Home envy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 24, 2011, 11:09 AM | comments: 1

The lovely weather this weekend got us out of the house a bit, and we went walking to some of the deeper parts of our neighborhood. It's a really huge series of developments, with the apartments and town homes near the front, and the big expensive ones in the back. A pretty typical arrangement overall, but the range goes from the $300k multi-unit town houses to giant places worth well over a million. It's quite a difference from the average suburban Ohio subdivision, ranging from $160k for 1,600 square feet, to $220k for 2,500 square feet.

In any case, there was one house that was just beautiful from the outside. I estimated it was probably way over a million. And I was sort of right. If you ask Zillow (which is hotly debated over its accuracy), it was worth $1.2 million... in 2007. Today it's in the $800k range. It has a ridiculous 4,600 square feet. That's two and a half times the size of my Cleveland house!

We saw another, slightly more reasonable house for sale around the block, 2,600 square feet (still giant by my standards), where they were asking for $615k. Zillow says it's worth $485k. It didn't look like much from the outside, but the photos show a beautiful interior with amazing views of the Cascades and a golf course in the back yard. At the Zillow price, it would actually be a steal, I think, and easy to afford on a typical Seattle tech salary.

It's a fantastic time to buy a house around here, and it looks like the prices continue to drop. None of this matters, because I still have a house I'm not living in, 2,500 miles away.

While that sounds something to be annoyed or angry about, it's not exactly. At least, it's not because it prevents me from buying another house (only because I continue to pay for a place I don't live in). There are a lot of reasons I'd love to buy a house, but there are so many reasons I'd rather not. My mindset has totally changed from what it was five or six years ago.

The first issue is one of mobility. I don't expect my employment arrangement to change any time soon, but I will say that not owning a house would certainly leave more options open. I'm not even sure why that matters to me. Two years ago, I would have never thought that I'd be that open to moving. Being a home owner in Cleveland certainly didn't stop me from moving to Seattle, but buying a house here is a far more serious financial commitment.

Then there's the general gun shyness that I associate with buying a house. Today, it's not an investment, it's just a lifestyle decision. You're mostly paying for the right to be there, and you could still pay dearly if you have to or want to leave. Not counting any of the payments I made in the last ten years, I fully expect to lose $40k on my house. Figure in all of the payments, and I'm somewhere approaching $200k to live there, with nothing to show for it. That stings. It's hard to voluntarily expose yourself to that again.

There's a certain practical side to it as well. Houses in the areas we like here tend to be crazy big. If they're smaller, they're not very nice. I don't think the three of us need 2,500 square feet. More house means more to maintain. I just want a place to park a hot tub, a little office space, a nice kitchen for Diana's culinary desires and room for Simon to make his own as he gets older.

This weird home situation will probably be with us for a long time. It will take at least 18 months, if not two years, to start over and save for a new down payment once I sell my house. Everything liquid we have saved will probably go toward making that go away. In the mean time, we're pretty comfortable in our rental, even if there are some things we're not crazy about. It's just frustrating that this part of life doesn't cooperate.



April 24, 2011, 12:24 PM #

We always thought renting made so much more sense. After years of people telling us otherwise and finally seeing a house we liked, we gave in and bought.

Pretty much the next week the prevailing wisdom changed and now renting is considered a smart choice.


There's up and down sides to both. We've made a conscious decision to try to stay in this area until the kids are 18, so buying felt right. But I still think that overall, renting makes more sense.

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