On July 17, my wife and I signed the final piece of paper and officially became homeowners for the first time in our lives.
Up to that point we had always been renters. Renting had made sense both because of the flexibility it provided as we figured out where we wanted to settle down and because it had cost less than buying every time we had run the numbers.
This time was different.
While we were nervous about making such a big financial commitment, buying finally seemed like the right decision for our family at this point in our lives.
1. We had always wanted to (eventually) buy a house
Although we’ve been happy everywhere we’ve rented, my wife and I have known for a long time that we eventually wanted to buy a house.
For the most part that desire was purely emotional. We wanted a place that was “ours”. A place we were free to decorate, to expand or contract, to hang our kids artwork everywhere, and generally settle in and build a home base for our family.
Renting served us well over the years. We had accommodating landlords and we were able to make each place feel like home. But it never felt like a foundation that we could really build upon.
Buying a house would give us that foundation. It would be a place where our family could grow. A home base.
Still, the desire to buy a house eventually wasn’t the driving force behind the decision to buy right now. That came from a few other places.
2. We wanted to be in a specific school system
Our oldest son is starting kindergarten this year and we wanted him to be in a particular school system. The house we’d been renting for the past few years wasn’t in that school system.
This was the driving force behind our desire to move right now. It didn’t mean we had to buy, but it’s what made us start looking.
To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for this we probably would have continued renting our last house for at least another year or two. It wasn’t perfect, and we definitely would have moved eventually, but we were happy there and it was relatively inexpensive.
But with kindergarten starting, we knew that we wanted to move as long as the financial side of things made sense.
Which brings me to…
3. We could afford the move
If we couldn’t have afforded it, we wouldn’t have moved. Simple as that.
The school system we were zoned for previously was good enough. and while we we knew that moving would increase our monthly expenses, neither my wife nor I was willing to sacrifice our overall financial stability. That would have been a much worse for our kids than a couple of years at a school that, while not ideal, was perfectly fine.
So we had to figure out how much we could afford to spend on a house without feeling like we were teetering on the edge.
First we needed to decide how much we could afford to pay up front for things like:
- The down payment
- Closing costs
- Moving costs
- Furniture and decorations
Then we needed to decide how much we could afford for ongoing costs like:
- The mortgage payment
- Homeowners insurance
- Property taxes
- HOA dues
- Utilities (increases over our current bills)
Once we had those numbers, it was time to look at the market for both buying and renting to see if we could find a place we both liked and could afford.
I first looked at houses in my dream location and quickly found out that it was just that: a dream. As much as I would have loved to move to an area where we could bike to most of the places we wanted to go, it just wasn’t something we could afford. So that option was nixed.
Luckily, other areas in our desired school district were much more affordable and still had most of what we were looking for.
As I kept my eye on the market, I found that there were definitely opportunities for us to move and stay within our budget, but that we’d have to be patient. We didn’t exactly have the entire market available to us, but I was confident that we’d be able to find a place we liked if we were willing to wait for the right opportunity.
Knowing that, we felt comfortable moving forward from the financial side of things.
4. Buying was cheaper than renting
While both my wife and I preferred buying at this point in our lives for all the reasons mentioned above, we were both more than willing to rent if it made the most financial sense for our family.
But when I ran the numbers, two things became clear very quickly:
- Buying would cost more up front than renting. This is pretty much always the case though.
- After just 1-2 years, buying would become cheaper than renting IF we were patient enough to wait for the right opportunity.
Given that we were hoping to buy a house that we could live in for a long time, the math made buying a no-brainer as long as we were willing to be patient.
THIS is the real reason why we made the decision to buy a house instead of finding a new rental. It wasn’t just that we preferred to buy a house. It was that it would cost us less over the time period we planned to be there.
5. The right opportunity presented itself
Even with all of that, we weren’t 100% sure that we’d be able to find a place that we both liked and could afford in time for the start of the school year. We knew that it was possible, but the right opportunity had to come along and that was no sure thing.
We looked at a lot of houses, and we honestly got pretty discouraged along the way. A lot of the houses we saw weren’t in great condition, and we weren’t excited about the idea of a fixer-upper. Some of the houses we saw were pretty nice, but realistically out of our price range.
We weren’t sure it was going to happen.
But then, finally, a house showed up that was right in our price range. We went to see it and immediately loved it. It was in great condition, we loved the layout, it was on a quiet, dead end street, much closer to everything than we had been before, and, of course, in the right school district.
So we pounced on it. Our offer was accepted, and after a long and torturous closing process (a story for another day), we signed the papers, bought the house, and moved in.
Buying was never a sure thing
I feel really lucky that we ended up where we did. Despite wanting to move for school purposes and wanting to buy a house eventually, it was never a sure thing that either would happen.
We were lucky enough to find a house that we really liked AND that was in our price range. And it just so happened that buying this house in this area was cheaper than renting something similar, at least over the course of a few years (which isn’t always the case).
If any of those variables had been different, we might have ended up staying where we were. Or we might have moved to a new rental, continuing to save up until the right opportunity to buy came along.
But it all worked out, and now we have a home base. For the first time ever, I’m in charge of fixing that damn leaky faucet.