I’m popping online for a few minutes while Baby Stapler is asleep because I have a question that has been burning through my head during the wee hours of the morning, when it’s just me and the Baby — and the Baby doesn’t have an answer for me. So, I’ve been trying to get online and ask my readers about it.
For my entire adult life, I have wanted to buy a home. Yet, my life circumstances had me thinking that I would live in that area for more than three years. So, I couldn’t justify the purchase. In the past two decades, I have lived in five different states — one of them twice! I longed to paint my own walls and decorate my own home. Maybe even buy a china cabinet to display my prized and sentimental ornaments of life. Right now, they’re in boxes in my garage. Sometimes I take them out to look at them, and who I am comes flooding back to me.
Now, if I wasn’t living long enough in one place to justify the purchase, you may be thinking, “you weren’t really interested in buying a house. What you really wanted was to have a home.” This is absolutely true. I rarely bought the things people buy when they have a house — we still don’t have a bed with a headboard and right now we don’t even have a bed frame. Our mattress is on the floor. We furnish our home with cheap Target bookcases, Closetmaid cubicals, and plastic drawers.
I never wanted to buy furniture that wouldn’t work for the house we would eventually buy. To that end, we have only a few pieces of quality furniture. Ne — just two: Our couch and my Pottery Barn desk. And even those are modular. In the event that they don’t work for the house we buy, we can re-configure them. Every other piece of furniture we own cost us less than $150.
This is not to say that expensive furniture and knick-knacks picked up along the way make a home. They don’t. I have a home, where my children feel safe and secure and I hang my proverbial hat at night. But it still doesn’t feel like it’s mine. I still feel like a transient here — someone just stopping by for a little while until I move on to the next place. I always keep our moving boxes from the last move. Some of them have been with us longer than our oldest son.
Now that we live in a state with a bustling tech economy and plenty of potential for legal work, as well as fabulous public schools and proximity to my parents and friends, the time is nigh for us to buy. I am finally really to set my roots down in one town forever.
The biggest problem with this very emotional, and more certainly irrational, desire is that I want to live in my hometown. My parents live there, my church is there, it has excellent public schools, and I love the character of the homes there. Many neighborhoods have older trees, woods behind the houses, and privacy between the neighbors. But not so much privacy that you couldn’t stop by for a cup of sugar if you needed it.
So, what’s the problem?
My hometown doesn’t have a robust rental market and the homes there are very expensive. I’m talking $480,000-for-a-fixer-upper-expensive. We are contemplating making a $570,000 offer for a 2,000 square foot house with 1.5 baths. Yup. It’s less than five minutes from my parents’ house, and has the kind of yard where the kids can play but still have trees between us and the neighbors.
When we are already $185,000 deep in student loan debt, it seems like a stupid financial decision to make even if we could make the monthly payments. It seems like we should pay off our debt before taking on more. So, why the urgency? Little Stapler goes to kindergarten in the fall, and we want him to start off at a great public school and the same school district that will grant him his diploma.
As we try to hammer out a plan for how the heck we’re going to pony up the down payment and whether we’re out of our minds for trying to buy such an expensive house while we already have loads of debt, I thought I would get some input from you — If you had to choose between having a nice, big house and putting your kids in a better public school, which would you choose? Would you even choose to be “house poor” to make that happen?
photo by lavoview, via www.freedigitalphotos.net
A friend recently considered overbuying a house for the school district and as we looked at the numbers and thought about the kid(s) that hadn’t even been conceived yet, they would be paying more in property taxes (than an equivalent place in a different district) than a decent private school tuition. So they went with the cheaper home in the less hoity toity district and will cross the school bridge when they get there knowing that they’re banking more than enough in the meantime to afford private tuition. YMMV.
Wow! That’s definitely an important consideration. Property taxes are high in my hometown, but not that high. We would pay about $7,000/year in taxes, and Little Stapler starts public school in September, so we’ll be getting our money’s worth almost immediately.
To me this is less about the school district per se (although, great if it’s a good one) and more about the chance to live really close to your family, presumably friends, church, etc, which is maybe exactly the definition of “what money can’t buy.” It’s an insane amount to pay for a house, for me — but if there won’t be a (much) cheaper house in the same town, if you can make the payments without having to stop buying everything else, and you can establish a six-month mortgage payment fund in case of job loss, then I might go for it. Can you take in a renter for a while if you did it?
You’re right — the major draw are the things that money can’t buy. You have a really good point about establishing an emergency fund. We would have to raid our current emergency fund for the down payment, so I’ll crunch the numbers and see how long it will take us to replenish that.
Wowsers. Those prices are crazy to me.
We ended up buying a townhome where we’re at now. It is a great area for renting though, so we look at this as a long term rental investment.
But, you guys seem to be in a different situation.
Will you be able to save on daycare since your parents live close? That helps…
But just an FYI, I believe that school is overrated. Parent involvement (which seems to be a priority for you) has a much stronger effect than the schools.
Personally speaking, I’ve went to public (First two years was regular and 2nd through 5th grad in the gifted program), private non-religious (3 years middle school), and private religious (high school). Best education I got was the public school. The worst experience for me was the private school because it was such a small school. The private school had your normal amount of good and bad people, just like in the real world. We lived in 3 different homes, all within the same county during that time frame.
And to top that all off, I got a masters in Chemical Engineering. So I know that a lot of this is personal but I feel like you can definitely thrive in schools that aren’t top of the line.
And if you’re wondering, I lived in two three houses
This seems like a tough decision since your student debt is so large and your family has grown. It’s impossible to ignore the financial impact but it’s also really understandable why it can’t just be a non-emotional decision.
I’m not sure if you’ve read JLCollins post on housing http://jlcollinsnh.com/2013/05/29/why-your-house-is-a-terrible-investment/ but it’s definitely interesting.
LOL! Loved that article! I don’t read his blog enough, but I’m curious … even with all the negatives for home ownership: Does he own a home? I know he has a lot more cash than I do, so it’s apples to oranges, but I’m always intrigued by homeowners telling renters not to buy. It’s like how, before I went to law school, all the lawyers I knew told me not to go. Should I have listened? Maybe. It was a terrible financial move. But I do enjoy my career choice.
He sold his house (I think he has a post about it). He talked about how it wouldn’t sell for months on end, then they paid out for an interior decorator and it sold within a few months. I think he rents now.
For the career choice, I think the fact that you like it is more important than the cost. A lot of people aren’t happy with their jobs, and I’m not sure if the emotional stress is worth the money!
That is really interesting! I’m so intrigued that he rents. I really should read his blog more. I’ve heard great things about it, and he’s a nice guy. I met him at FinCon13.
I find the comment of wanting your child to start kindergarten in the same district that awards him his diploma to be the one comment that really isn’t based in too much tangible value. You have gone from bouncing around to settling in to settling down. But 13 years is a long time, and who knows what will come your way during that period.
I also think that “good school district” is evaluated by many things, but it’s not the same as saying, “all children who attend will get an equally good education”. Lots of kids in terrible districts get great educations, and lots of kids in great school districts fail. Your child’s experience will be as much a function of parents’ involvement in his education as it will be of anything else, so please don’t tie your faith in his future to your zip code. There are plenty of places that have fine schools, are close to your parents and your church, but may be in a different zip code, with a different economic profile that you CAN afford much more easily right now.
All that said, you seem to feel a little bit of arrested development, and that it’s time to move forward, and that can be an irresistible urge. Your next home might NOT be your forever home. It just might be a great home you live in for 7 years and then find a new answer.
And that’s not a reason not to have a bed frame.
haha! The student loans are primarily the reason we haven’t had a bed frame until now. And now Mr. Stapler wants a king size bed, so if that’s in the near future, we’re not going to buy a queen-sized bed frame in the short term. I’m really good at putting that off.
I know I’m being irrational about the whole 1 school district thing. :/
I’ve enjoyed reading the other comments and agree it sounds like a decision based upon emotion as opposed to the reality of the potential outcomes. The truth is, we had an awesome childhood in a great town, and I understand your desire to replicate that for your (also awesome) kids.
That being said, I know there’s surrounding towns with good schools that might be more affordable for you in this season of your life. You’d still be close to your hometown and church and have that connection, without the outrageous debt. Starter homes are still homes and a place to put down roots, which is what it sounds like you really want. And since the real estate market is stable in your area you’ll most likely be able to get a good return on your investment to upgrade and move to your dream town after day care payments stop and debt gets paid down a bit.
Case in point: our town is a very affordable one in a sea of luxury homes. We happened to find a great elementary school and enjoy both good school and affordable home. The kids *may* need to go to private school as they get older, but by then hopefully we’ll be in a better situation financially to upgrade our home or pay for tuition. Or be somewhere warmer instead. 😉
The truth is if you spend 570K on a house, there’s not going to be much left for a china cabinet or headboard… or new roof or new furnace when the crap hits the fan. And the crap does sometimes hit the fan, no matter how much you plan (hello, Hurricane Sandy!)
Good luck with your decision. You’re supported no matter what. If you buy that dream home I can help you decorate it on the cheap if you want. 😉
Carrie, whatever house we buy, I will need your decor help — big time!!
As a fellow nomad, I completely get that call to put down roots somewhere – and all the weird habits you develop (like plasticware as furniture, because, yeah, why would you invest in stuff that might not survive the next move?) as part of that lifestyle.
I’ve been thinking about buying a house myself. I really hate missing everything with my family, but I also have no desire to live near where I grew up in NJ.
Good luck with your decision!!
Thanks for sympathizing; I’m not sure that non-nomads know what it’s like to bounce around. I’d love to hear more about how you’re deciding where you’ll buy. We are going back to the drawing board and I feel like there are too many options and not enough ways to narrow them down.
I relate to the first part of your post and you could say we made the “mistake” that you are considering. Do we regret buying a home? For the most part. We are a military family and so it is basically never a good financial move to buy a home, because we move more often than every 5 years. We too have “college quality” furniture… although we do have a bed frame and head board. 😉 LOL. So, I do get want to establish “roots.” However, can you imagine being almost ONE MILLION dollars in debt??? Yikes!!! I get that you want your children to be in a “good” school… however, it’s kindergarten! If your child goes to a slightly less desirable school for a few years while you pay off or at least down your student loans, it definitely won’t be the end of the world. I say wait a few years so you can pay down your debt and save up a nice down payment! Best wishes with your decision!
Thanks! It’s good to hear from people who have been there. I’m glad I posted, because now we’re considering other towns — even though it makes me sad.
Good luck with your decision, it’s a major one. In our case we never considered being house poor when we bought our last home,not even for the school district. Both girls came out just perfect! We had money to go out to eat when we wanted to, give to church, take them to the circus, go on vacations etc. Then of course came their teen years and their clothes,then the college education and of course the weddings. Would wouldn’t have been able to do all that if we had been house poor.
It’s a hard decision. I like how Carrie put it -are you going to have enough money for the furnace or roof when they need repair.
I’m sorry if I may have sounded like your parents and I wish you well no matter what you decide! Have a great night.
Don’t apologize — I put this out there to get some good input! And honestly, you don’t sound like my parents. It’s my parents who are encouraging us to take on just as much as we can handle right now, and they promise the payments will get easier as time goes on.
Having your child stay in the same school is understandable. It’s something that crossed my mind as well and my son is only 18 months. I know we will have to move at some point when our family grows since we will run out of room. But houses in my neighborhood are extremely expensive. Probably close to the 7 figure range! Which is why many people buy “co-ops” but I don’t like the restrictions and the expensive maintenance fees. I’d feel bad moving my child to a different school especially since the area I’m in has a great school district. Areas with more affordable (and I used the term affordable loosely) have school districts that aren’t as great. Good luck with everything.
WOW! My hometown has its fair share of $1mil+ homes, but it’s probably only about 30% of the housing stock. In theory, I’d like to try to live in a smaller space and see if we could do without a lot of the stuff we have. But I’m too nervous about failing to try it!