In trying to figure out where to live, Eric and I made it through the Houston vs. The Rest of the World dilemma and then started to look at the pros and cons of the city and the suburbs. After I told Eric that I wanted to move back to the city, his immediate reaction was that it would be too expensive. He wasn’t willing to pay that much extra in rent if we were only renting. The only way he’d be willing to pay more than we were currently paying was if it was going toward a mortgage payment. Ah, renting vs. buying.
This is the point in the conversation where I started looking really uncomfortable — biting my nails and looking around for an escape route.
Dilemma #3: Renting vs. Buying
Eric made all of the good arguments for buying instead of renting, and I can totally understand them from a logical point of view. I get that renting feels like throwing money away. I know that in the long run, it can be less expensive (or at least comparable) to buy. I get that it’s a buyer’s market right now. I know that a lot of people see owning real estate as a very good thing. But I’ve always felt that while all these things make it a good option for other people, it’s not a good option for me.
Given how much I’ve moved around, and how much trouble I’ve had committing to any particular place, I think you can see why committing to one place for 30 years freaks me out. To me, paying more to rent is paying to be protected if the unexpected happens; if I lose my job, find an amazing job on the other side of the country, or just want to be closer to my family, I want to know that I have the flexibility to do that. While some people see renting as a waste of money, given the way I’ve lived my life for the past decade, I think it’s money well spent. Buying scares me because I’ve seen what happens when people get caught up in the excitement over the idea that they can own a home, when they stop worrying about the unexpected happening. Living in Michigan, I saw family members lose jobs and then lose their homes. I’m well aware of all of the people affected by the mortgage crisis. Renting feels like the financially responsible thing to do, and for someone who hasn’t been financially responsible most of her life, I’m actually proud of the fact that I’m thinking that way.
But Eric is pretty much the perfect candidate for buying a home. And he wants to. Once again, I realized that this is a difference in our goals, values, and how we see ourselves. He values loyalty, commitment, working hard for what he wants, and spending what he earns very responsibly. But while I value all those things, I’d also accepted a long time ago that it might take me a while to get to the point wherein I’d made it. I’d accepted that I’d have to struggle for a while. I’d accepted that I’d go where I needed to go and sacrifice what I needed to sacrifice in order to have the career I wanted to have. To some degree, I have a sense of not having earned the right to settle down quite yet. And in a more literal sense, I haven’t: I personally am not in a position to buy a home and I don’t expect to be for some time. And I had made peace with that.
Still, I knew this conversation was coming. I knew that not being renters anymore was on Eric’s list of before-we-get-married goals, and I had accepted that when we decided to get engaged. I knew this was something we were going to have to work through, and so, at this point, I opened myself up to a potential compromise: we could live in the city…if we were buying, not renting.
This was definitely not an official compromise. It was a “let’s see what’s out there before we compromise” compromise. We weren’t sure if Eric really could be happy about living in the city. We had no idea what we could afford. I wasn’t convinced I was actually going to be comfortable with it. But we decided to dip a toe in and see what was out there. We had asked “but where will we live?” enough; it was time to get some answers and options.
Eric took immediate action on getting the search started. We had that conversation on a Sunday; by Monday afternoon, he was sending me links of potential homes. The good news was, there were a lot of affordable, spacious, nice townhouses in good areas that weren’t in the heart of the worst traffic clusterfucks of Houston. We were super both relieved that moving to the city was a real possibility and wouldn’t be exorbitant. (Everything was pretty comparable to similar homes in the suburbs.) A few days later, we were looking at properties.
I went into each home with a lot of trepidation. The whole thing was exciting, yes, but it was still stressful. I looked in every home at every home and thought, Can I see myself here every day? Can we have kids here? Is there room to grow (personally, professionally) here? Can I see myself here in ten years? How about 15 years? (Because I know everyone says you can just rent it out or sell it if things change, but sorry — I just can’t accept that it’s that easy. While I know that it’s unlikely that we’d have to stay forever if we didn’t want to, I’m not OK with cutting corners or settling for less just because we can “just” move out whenever we want to.) But what I was surprised to find out was that…yeah, I actually could see a future in some of these homes. And in Houston. We quickly let go of the ones that we couldn’t see a future with, even if we absolutely loved them for right now, and focused on the few that seemed like a great fit, for now and for a while.
I became a lot more comfortable with house hunting once we started doing it, and I remembered that a lot of the things about adulthood that scare me are scary because I don’t really understand them. So often, I’ve listened to the cultural narrative and I’m afraid of what I think certain events or experiences will be like. The idea of buying a new car really scared me because I didn’t feel adult enough; I needed my mom to remind me that that I am an adult and that it was time, and then go with me to the dealership and sort of walk me through it and let me see, Oh, yes, this is the right thing for me to be doing. Eric felt similarly about engagement; it wasn’t until we talked about what engagement meant to us that he realized he was ready. Buying a house seemed terrifying to me based on the horror stories I’d heard from other people and it felt at odds with what I’d always expected my life, career, and living situation to be at this point in my life. But when I considered what actually is, and began to see what this would actually look like (and not like “Oh look, this house is so pretty!” look like, but what it would actually feel like), I realized that this was the right decision for me.
And in so many ways, it was my decision. Eric may have brought it up, but every step of the way, he kept checking in to be sure I was sure. He’s wanted this for a long time, so it was easy for him to be sure; since I had openly and honestly expressed hesitation and fear, he needed reassurance that I was fully on board and didn’t want to pressure me into anything. Much like getting engaged, this felt like a huge step, and before we could be happy doing it, we both needed to be all-in. And once we found the right house, we both were.
The search itself was pretty exciting; it was a bonding experience that reminded me of ring shopping in a lot of ways. It was this big decision we were making together, but also for each other, and there’s something romantic about that, and about spending a lot of time openly and unabashedly envisioning your future with someone. We both felt a bit out of our element doing it, like we were playing dress-up or something, but we were both on the same slightly-unsure team, and that was awesome.
Eventually, we found the right house for us, the house that fit all the needs we had spent a lot of time considering; we put in our offer, they countered, we countered, they agreed. Then we had a very rough week when the very first house Eric sent me, the house we loved for a million reasons, suddenly became a possibility (long story short: it had sold just days before we began our search, but the deal was shaky; we were able to put in a backup offer and then spent four excruciating days waiting to find out if the deal would fall through). The disappointment when we didn’t get it was real, but it was just another way we grew closer during the experience. The next day, we were over it and back preparing happily for our move into the house we had already decided on and that we were so excited about.
And we are both SO EXCITED, but I can’t say that I’m not still a little scared. Even as I write this, I realize that we could be wrong about everything. Committing to a house feels, in a lot of ways, like committing to a person. It’s scary to say out loud, “Yep, I’m sure” because we’ve all seen so many people say that and turn out to be wrong, whether it was about a person, a job, or a place. You can look at it from a practical point of view all you want, but eventually, you have to trust yourself. Who cares if something — or someone — is great on paper? Or terrible on paper? I feel like you can never really know when you commit to something this big what might happen in the future, so the goal is to be as self-aware and as sure as you can be.
We’ve now made it through the hard conversations, the search, the fears, the negotiations, the inspection, and then more negotiations. Next up is the appraisal. Though it doesn’t feel real, and we’re kind of holding our breath until the closing date, we have started on the fun stuff: paint colors, floors, cabinets, etc. (Well…it’s fun until you look at how much it costs. “Cheaper to buy,” my ass.)