Last week, I ran into a few friends I hadn’t seen for awhile. One was all atwitter about a home she was in the process of buying, which caused another to wax reminiscent of her own homebuying odyssey a couple of years back. The latter blurted out, "I love my house, but I have to be honest: I wish I’d never bought it. Too much of a commitment."
Mind you, this came from a woman with a husband, two kids and a highly visible executive role at a large company. When I pointed out what seemed to me to be her inconsistent logic regarding her approaches to long-term commitments, she elaborated: "Because of the house, I can’t just pack up and move when I want to anymore. I can’t just strap my kids on and take them with me wherever I go."
I pressed her about how much her tax situation must have improved, and she brushed it off, saying, "I don’t pay attention to that sort of thing."
Now, I suspect she has a case of "grass is greener" syndrome, as I recall very clearly the days when she wanted nothing more than to stop renting and buy her home. I also think she’s a grumbly type, who wanted to fill the conversation gap with something, and a complaint about homeownership was right on topic at the time.
It’s much more politically correct to complain about the commitment posed by your home than that created by your marriage or your children, although the latter are much more grave, so that’s what she picked as her contribution to the chat.
However, I’ve noticed an uptick in conversations about real estate that come up in casual conversation with both friends and strangers, outside of the now-ubiquitous conversations about how "bad" the market is supposed to be. Increasingly, those conversations actually center around people wanting to buy and explaining why to their friends who disagree. Here are a few I’ve heard lately:
1. I just want to own the place I live. This is probably the No. 1 all-time motivation underlying homebuying: the desire to be a homeowner. It may bundle up a bunch of motivations, like tax considerations, the ability to gain equity over time and eventually own your place free and clear, and even the power to customize the place you live exactly as you see fit.
I’ve also heard this lately from someone who has fallen in love with her neighborhood and wanted to cement her role in the community for the long term.
The fact that this is such a popular utterance among homebuyers-to-be, even after the market mess of the last few years, may demonstrate that in the debate about whether a home is an investment or a place to live, the emotions around owning the place you live trump investment considerations (though this is probably exaggerated in markets like today’s, where prices and rates are bottoming out so the investment piece is less of a worry).
2. I want to buy now and move later. Warren Buffet’s assistant just famously bought a retirement home, years in advance, publicly stating that she did so on her boss’s advice to buy now and move later. This is a partially market-based sentiment, of course, as the rationale for buying right now is that prices and interest rates are low.
But it’s also partially lifestyle-based, as this is a motive for buying that you’re much more likely to hear from those who have diligently saved and are currently well-employed, but look forward to moving to a locale with a lower cost of living in the years to come, when they change career paths or retire.
3. I don’t want to have to move anymore. A close friend of mine who bought her last home at the top of the market and was forced to sell at the bottom when her husband changed jobs recently said this.
Despite paying beaucoup bucks for a rental in a very upscale, recession-proof neighborhood, she’s troubled at the prospect of having to move (house and her kids’ schools) when her landlord opts to move back into the rental home, which he’s indicated he might very well do, and soon.
Another contact of mine has been informed that his landlord plans to list the upside-down home he lives in as a short sale later this year. On the flip side, I know several investment property owners also making plans to divest of their rental properties this year (some by short sale, others have given up on waiting for a market rebound and are OK now with locking in their losses on a "regular" equity sale).
The quintessential truth that living in a home you don’t own may mean moving when you don’t want to is a big emotional driver for homebuying these days. It helps that rates and prices are low, and that many of these renters have been saving aggressively over the past few years.