This week, I sold a house I had owned for five years. As of Monday when the final papers were signed, I am no longer a homeowner.
What a fucking relief.
I don’t like looking back on my life with regrets, but if there’s one thing I could go back and do differently, it would be the decision to buy a house. I got suckered into the American Dream and it cost me big time. It not only cost me money, but more importantly my time and peace of mind. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned the hard way, hopefully you don’t have to (but you probably do).
Buying a House is Huge Financial Strain
There is so much bullshit about how you’re throwing away money when you rent. After I bought a house, I realized I had not yet begun to throw money away. Just the gas money alone going back and forth to Home Depot wasn’t worth it. I could practically work at Home Depot with the kind of experience I now have there.
(Sometimes I wonder if all their employees are home owners who ended up spending all their money at Home Depot and then needed a second job to pay for their mortgage. I digress…)
To those of you who are wondering what I’m making on the house after selling it five years later, it was $38,652 after all the fees. Factor in that only 18% of the money I paid to Wells Fargo (the lender) went toward paying down the house (the rest goes to interest, property taxes and escrow) and I spent about $173,000 over the course of five years, plus the $50,000 in repairs, totaling $223,000 to get $38,652 back. Let’s also not forget that when I bought the house the market was low (2010) and I’m very fortunate that house prices have risen 20-30% in the last five years so I ended up selling it for $45K more than I bought it for.
Even with people renting rooms that covered part of the costs, I’m coming out losing money. Let’s not just focus on money though, because believe it or not that’s actually the least important reason I wouldn’t do this again…
A House Ties You Down
I value my freedom immensely. I’ve thought several times about selling all my possessions and traveling the world, I love not owning much stuff and I love living in different cities around the world. If you’re someone who shares any of these values, then owning a home is going to present problems. Even if you don’t live in the house (which I only did half of the time I owned mine) you are constantly responsible for it’s upkeep and maintenance, and it’s always more work and money than you think. Always.
Maybe you hear “your house ties you down” and you think “great! I love puttin’ down roots and living in the same town for thirty years!” Stop reading this article, it’s not for you.
Owning a House is a Time Sucking Monster
That’s putting it lightly. I don’t even know how to describe this to people who haven’t been through it, but imagine spending every free moment for the first year or more painting, hammering, fixing, Home Depot-running, plumbing, deep cleaning, planning, furniture buying and generally thinking about the next mini-project you can do for your home.
Are some people into this? I think so, and I enjoyed it for a few weeks, but after month two it got old, after month six I was wondering where all my time went and after a year I was fantasizing about selling the house to be free of this burden. I didn’t have the funds to hire a contractor for every job I wanted to do so I ended up doing a lot myself. It took a lot of time, and yes I think fixing things myself is overrated.
We Live in a House Buying Culture
If we really want to get into this, we live in a culture that loves owning everything, but let’s just talk about property for a minute. Something funny would happen when people found out I owned a house. They thought I was successful, mature and responsible. This was funny to me, but I see where it comes from. We put owning things on a pedestal. Just like the old west and manifest destiny, we strive to own as much property as possible, because it’s what makes us a “success”.
In 2015 success is no longer how fat you are, it’s how limber you are. Can you take a month vacation whenever you want? How much time are you spending maintaining what you own? How many hours a week are you working at something you don’t enjoy? This is the new rich. The new rich values time over money, and nothing is more indicative of the shift between old rich and new rich than the move away from owning property.
Right now I live in Bali, I’ve been here for three months and in a few days I’ll be heading to the beach for a solo writing retreat in a house I rented for $40 a night on Airbnb. Being able to do that is what I consider rich.
Buying a house is not for everyone, but it is right for some people. My intention with this article is to balance out the massive amount of misinformation we get fed about the illusion that buying a house is peaches and cream, but don’t take my word for it.
Ask people who have bought houses about what their first year was like. Ask them “was it more work than you expected?” and see if they don’t laugh in your face.
You might find for yourself that you end up valuing your time and freedom over owning property, I know I did.
This is part 3 of a 3-part collection entitled Stickin It to the Man