Following along in our series of “Should You” topics, today we’re covering houses specifically. This was almost “homes” but then the issue gets muddied because purchasing certain types of condos could be considered homes, and in cities like New York City people purchase apartments as their homes. So we’re sticking specifically with the question of whether you should buy a house.

Christmas day sunset
Ville Miettinen via Compfight

A house is yours… once it’s totally paid for anyway. You can modify it as you wish, you’ll usually have a yard you can do things in, you know where you can park your car if you have a garage, you might have a basement as living space or for storage, and if you have a growing family having a house will provide security, protection, and great memories down the line.

Having said that, the dream of home ownership has suffered some over the last few years because we learned a lot of things that we probably should have known before, but there was no way to know some of it before the housing crisis came into being.

Owning a home depends on your money situation, and it takes way more money than you think it does to maintain and keep your home. How much depends on how much you’ve decided to pay for your house, but for your purposes it was probably a lot of money no matter what.

One thing we learned is that floating interest rates are a horrible idea. They were promoted to offer a low rate to get people into homes but the dangers of an economy going south and people losing their jobs showed how dangerous that was. Even people who didn’t lose their jobs lost their homes to foreclosure because they couldn’t keep up with the new payments, which also meant they were paying more for their house than it was worth.

Two, we learned that trying to keep up with rising property taxes during financial crises can be next to impossible as well. When times get rough communities employ “phantom” assessments on your home, thus your rate goes up that way, and then they apply general increases in property taxes to protect schools and you take a second hit. You can fight the first one but there’s nothing you can do about the second one except vote those politicians out of office, which might not make a difference.

Three, we eventually learn how expensive it is to keep up with maintenance. We’re not talking about cutting the grass and painting a few rooms, which you have to do also. We’re talking about major appliances such as refrigerators and ovens. We’re talking things like your furnace and water heater. We’re talking things like replacing a roof, windows, or having to pay someone to try to seal your basement and remove mold if needed. You have to take care of those things to live in your house, but when you go to sell your house almost none of the things you do regarding maintenance increases what your house is worth.

Four, the process of looking and buying a house can be really stressful. Even if you build a house you’ll find that, unless you have unlimited money, you’ll never get everything you want, and you might not get what you want the way you want it. Then you have to deal with pushy realtors whose livelihood depends on you buying that home and banks trying to find ways to get your money at the highest interest rate possible (sure, they have to start with lower interest rates, but let there be even a minor question about your credit report and…) and lawyers that every state says you have to have that don’t really read all of the contract you have because they’ve read so many of these things that they assume they know everything that’s in them. And no matter how intelligent you are, the crush of paperwork can be astounding and your mind will get tired trying to understand it all.

And five, the neighborhood. The problem with neighborhoods, even good neighborhoods, is that people get older and neighborhoods change. You had a certain neighbor for 25 years who’s passed away or moved elsewhere and now you have neighbors you’re unsure about. Sure, you can consider moving, but it’s always more of a hassle trying to move from a house than it is from an apartment.

We always figure that one has to look more at all the negatives before really making a decision as to whether to pursue something or not, and home ownership has a lot of negatives; there were more that could have been listed, but we think the point has been made.

If you want to own a home, make sure your reasons are more for comfort and family than anything else. Take heed of some of the warnings above because they’re true, and then look at history. Millions of people have purchased homes and been able to stay in those homes their entire life, passing them to family members when possible or selling them and moving on. Everyone has had something happen to an item in or on their home that they’ve had to deal with and have found ways of dealing with it.

Thus, it’s not all bad, and it can be very good. Just don’t go into thinking about buying a house as if you’re moving into a place that will maintain itself and never cost you anything except a mortgage.

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