I Regret Everything: My Brief Tale of Homeownership
“So may I go ahead and send the wire?”
I stared blankly at the wire form and and then up at the bank representative as I twisted the cap on the pen around and around. This was happening.
“Uh, sure. Right? We need to send it, like, now?”
“If you would like to buy this house, then yes.”
“…Okay, then yeah.”
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I bought my townhouse a little over a year ago, and am selling it again. A bad investment? Probably. Unnecessarily stressful? Definitely. The intense learning experience taught me a lot about what homeownership means, and more importantly, how it made me feel.
I relocated to a new city in Texas with a large company, who generously paid for most of the closing costs on a house, in addition to all of the moving costs. The sales pitch from the company was that moving to Texas would mean lower housing costs, and we could get likely get a great deal on a house. It appealed to me to invest in something with the company’s help, and felt it would be a missed opportunity if I opted to stay in an apartment instead. I also had put an unspoken societal pressure on my early-30s-self to “put down roots” — even if it was just me and my dog — hoping that placing this stake in the ground may have a ripple effect on the rest of my historically transient life, because it was somehow the “right” thing to do. More on that super-incorrect decision later.
Since I had to use the generous relocation assistance within a year of moving, I decided to get a realtor and start looking, with a semi-healthy amount of savings in my account. Once you start looking for a house, it’s all fun and games. You’re favoriting things on Zillow, Pinterest-ing decor that you could never afford, binging HGTV for inspo, lining up visits with your realtor, and getting a weird voyeuristic feeling of walking through somebody else’s home. All the feature comparisons become increasingly slight as the houses look increasingly similar. You’ll knock down 8 visits in one day and can’t even remember which one was which.
A few weeks in, things start to get a bit more real. One that you had your eye on is now under contract, and your emotions start to get more involved. For another one, you find out the foundation is falling apart and it needs a new roof, after you’ve fallen in love with the floor plan. You go back to another one you liked, at night this time, and find out the neighborhood takes a turn for the worse when the sun goes down. Your apartment lease clock is ticking, and you’re trying to time all this inspection, funding, and closing nonsense in time for it to all work out financially and logistically. It is a truly stressful time that I can’t imagine having to put an entire family though, especially if you are trying to sell your house at the same time.
For me, it all came down to location, convenience, and price. Basically, the same things that I look for in an apartment. By Texas standards, my 1600-square-foot townhouse was minuscule; for me, a bit too large after being used to one-bedroom apartments. But it was close to everything, comfortably in my price range, and had a yard for my dog that I didn’t have to mow, so I was in. But this was just the beginning of the stress.
The inspection process is somewhat interesting to be there in person for. But you still feel like the company doesn’t actually care if everything is checked out perfectly. They start mentioning things about dryer vents, cracks in the brick, the gas fireplace not working, and worst of all they make you climb up to the attic and check out the furnace. They say the water heater is okay, but who knows how long it will last. I thought: Damn, all this stuff was magically handled in my apartment… now I guess it is all up to me.
The loan process is my favorite — a complete black box in which you have no idea what is happening. You try to lock in a rate that you think is good but you don’t really know if it’s good. After you provide bank statements about basically everything you’ve ever bought in your life and every pay stub you’ve ever earned, you wait. No real updates, just waiting. No big deal, not like this loan isn’t 100% essential to me having a place to live. Then finally on day 29, they say everything should be good to go for closing. Cool, good to know!
Between inspection and closing, you’re negotiating random things through your realtor like warranties and appliances and allowances. You’re figuring out if you should get homeowners insurance or condo insurance. You’re seeing what things the HOA is and isn’t responsible for fixing in their strangely lengthy contract. So it never really ends, until the fateful day comes.
On closing day, you get in a room with a bunch of people, sign a stack of papers, make sure the money got wired, and get the keys. This thing is yours now! Do what you want with it! Kinda!
Was there a sense of pride during this time? I mean, I guess. I felt like I had accomplished something by looking at the place and knowing that it was mine. The pride did come with a side of guilt, as a few family members gifted me with some down payment assistance. Turns out I don’t take money from family very well.
But the overriding feeling I personally had, both immediately and for the duration of my ownership, was that I really, really missed my money sitting in my savings account that I had worked so hard for all my life.
I felt like it was gone forever. I told myself every day that instead of the money being in my account, it was now all around me — I was literally living in it. After five years, the house would likely appreciate if I sold it and I would be happy I had bought it.
But there was something about that money being so illiquid to me. If one day I wanted to sell everything I owned and move to some random place in the world, I couldn’t do that without the money that I was literally living in.
I felt like my choices were so limited. Would I ever move to some random place in the world and leave everything behind? Probably not. But just knowing I could was a freedom I no longer had.
See, I have moved at least once a year, every year, for my entire adulthood. Even if I was in the same city, I would move to different apartments. I may be the only person I know who enjoys moving. I did this for a few reasons:
It helped me purge belongings that I didn’t need, and was a metaphorical “reset button.”
It gave me a new experience in a new neighborhood, and I love trying new things to see what I like and don’t like.
Because I was in a one-year lease, with only me to think about — and I simply could.
I was now faced with a feeling of permanence that had gone against my behavior in my whole adult life. But I told myself to stick with it, even though I didn’t know the area I had “put down roots” in, and didn’t really know anybody besides my colleagues either. If I could make this house work, then maybe I could make my entire life work. Maybe it would magically help me find an amazing man. If I worked hard at forming a community and friendships, then I would be glad I had this house to grow in. I kept telling myself that I just had to give it a fighting chance, and stay put for once.
The first summer I spent in Texas, it was 110 degrees outside for months. If you weren’t inside of a cold pool or inside air conditioning, you weren’t doing anything. So summer was basically drinking sweet tea, eating, and shopping. I was used to living in Colorado and California, where the outdoor possibilities are endless and the options many. Smash cut to me somehow gaining 25 pounds and being essentially miserable, in my brand new house.
Everyone who lived around me in the suburbs was married with kids. The men I dated were just not compatible with me, someone who is independent and pretty liberal. I made some friends, but most were down in Dallas and I only got there on weekends. My new “community” was my house, my work, maybe my gym — but that’s it. I realized just how much the outdoors meant to me… the ocean, the mountains, the trails. And I didn’t know it until it was all gone, left back west, thousands of miles away.
After the scorching summer, I got up and out and promptly lost those 25 pounds I had gained. I went into the new year by sprucing up a few things at my house. I did really enjoy learning how to install a new light fixture and faucet (thank you YouTube) and started putting more energy and time into reconnecting with old friends. I decided to go back to Los Angeles for my birthday.
As I stood at Griffith Park overlooking a place I had lived for 8 years, after a weekend of being around my crazy friends, I decided to not waste any more time in a place where I felt like I didn’t belong with people I didn’t know. Forget the house. I pledged to find a new job and return to LA as soon as possible.
After months of interviewing, I accepted a job offer back in LA. The thought of offloading my house was immediately attractive to me, even though I had just done a few improvements on it and had barely been in it a year. I could not wait to get back into some crappy one bedroom apartment. I missed the beautiful simplicity of it all. No HOA, no mortgage, no escrow, no exemption stuff, no crazy property taxes. You just get your stuff and move in. Then a year later, if you want to, you clean up the place and move out.
Of course, one could argue that paying off a mortgage in full allows you the ultimate amount of options in your life — eventually, you won’t have a house payment to make! But at this phase of my life, I’m not in that frame of mind. And I think I had to learn for myself that it’s okay to not be there yet. It’s okay to have my own timeline for the typical milestones in life. It’s okay if people think I’m too transient or flighty, or if I move too much. Because the only one who has to live my life is me — and I think experiencing new places and new things is what life is all about.
63% of millennials regret buying a home. Me? I didn’t regret it for a long while. I did learn a lot about the entire fascinating and complex process, which I chalked up to a life experience.
However, I officially regretted it when my buyer fell through at the literal last minute. I had found a buyer easily, and turns out it was too good to be true. I didn’t plan for that. It has put me in a tailspin of panic as I currently try to balance rent plus a mortgage, while starting a new job and new life. I’m helplessly dragging the giant anchor of Texas behind me as I attempt to simultaneously regain my happiness in California.
If I wasn’t going to stay in Texas for at least 5 years — and I knew deep down that I wasn’t — I shouldn’t have bought that place. I regret that. For me personally, home buying brought up a lot of unexpected feelings and anxiety. It’s tough to make a major purchase like that on your own, and it was too much for me to bear. I look forward to the day when it is officially all over, my money is back in my account, and I can just live my apartment lifestyle without looking back.
When the time is right, later on in life, I may go on the home buying journey all over again. But if that doesn’t happen… that’s alright with me.