We’re thinking about saving up for a house. This is more interesting than it probably sounds, because where we live, even a very ordinary house is stupidly expensive.
How ordinary? How expensive?
Picture a 1200-square-foot house with a tiny yard and no garage. This modest house has not been remodeled in at least a decade, has a tiny kitchen and a tiny bathroom, has almost no storage, and can best be described as “funky.”
If you’re lucky enough to find a house like this in our zip code, it’s going to cost significantly more than our entire retirement portfolio.
We can actually qualify for a mortgage in our area, because we’re middle-aged and we have great credit. But that mortgage would get us a condo or townhouse, not a house-house. Not something with its own yard.
We did it to ourselves. We chose to live in an area where even our boss’s boss can’t afford to own a house. Our colleagues either live in tiny apartments just like ours, or they commute, in many cases over 90 minutes each way. We know more than one person who lives in an entire different region over four hours’ drive away and only goes “home” on weekends and holidays. There are multiple van pools.
It’s a California problem, to face paying quadruple for the same house almost anywhere else. It’s a beach community problem, to face a real estate base that is shabby and crumbling because it’s been a seller’s market for over a hundred years.
We’ll be on a walk, see a house for sale, and check the listings just out of curiosity. Then we will stand there with our mouths hanging open because of the sheer temerity of asking two million dollars for a heap like that.
I can see the future, and it’s a future with a lot of plaster dust and mallets. I come from a family that is constantly remodeling something, anything, somewhere, somehow. At least one of us has had a project underway since 1990 and it’s never stopped. I’m quite good with tools for someone who usually has a book in my hand.
Then I went and married a tool man who loves gardening.
This is what’s going to happen. We’re going to wind up remodeling a house together, because it’s our destiny and there is no escape. Then we’re going to drive each other crazy with it, because remodeling is hell. Then, as soon as we “finish,” we’re going to have another project in mind. Once it’s started, it’s like a tractor beam, dragging you towards it with galactic force.
This is where strategy comes in.
There are only a few ways for someone to buy a house in our area.
It’s like this. If I sold a screenplay for two million dollars, after taxes, I could put down what was left on a house here. And *then* we could qualify for a mortgage on the balance.
That’s the bar.
Where we are right now, our entire combined annual gross income wouldn’t be enough for the down payment on the kind of house we would like to buy.
Oh, wait. There actually is another strategy we could use. That would be to give up on the impossible dream of buying a fancy-pants beach house in a foo-foo beach community. If we just let it go, we could save toward a realistic, modest house almost anywhere else in the world and then retire there quite comfortably.
Where’s the fun in that, though?
What we’ve learned from downsizing over the past several years is that we can do it, yes, and we have enjoyed the results in most ways. Taking the financial pressure out of our marriage has been wonderful. We’ve also eliminated entirely the stresses that most families face - almost all of them - including commuting, yard maintenance, and most housework. We don’t even have carpet to clean. Where we are right now, we’re on track to be able to retire.
(Although neither of us really believes in traditional retirement, because sitting around with nothing to do seems boring beyond compare).
Working at home together, though, has revealed some shortcomings in our lifestyle. We’d be enjoying ourselves more if we had an office - or two - like we did for the first half of our marriage. It would be so helpful to have our own washer and dryer again. We miss having two bathrooms. We’d also really love to have at least one more closet.
Each of these desirements adds another notch to the expense of our “dream house” and takes away another notch of our current daily satisfaction. It’s better, so much better, to find ways to be content where we are. Better, cheaper, and easier.
Yet there’s that itch to be scratched. If we’re going to continue living and working here, do we really have to do it in a tiny apartment where we carry our laundry up and down three floors every week? Do we really have to sit twelve feet apart while we take calls, with nowhere to go to isolate each other from our background noise?
We accepted long ago that we are both ambitious, restless people who aren’t all that good at sitting around and adjusting to the status quo. Might as well acknowledge that we’re ready to un-downsize and give each other another door to shut, a little more privacy. If our future is going to include both of us working from home, then that’s the new baseline.
The question is, if we are to buy a house of our own here, a dream house, how are we going to do it?
Another question would be, how would you do it where you live? What are all the different ways that you could make that happen?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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