A house popped up online at 9:30pm on a Monday. We texted our realtor right away, and were in to see it by 11:30am on Tuesday. Twenty minutes later, we decided to make an offer as I walked out the door to make a noon meeting at work. It was our third offer. The official offer was made by 2:00pm and was accepted before 4:00pm. After a decade of renting, and a few months of researching, questioning and searching, I had a house. By 5:00pm, I was in tears.
I was overwhelmed. I felt trapped. It felt permanent. Turns out, I am a reluctant homeowner. I understand the financial advantages to owning, I do. My spouse, an avid and savvy researcher, even took NY Times Buy/Earn Calculator to help me see. But I love renting. I love being mobile. It makes sense to me to pay X amount of dollars each month for the opportunity to have a roof over my head. When renting, I decide how much space I want for twelve months and then can reassess. It helps to not overspend, not sprawl out, not acquire stuff. I love that I don’t have to think about the color of the walls or the length of the lawn because they aren’t mine. And now that I do own walls and a lawn (and a furnace that could break and a roof that could cave and a basement that could flood), I don’t really believe I actually own them. I am responsible for them, but truly owning strikes me a bit as an illusion. I think I could have been a happy renter forever. But alas, we took the plunge.
People were so excited for me. Friends asked for the address so they could look it up. Sending it to them felt oddly intimate and private, like I was taking a stand that I couldn’t go back on. Choosing a price range, choosing a neighborhood, choosing a city, choosing a style were all so loaded. I felt like I was opening my chest to the world and saying, “This is what my life has amounted to, this is how much money we make, this is how much space we think we need, this is what we are about, this is the life we are building.” I didn’t want it to mean that much.
My family and co-workers wanted to see pictures and talk about the house in detail. I really appreciated the support, but I just wasn’t that excited about the house. The support threw me a little bit. It didn’t help that this was one easy topic of conversation at a family wedding. A few weeks later, the attention and conversation culminate in me feeling like buying a house is treated like a big achievement of the American dream. Like we had finally arrived and were in a club of homeowners. More than getting married even, we had somehow made it.
There are some life decisions that set a million more life decisions in motion. I don’t want to be house poor. I don’t want spend all my free time on home repair. I don’t want to feel pressure to maintain my salary so we can save for the next renovation. I don’t want to dream about paint colors for the bathroom. What I value I live out through time and money. And I believe I can maintain my values as a homeowner. I may just have to fight upstream a bit in my own head and focus on the other values that a home can provide- a space to entertain, a space to garden, a space to take root.
When I moved home from South America, I made a promise to myself to build a life that I could always show my Uruguayan house family without being embarrassed. The house is bigger than my current rental, but it is not lavish or over the top. In that way, I do feel good about the decision.
Yet inner conflict remains. A friend and homeowner who shares similar values, sensing my hesitation, said to me, “It’s just the next place you are going to live. You don’t have to think of it as anything beyond that. You’re just paying the bank instead of the landlord. It’ll be just fine.” I hope he’s right.