First I want to make a distinction: House versus Home. I do not want to buy a house. A house is the place you reside. I want to buy a home. A home is where you live, raise a family, good times, bad times, life, love, laughter. A home is where your heart is, a house is the physical dwelling that contains it.
I want to buy a home.
However, the current housing market disagrees with me. It has become appearant that I could afford to buy a house only if my plan is to turn around and sell it in a year or two. Every real estate agent and article for the Atlanta area talks about how the market is ripe for investment. But I do not want to invest money into a house, I want to invest into a home. I do not want to buy with the intent to sell. I want to buy with the intent to spend twenty years there, more if I can, less if life turns out that way.
Richard Bartle, a guy whose blog I read because he’s a game designer and often has interesting stuff to say or link to, wrote about the current situation in England (where he lives). I found this extremely interesting because it resembles my own experiences here in the States.
You see, I currently rent a 1,600 square foot townhome apartment for $850 a month. As I have been house hunting, I have not been able to find a 1,600 square foot house (or townhome for that matter) to own for less that $1,200 a month in mortgage payments unless I wish to live so far outside Atlanta that I will spend 5 hours a day in traffic and easily $300 a month in gas and parking (I currently ride public transportation, but the buses only go so far). All in all, its at least $400 a month cheaper for me to continue renting, and more realistically it is about $800 a month cheaper. That is just messed up. By renting and living close to the bus line, I literally cut my living expenses in half.
But its not just that I cut my expenses in half… if I was doing that and pocketting the extra money for savings, that would be awesome. But the truth is that I could not afford (and when I say I, I mean “my wife and I”) to be spending that $1,500+ per month. That $800 I save is being spent paying other bills and expenses. Sure, I could buy the house… as long as I did not want cable, electricity, or to ever do anything other than work and sit at home.
So why not buy a smaller house? I tried that, but Atlanta is infested with McMansions. You know, where they take a nice quarter acre lot barely big enough for a bungalow, tear down the bungalow and build a 3,000 square foot house that will sell for $800,000 and leaves them with a yard that takes two minutes to cut with a pair of safety scissors and where they can touch the neighbors’ McMansions without losing grip of their own house. And when I have found a small house for sale, well, I already live in a ghetto, I do not want to move next door to a crack house. Besides, if the house is too small, it just ups the expenses since you wind up having to go out more often to get away from each other. And really, 1,600 square feet for 2 people and 2 pets really is not all that big.
Essentially, what I see here is an economic state that encourages lack of assets. Its cheaper to rent than to own. Its cheaper to commit a year at a time (standard lease) than to commit to a 15 or 30 year term (standard loans). In fact, the only way to get a loan on a decent house that is lower than my rent is to do an “interest only” loan, meaning that for the first 5 years or so, I’m not actually buying my home, I’m just renting it from the bank since I’m establishing no equity.
And while I do not wish people to lose money, here’s to hoping that in 2006, the bottom falls out of the real estate market and by August I’ll be able to afford to buy a home.