Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Dream of Owning a Home

It's no wonder that home ownership can become a burden in the US: stagant salaries, the burst of the housing market, foreclosures, changes in loan approval, rising energy prices, the value of mobility.

Despite the turmoil of said markets, Mike and I still want a house one day.  I've never thought of renting as "throwing money away," especially now that we have a wonderful place to rent with no headaches.  However, a home provides a certain level of permanency that a rental contract does not. 
I'm not here today to talk about the intracacies of buying a house, something we condo-dwelling leasees have no experience in.

Instead, I want to talk about whether the benefits of a home outweigh the disadvantages.
When I look at our finances, I see no room for saving for a down payment.  We're still struggling to clear off some older debts and not use our credit cards for gas and groceries each month.  At this point, the discussion of a home is more of a philosophical one, even though it's on our minds as we think about the future.

But I increasingly wonder whether owning a home is really worth it.  

We have friends whose children are our age and have happily rented their whole lives.  People abroad live like this. Virtually everyone our age rents. Turn back the clock some and you'll find it was trendy to live out of a hotel.  

On the other hand, we know people who feel saddled by their homes.  Empty nests once perfect for multiple children now too large to take care of, mortgages out of control, property taxes doubled, great houses untouched on a dismal market. 

When I look at the advantages of owning our own place, I see:
  • A place that isn't subject to the rules of a lease, such as the number of nail holes put into the wall or how many pets we can have.
  • Having a space that can be modified if we wish - walls taken out, upgraded appliances, colorful paint, different or no carpet.
  • The advantages of better controlling our energy consumption, such as programmable thermostats, dimmable light switches, and maybe renewable energy.
  • The potential for more square footage and storage space.
  • The ability to pay a mortgage that's lower than our currently monthly rent.

However, I see some drawbacks that make me wonder:
  • A house means lost mobility - you can't just pick up and move anymore.  In this economy, being mobile is a huge boom and I'm not sure if I'm ready to lose that.
  • Maintenance costs are higher - no landlord to take care of it.  
  • Same with updates, both cosmetic and structural.  A roof replacement, for example, will easily set you back thousands of dollars
  • You have property taxes to deal with.
  • You're investing in something that you may not see a return on.
  • Rent doesn't have interest - mortgages do.
Right now, it's hard for me to look at these lists and think that owning a home is worth it.  Maybe it would be more attractive if we were in a better financial situation.  All I know is that owning a home is a major expense - one that should never been taken lightly.  We could never swing it as is.   

Perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to rent into our late 30s - the time frame I imagine it will take for us to stabilize our income and save for a down payment.

What are your thoughts on home ownerships -- thumbs up or thumbs down?  What are your housing plans for the future?

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