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Notes On Owning A Home, One Year On

Posted on 8 November 2010

A year ago today, we took possession of the first home either of us have ever owned. We did it after spending a few hours every Saturday mapping out open houses and then a few hours every Sunday actually seeing them for about two months. This was followed by finding a realtor and spending many hours more getting private showings all over town, making lists of pros and cons, and generally wracking over every possible detail of what implications this or that decision or this or that neighbourhood might have on our lives. It definitely ranks up there with one of the largest commitments I’ve ever made, and is certainly the largest financial purchase I’m likely to make for some time, so it seems appropriate to reflect on it 365 days on.

It’s a Home, Not a Financial Investment

First, there’s something incredibly settling about owning a house for the purpose of actually living in (rather than flipping or upgrading). If we were focused on the market value we’d be doing ok, but every little change in real estate prices would be unsettling because it could be potentially harmful. However, since we view the house as our home, and one that we could well be in for the rest of our lives, we’re not quite so concerned about what happens to the market. Yes, we’d like reasonable mortgage rates and taxes and the rest, but if prices on houses tank it’s not really as if we’re operating at a loss because we purchased it in order to put a roof over our heads, not sell in a couple of years at a net gain. I’m pretty sure that if more people took this approach, there wouldn’t be literal suburban wastelands throughout the United States and parts of Canada.

It Limits Your Options, In A Good Way

Related to the above point, we bought a house that we felt we could be happy living out the rest of our lives in. This decision was made, of course, after settling on a city that we could be happy living out the rest of our lives in. Assuming things don’t completely tank, Prince George is that city for us. There’s a number of reasons behind this statement that are part of a different discussion, but I would like to go into a little bit here. I heard about a study somewhere where psychologists set up two jam booths. At one, you could buy only three types of jam. Another had over 21 flavours. People were asked to purchase jams from different booths and then asked to rate how happy they were with their decisions. As it turns out, the people who were given more options were actually less happy with their decisions, perhaps because they were thinking about all the flavours they didn’t try.

While I think choice is a good thing, I think part of being happy with where you are in your life is occasionally chopping out the other options. We bought the house while I was unemployed. Before making the decision to buy a house, I was casting a wide net in my job search. I was applying for jobs in Vancouver, Ottawa, and around the world. Every time I got an interview for one of these jobs there was a bit of a chill– could I be happy living overseas? What if it didn’t work out? What about my significant other? Once we settled on Prince George as the place we would be living, I no longer had to worry about these issues. If the job wasn’t one I could do while living here, then it wasn’t the right fit for me. I might be singing a different tune if I hadn’t been lucky enough to get two jobs I enjoy immensely, but then who knows if I would even have a job if we hadn’t made the decision to stick around?

It Costs Money…

We have a mortgage. We have gas, hydro and property taxes. If something goes wrong, we have to fix it. If we want to renovate, we have to pay for it. It adds up.

But…

Every mortgage payment is one step closer to being mortgage free. If we want to hang up pictures or paint the wall or rip up the carpet and put in hardwood we can. We don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone’s aesthetic values but our own. It’s cheaper than rent was in Victoria, and we have a lot more space.

Location Matters

When we were looking, we narrowed our decision down by key neighbourhoods we wanted to live in. Our neighbours are friendly. The street is quiet. We walk our neighbour’s dogs, our cats are safe outside, and the few times our ferrets have gotten out, we’ve actually managed to get them back. Kids play in front yards. We can walk in the nearby field, or go a bit further into the woods. I can bike to work in under twenty minutes, and there’s four different bus stops within a five-minute walk. This makes a difference.

This Is All the Space You’re Going to Have

When I was living out my parent’s or renting, getting stuff seemed OK because, inevitably, one day we would have a house with more space and it would all fit nicely. Now, I’ve realized that there’s never going to be a point when we have more places to put stuff, so I purchase things much less frivolously. This is a good thing.

There’s Always Stuff to Do

More space means more cleaning. More dusting, vacuuming, mopping. More places to let boxes pile up until you realize you really need to do something about that room full of boxes. We’ve done a lot in our first year, but not nearly as much as I had on my to-do list.

You’re Pretty Much An Adult Now

I remember when I was a kid, I would always zone out when parents would start talking about mortgage rates or kitchen design or furniture layouts. Buy a house, and these become some of the more fascinating topics of conversation. I don’t know how I feel about this.

Conclusion

We’ve been very lucky. We bought when the prices were lower than they’d been in years, and we bought just before they started going up again. We had a support system in place to help us secure a mortgage and make a larger down payment. We’ve managed to get decent-paying jobs in the same city. I recognize that not a lot of people have that option.

But still, I know quite a few people who could do this, but don’t. They have their reasons, and they may be good ones, but I’m happy with the route we’ve taken. Sure, we can’t up and leave anytime we want, but once you get a job you actually want to keep and accumulate a certain amount of stuff, that ceases being an option anyways. At least this way we have somewhere to keep all our stuff when we travel, and could potentially rent the place out if we decided to take an extended trip away. We’ve hosted Christmas dinner, AGMs, and friends and family. We operate a ferret rescue out of here. We’re able to plan for the future with a little bit more stability than if we had no idea where we would be a few months or years down the line. Yes, there’s a certain amount of risk involved, but there is in anything. One year in, I’m very happy with our house, and I hope this continues to be the case.

Filed under: Best Of, house and home, personal

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