To Buy Or Not To Buy? Considering Values When Finding A Home

“Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.” - Helen Rowland

At the tender age of 26, I have become domesticated. Part of me blames the Home and Garden Network. I was lured in by the shimmer of wood flooring, high ceilings, renovation projects, and gardening ideas. I live vicariously through House Hunters and find myself upset when the buyer’s decisions conflict with my own taste. Worst of all, I now understand the importance of an open floor plan.

Over the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of time in the housing and decor aisles of local superstores purchasing area rugs, accent tables, and the like to personalize my apartment. Once I cleared out the old, excessive and unnecessary decor and appliances, I became more conscious of my home and what occupies it. I’ve even considered purchasing a house, something I had decided early on that the white picket fence was not for me.

Herein lies the struggle. Along with my domestication comes a reluctance to transition into “adulthood” and the expectation of home ownership. Each year my values shift and former trivialities become current fixations. My friends now have houses of their own and my family urges me to buy in before housing prices rise.

Tension In Transition

At certain points on our life, there exists a tension between the expectations of others and our own inherent values. For example, though there are financial benefits of homeownership, large investments of time, money and effort are required to maintain a home.

There exists a stigma against renting in this country with a strong bias towards home ownership. If the financial crisis of the past decade taught us anything it is that not everyone should or is able to own a home. Each of us have different needs, priorities, incomes and dreams. For some, buying a house makes sense, while ownership becomes a burden for others. It seems the art of balancing personal values is lost in favor of balancing our checkbook.

With each transition comes a crisis, often leaving two choices laid out before us. At each crossroads we are forced to reconsider our identity and direction. Here are 4 Ways To Consider Our Values When Choosing A Home, hopefully they ease you through transition and help understand the bigger picture when sorting through the details.

1). Choose a home, not an investment. Housing is often discussed in terms of investment and finance rather then comfort and sanctum. We buy a house not only to make a life in, but to make money as well. While this seems like a win-win on the surface, often the latter interrupts the former.

For example, owning a home beyond our needs and means adds stress to our finances, schedule and relationships. We end up working longer hours to pay for a home we don’t have the time to enjoy. Often, when we do get to spend time at home it is spent cleaning, landscaping, repairing and renovating. All of this is stacked on top of cooking, caring for children, keeping up with friends and family, enjoying a hobby, vacationing, and the other necessities and joys of life.

Rather than assessing our homes by its investment potential, why not consider what it is we need in a home.

2). Consider needs when selecting a home. What is it that we truly need out of a home? Do we need extra rooms for children, space for our art supplies, an office for work and a big yard? Do we need a three car garage, finished basement, built in bar, cathedral ceilings, a living room and family room? The answer to these questions is specific to each of our individual needs, though it can be difficult to separate our needs from wants.

For the most part, I have noticed we housing make choices based on wants, often at the expense of our needs. We purchase a newer, larger home that is further from work at the cost of time, money and energy spent commuting. Our hobbies fade because of time needed for this commute, savings accounts shrink to fill in the empty rooms and relationships strain because of the stress and time constraints involved in daily living.

Worst of all, we treat this as if it were a fact of life. We tell each other, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.” In doing so, we neglect our role in making these choices by blaming time itself. Our home, our schedule, our stress is our choice. The first step to managing the chaos is to acknowledge our role in perpetuating it.

3). Be aware of hidden costs. Simply put, more space means more furniture, more care and more time. While our monthly payments may be lower with a 20 year mortgage, we often overlook the expenses needed to furnish a larger home, decorate, renovate, purchase landscaping equipment (or service), and all the small purchases required to fill and maintain a living space.

I’ve noticed how costly an 800 sq ft apartment can be to decorate and furnish, even when purchasing second hand items. While creating a new home can be exciting, it can turn from a joy to a job in an instant. Whether it is a small apartment or large home, our schedule, individual stress tolerance and situation determines what can invigorates or drains us.

Renting is often put down as a waste of money because of the lack of financial return, which is true in some sense. However, with renting there is little to no cost in time or money spent on repairs, replacement, maintenance and renovation. In addition, they are generally cheaper to furnish and commitment free beyond the usual 12 month lease.

4). Prioritize your values. Each of our timelines are different. At this point in my life, friends and colleagues are beginning to start families of their own. Stability, space, and investment make sense to the values and needs of a growing family. Though, there remains a balance between needs and individual values.

Our values are what add purpose to our life. They determine the how and why of life and therefore influence the where as well. For many of us, we become so intent on making a living that we lose sight of why we we are working so hard in the first place. Without value, we merely exist, even if we own a nice home with lots of cool stuff. So what is the point?

Choosing Value

Autonomy, education, simplicity, personal growth, sustainability, relationships and creativity are where I find value. Because of this, I prefer renting. I thrive on transience and am stifled by stability. One day I will fulfill my HGTV dreams and purchase a home, hopefully based on values and needs rather than some ideal or expectation.

I am not advocating renting or buying here, but rather the conscious consideration of our needs and values. Among the many lessons learned from the housing crisis are the dangers of living beyond our means and the value of moderation. This sentiment seems to have permeated the culture as simple living, minimalism, sustainability, and urban living have gained popularity among the emerging adult generation.

It seems these ideals will becoming increasingly important as the population rises, resources become scarcer and technology allows us to do more with less.  This transition is hopeful because it is forcing us to consider what matters.  

Photo by: Nick Kenrick