25 January 2011

Paradigm Shift

I didn't ever want to own a house.

Right there, you all are like, "OK, I see where this is going. She thought she never wanted to own a house and now she wants to." Yeah, that's kind of it. But not all of it.

John and I bought the condo that ended up being My Own Personal Albatross and Symbol of Grief because we got kicked out of the apartment we had been renting. It was being condoized, and we couldn't afford to buy it. So we bought something else, which was a stretch for us and required the financial assistance of family. It was, in many ways, the perfect place for us, insofar as no house is really perfect.


It was, however, an old house. An old, renovated house, but an old house. So I ended up in the position of having to care for two babies, a dying man, and a nearly 100 year old home that I knew was not my forever place to live. I felt obligated to keep it up to a standard that would allow it to be put on the market at any time. In the end, I made almost $20K of improvements to the home. Mostly due to bad timing, I (and the family members who had helped us with the downpayment) lost over $100K on the sale. While I truly have no regrets about moving and selling, that's a hell of a lot of money. It's fair to say that the experience soured me on owning.


The twins and I arrived in Portland, footloose and fancy free, happy to be renters. And renting has, in fact, been a great experience. I don't fret about not loving everything about the house; it's not my house, and I feel no emotional investment. It provides us shelter. If things break, someone else has to worry about fixing them. My expenses are predictable. It's not my responsibility, and given my life situation, it's good for me to jettison any responsibility that I can.

As I said, I never really wanted to own a house. Given that we were being forced to move and that the conventional wisdom of 2004 was that real estate was a sure-fire financial win, we bought rather than renting again. Owning a home was an important emotional milestone for John, and he took more pride in home ownership than I did. I'm glad he got to experience that in his too-short life. And it's true: the looking around, finally finding the right place, and having our offer accepted was, in fact, exhilarating, but truth be told I felt chained and overwhelmed as soon as we walked out of the closing.

Truth is, I just don't like owning stuff, houses included. Oh, I'm a good American, don't get me wrong, I own plenty of unnecessary crap, but I'm also constantly looking around, evaluating what I could live without and how I can get rid of it. Owing things = responsibility, and let me just say it one more time: I already have enough of that, thank you very much.

So we rent. And it's great. It's not perfect [told you that was coming], but it's been perfect for me.

Over the past few weeks, though, something has been shifting. I've come to terms with two important things. One is that I'm committed to living in Portland. I don't have any plan to leave. No, I can't see into the future and I'm aware that any number of life-changing events could cause me to reevaluate that decision. But today, and based on the most likely projections of the future, I don't see myself going anywhere. This is my town.

The second thing is that I'm specifically committed to living in North Portland, the infamous Fifth Quadrant (I love this town). It's not terribly close to my work, but it is close to my parents, my best friend, downtown, a Spanish immersion public school (in which Maddie and Riley already have spots), and good public transportation. It's one of the most socioeconomically and racially diverse neighborhoods in Portland. It's super-easy for my dad to get here from his town. It's bikeable. Overall, it's way hipper than I am.

Given that I'm committed to North Portland for the long haul, that I don't want to buy the house we're currently in, and that the owners of the house we're in have hinted around about wanting to sell at some point in the near-ish future, I've started to rethink my position on owning.

And so I've been poking around online, scouting out what's in the neighborhood. My dad, Maddie, and I went to an open house over the weekend, and I confess I've been kind of obsessed with the house we saw ever since. It was new! LEED certified! Drafts did not blow through the windows! I think the windows even had screens! It had NO YARD, just a patio! (Words cannot describe how much I hate yardwork.) The garage and the house were attached to each other! Gas fireplace! Grounded outlets throughout, lots of them! Dishwasher! Two blocks from MAX! Quiet street! Closets everywhere! Bathrooms everywhere!

OK, I need to calm down.

So, yeah, leases and money and details like that and I don't really know what's going to happen next here. But it's nice to feel settled, to feel like I want to commit to being somewhere long-term. Historically, that hasn't really been my thing. Over the course of my life, I've lived in five states and three countries, in more dwellings than I could easily count. I always thought I'd have some kind of international jet-setting career.

But guess what? I'm getting older. The idea of Maddie and Riley having the stability of never switching schools unless we choose for them to is appealing. Being a part of a place, committing to membership in a community sounds comforting rather than confining.

In other news: in addition to getting older, I'm getting fatter. And my new haircut has revealed all kinds of grey hair that I didn't know I had! Crikey. The times, they are a' changin', in all kinds of ways.


Alayna said...

Wow! Must hear more about this house! Perhaps we also need a Finer Things: Home Edition, along with the aforementioned birth edition :)

Anonymous said...

Buy the house. Prices are low & interest rates are at an all time low.

I purchased my first house when I was in my 20's right out of college with a boyfriend. (ha!) Now many purchases & sales later I relize it's all in the timing & how it "feels." The fact that you felt icky after the closing should tell you something. If it "feels" right it usually is!

It's all about the market & how long you want to stay in the area you're at...since you want to stay in Portland you could always rent it in the future & buy something else. You have to look at it as an investment over the long term...it may go up or down but right now prices are really low so you really can't go wrong.

Good luck with your decision.

SarahB said...

Congratulations, just for thinking of buying after your horrible condo experience.

We still "own" our underwater condo in a city where we no longer live, so buying is still aways off for us.

Also, if/when you buy, may I recommend a home warranty? Our condo came with one for a year, and then we renewed it every year ($800ish). It basically provides you with a 1-800 number you call when you need a repair, the company sends out a reputable repair person, and you only pay a $50-60 co-pay. It saved us a ton and was a real comfort to me when our a/c went out while my husband was deployed.

Lisa said...

I feel much the same way. We bought at exactly the wrong time, and sold at an even worse time. We had to come to the table with a check for $27,562, and we had put in $30,000 worth of improvements into the house. Like you, we moved a long distance for a new job, so it was worth it to be out from under the responsibility, but it was kind of hard to choke down. We are currently renting, and I'm pretty ok with that, especially with the real estate market where we live being so crazy expensive. My husband is ready to buy something again but to be honest, I am enjoying not having the responsibility of home ownership. The dishwasher and fridge have both needed to be replaced in the last six months, but it wasn't my problem. I will want a house again eventually, but right now I'm happy to sit out the market.

Good luck with finding a new place that feel like home.

Me said...

LEED certified! I am jealous! That is awesome :)

~lifedramatic~ said...

This post filled me with warm fuzzies for you guys! I hope you get what you want :)


mek said...

We lost a great deal of money when we sold our house recently, too, and moved and are now renting, in a duplex. Renting makes sense right now, financially, logistically, intellectually. Emotionally, though, I feel unmoored and temporary. (And older and grayer!) Of course, I am not in a town I want to stay in, which means it would indeed be foolish to buy a house at this point.

But, look at you, there in a town you love and that seems to love you back! Hooray for finding somewhere that can feel permanent!

Anonymous said...

Go with how you are feeling. We were not house-buying people either, but when we found this house it was just right. I hope everything works out beautifully for you :)

Elizabeth said...

I also bought a Boston condo at the peak and lost $100K when I sold it (to move for my spouse's job). We bought again; and though the yard is overwhelming, we couldn't be happier. As SarahB said, the home warranty has made all the difference in the world. We don't worry about anything other than regular maintenance!

SarcastiCarrie said...

Run away from that house. Run! Fast.

It's new. That's a plus (nothing breaks, everything still under manufacturers warranty), but it's new and there is a premium price to be paid for that. It's better to look at 2 years old or 15 years old (right after all the new stuff breaks and has been replaced).

It's LEED certified. That's a minus. A giant minus. Whoever built it will be expecting a premium for that. But you'll be paying for a bunch of paperwork. You could build a home to meet teh LEED requirements and never submit to the paperwork and save yourself 10%. I make products that qualify for inclusion in LEED certified buildings and I can tell you that it adds no real value to have the paper.

A home is a place to live and not an investment. Others may disagree with me on this, but events of the last 5 years do show that home is where the heart is.

Interest rates just perked back up so where you might have been able to get a sub-5% mortgage before Thanksgiving, you now can't.

The rest of whether to buy (this house or a different one) is all financial. You sound like you'd be a better condo owner than homeowner, but then again, you have to figure in the added costs of condo fees.

Have you paid back the $100k you owed and built up a 20% (or more) downpayment for a new place plus all the other money a single parent needs to have saved (emergency fund, disability insurance, etc)?

Can you get a good mortgage with reasonable terms and have prices finished freefalling in this neighborhood?

Points to ponder. I love me some For Sale p0rn. I love to dream about how I would rip out walls and paint.

Janine (txmomx6) said...

Yay that you even feel this way! That's huge.
I say that if think it may be time .... and you LOVE the house .... go for it. You know you want to stay there and there's something to be said for putting down roots. Plus .... and this is really HUGE .... no yard work!! Wow! SC said that the rates aren't as low as they were a few months ago, but they're still low.
I think it's great when you're house-hunting and as soon as you walk into the "right" one .... you know it.
Best of luck in whatever you decide. Again, I think it's great that you're feeling this positive. :)

michiganme said...

I say there will always be houses to buy, so only do it when it feels right on every count!

Sandi said...

Oh, I love owning and I love owning a house with aa fenced in yard so my kids can go out and play with no worries.

kyouell said...

I've always been a renter, despite my 2 preschoolers and gray hair. I have no 2-cents to give you on buying vs. renting, or now vs. later.

However, as a family looking to get out of the 'burbs and into PDX proper, I'd LOVE to hear about neighborhoods.

I started reading your blog because of the bike. We are living car-free, riding MAX, buses & our bikes, so are looking for a neighborhood with like-minded people and good transit. Any tips appreciated!

Snickollet said...


OK, I'm biased, but North Portland rocks! You can easily be right on the yellow line, home prices are still reasonable, the neighborhood is diverse (you know, for Portland) both socioeconomically and racially, and it's very bike-able. Highly, highly recommended. Email me for details.


Fairlington Blade said...

My rough estimate is that if we had to sell, we'd probably be down about $70K (including costs). We bought in the DC area oh, about 3 nanoseconds before the peak. Coming home with our keys from the closing was probably the equivalent of driving a new car off the lot. Except our "new car" needed about $50k of work done to it.

Fortunately, we love the neighborhood and are happy to stay put for awhile. Heck, I even got elected to the condo board. We'd eventually like more space and there's some nice townhouses nearby with space to grow.

Meanwhile, I don't worry about the past. And though it was a lot of stairs, I loved the kitchen in your old place.


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