The Truth About Why Homeownership Wasn't for Me (Yet)
My first story on Medium was called I Regret Everything: My Brief Tale of Homeownership. This post is a follow-up to that one.
Today was the day.
After my house sale fell through the first time months ago, today I magically received an email from my lender that said “Congratulations! You paid off your mortgage loan!” which really meant that I was no longer a (town)homeowner.
Immediately afterward came the funds, and once again I was back to having tangible money in my account instead of having invested it into four walls. This was only after owning it for a short period of time, so the prospect of breaking even was the best scenario.
I know, I know — this type of thinking about money is so short-term. Who wouldn’t want to have an asset? A rental property? Something you could make extra money off of with a bit of effort?
Besides, I had already gone through the hard part of securing a loan, buying furniture for the place, even doing some minor cosmetic upgrades. Even if I was moving out of state, I could still probably manage to keep the property and rent it out.
The thing is, I never wanted to be a landlord. I never wanted to figure out taxes and HOAs and escrow accounts. I never even really wanted to have a mortgage.
I just wanted to feel like my life was moving in the “right” direction.
Society puts a lot of pressure on all of us while we are growing up. The norms that we are held to can sometimes be exacerbated by well-intentioned family members or friends, who just want to see their loved ones happy. Or, like in my case, the pressure can be self-inflicted.
It’s funny how one choice in life can lead you to a totally different path than everyone else. This road is not always explicitly better or worse — just, different.
For me, this choice was to leave all my friends and family behind to move to the other side of the country, after graduating from the idyllic big-school college town life I was used to living.
(Honestly, to this day I still don’t know why I even made this choice, besides the fact that I thought I would like living in Hollywood — which, knowing what I know now — never move to actual Hollywood).
This choice led me to a path of searching for the right career for me, meeting a group of alumni from that college that would become like family, and having the joy of experiencing Los Angeles as a twenty-something, along with many other countries around the world.
Putting myself in all these new and challenging situations helped me learn; like most of us, I learned the hard way — but I still learned.
I’ve never regretted the choice which led me to my favorite city on Earth, but it was different than what many people did.
Other friends stayed close to their families and now have their own, and I love watching from afar as these childhood friends become incredible parents.
Another thing those friends now have? Houses. Classic suburban homes like the one I grew up in, with yards and fences, fresh-cut grass and hand-planted flowers.
That’s the life path, isn’t it?
Grow up > Find a job > Meet somebody > Get a pet > Get married > Buy house > Have kids > Progress in career > Get near retirement age> Watch kids repeat same process.
It’s not just this typical path that can be envied — many of my friends who did not follow this path have lucrative and successful careers, houses, significant others, and seem like they really have it all together.
It wasn’t as much as me being actually jealous of the successful people around me as me feeling disappointed that I wasn’t meeting my own arbitrary life-stage expectations.
Surely, I told myself, by this age I should have at least more than a couple of traditional “success criteria” checked off in life: Money, Good job, Great Husband, Kids and Family, House, Car, Good Friends — in no particular order, of course.
If so many others had accomplished these things, what was the boat that I missed?
Instead of realizing how valuable so many of my diverse non-traditional life experiences have been to developing me as a person, I developed FOMO of all the things I had given up or postponed to be exactly who I am today.
A house was one of those things. It became a symbol — a box on a checklist.
So here I was, faced with a situation where my employer was helping me out to buy a home, and I thought it would be foolish to not take advantage of that assistance when I could. I was also in a brand new city — an environment like I had never lived in as an adult.
This was Texas. Conservative, traditional, and stable. Essentially, the opposite of California.
Putting down roots here is what responsible adults do, I told myself. Things are so affordable! People are friendly! There are so many malls!
I didn’t need a house, and was perfectly happy renting. It was just me and my dog, and we didn’t need much space.
The house was a box on a checklist. And I checked it.
In some way, I thought: Maybe if I get this house, I’ll be perceived both externally and internally as an established and “normal” person.
The hypothesis was that this perception may lead me to make more pointed choices around finding a serious relationship, or growing wealthy, or living a strict healthy lifestyle.
I thought that even though it was “out of order” of the usual path, if I checked one of the boxes, maybe a domino effect would ensue and I’d figure out the rest of them.
It turns out that you cannot sustainably self-validate with external inputs. Your self-worth has to all come from within. Who knew?
The good news about all this is that by checking that (costly and time-consuming) box, I now know what the home buying and selling processes are like. In the future, if I ever want to do this again, I’ll know what to expect.
Returning to renting could be seen by some as a “step backward,” but for the level of freedom I now feel, it doesn’t matter to me what others think.
Renting is on-brand for me. I enjoy experiencing new things, new places, and I feel refreshed every time I move. I’m usually anchored by a steady job along the way, but the flexibility is what makes me feel the most comfortable.
(Moving back to California was also a no-brainer for me, who probably loves Los Angeles more than 99% of people you’ll meet).
A mortgage was a heavy weight I felt more each day, and no amount of future possible financial benefit was worth that constant feeling to me. It felt more like a liability than an asset.
When I first wired that money to the lender, I went against my gut, feeling that it wasn’t truly the right choice. But societal pressures are real, magnified with everyone heavily curating their lives on social media.
Everyone wants to feel like they fit in. I just learned an expensive lesson that I don’t have to — nor do I even want to.
That’s what makes me “me.”