage.
I don’t think I made a mistake in buying young. I just wish I thought more about what I valued. In my early twenties I only worried about whether or not I could afford my home. Now I realize how many other factors I should have considered.