Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We never wanted to buy a house

shell on the beachSo why are we?

One thing I've thoroughly disliked is that the word "home" has been co-opted by the real estate industry. As if nothing other than what you own qualifies, when home is such an emotion-drenched word.

Another thing I've disliked is the tired axiom: When you rent, you're just throwing money away. Balderdash. You're exchanging money for a place to live. Might as well say that you're throwing money away when you buy groceries, because you're just going to eat them.

I've never been much for the American Dream. I've never longed for white picket fences and expanses of green grass that's mine, all mine. I've liked the freedom of renting, being able to pull up stakes with 20 days notice, being free to earn as little as we wanted and find a rent to suit.

I've been rightly skeptical of the financial advantages of house-owning, as we've watched Sam's parents' equity disappear into the black pit that is the Michigan housing market, as we've seen friends foreclosed on, as we've watched investment properties not pay back as much as a savings account. I've witnessed the smaller financial disadvantages of owning, as well — the increased monthly payments even for a smaller place in a more prosaic location, the impulse to buy new furniture to fill those pretty new rooms, the drive to put in granite countertops and those sinks that sit on top of the counter and to switch to the stainless-steel appliances that will show all of your children's grimy little fingerprints. I held myself aloof in our rentals, making do with whatever ugliness and inconvenience presented itself, because it wasn't mine to deal with, and neither were the repairs or maintenance. I reminded myself of this as I saw two separate friends sink tens of thousands into replacing the rotting foundations of their purchases.

Mostly, we just felt we needed to be free. Sam and I each grew up living the Gypsy life. Before here, the longest I'd lived anywhere was four years, and the shortest was six weeks.

But, dang it, we fell in love. With a location, not a building. With this stretch of beach we're living along in Seattle, with Seattle itself.

We don't feel like picking up and jumping onto the nearest box car. We've (dare I say it?) settled.

And then we had another run-in, the latest in a series, with our crazy landlady of doom, as we've un-fondly named her. We recognized that we no longer felt comfortable in our otherwise ideal apartment, but rather than moving to another rental and another potentially insane landlady, would it be possible to own? We asked this of ourselves wistfully and sheepishly, not really expecting a yes from the universe.

But as I mentioned in my post on housing assistance programs, there were options available. We were beyond surprised when we walked out of the bank with a preapproval for what seemed like a great deal of money.

Of course, in Seattle, even a great deal of money doesn't go very far. We quickly realized there wasn't much, and hadn't been much lately, in our price range in the neighborhood we were interested in. When we happened upon our underpriced beauty, we pounced.

I think we will be happy there. Not because we're owning it. Not because we'll be cool then.

We would be happy where we are, too, or in another rental.

I think we'll be happy because we mean to be happy, and this purchase makes sense right now. It will make our lives easier in the future, if all goes well. Our housing payments will go down in proportion to inflation as the years go on, and meanwhile we will be secure in our nice little water-side bungalow.

We will raise Mikko there, and potentially another kidlet. We can see it. Mikko will continue sharing our room for now, but there's another room available if he prefers, and he and the future sibling can share the space together. Can I say how stupidly happy that makes me to envision? Not being a cosleeping baby or toddler myself, I always felt the lack of a roommate. I seriously loved it when I got to college and didn't have to sleep in a room alone anymore.

And our kids can run down the stairs and out to the beach, to our home, this stretch of sand and languid blue water.

And, who knows, maybe we'll even put in some granite countertops at some point. But I draw the line at the stainless steel. I don't want to go wiping those down every minute.

Photo courtesy Timo Balk at stock.xchng


Anonymous said...

I love it when you share bits of your personal life. I know what you mean about renting making you feel free, but for us, owning our own home is what makes us feel free--more space, creative freedom, and a yard to grow whatever we want in it. I felt like a gypsy for about 10 years and I hated it. I want to get to know my neighbors rather than live among strangers.

We got lucky, too, when we found our house--it was under-priced as well. It's nice to know that the mortgage payment can't go up on us like our rent always did. And hopefully one day our investment will pay off and we'll be able to buy a bit of land. I guess I'm an American Dreamer--I want my dream home! We are loving homeownership. Grimy fingerprints and all.

Lauren Wayne said...

Thank you for this. It's similar to how we've changed our thinking as well. We thought we'd never want to settle down, but when you find the right place, you find the right place! And it's this community in particular where we're putting down roots and getting a sense of the history of this neighborhood. I love (and am scared but excited) the idea of committing so strongly to one particular village, if that's a good word to use.

And thanks for the comment about sharing my personal life. I'm never sure how interesting our life is so have tended to avoid it, but I think I'll go for it more. :)

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