Homeownership

{I’m struggling to write this week–the words will not come!–and I found this post (that I thought I lost) in the Notes app on my iPad, so I decided to put it up. Sorry it’s kind of non sequitur.}

 When we bought our house in 2012, we felt nothing but relief. The housing market in San Francisco is well known for being totally insane — only 30% of homes are owned in the city (the rest are on the rental market) so there are never many houses available to buy and the ones that are get bid on by dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people.

The rental market is similarly insane, and many people live in fear of being evicted if their place is rent controlled (via the Ellison Act, so that owners can sell their property) or getting a notice of rent hikes to the tune of $1 or $2K A MONTH. Buying a house in San Francisco provides an amount of security that isn’t necessarily present elsewhere. 

In 2012 the housing market was still recovering from the recession. In San Francisco the real estate market never really dipped, but it did flat line for a while, and finding a house was probably easier than it had been in the past. Still, we habitually put in bids at $50K over asking, only find out that the winning bid was $120K over asking (for a $550K house) AND the buyers were paying in cash. We felt certain we’d never find a house we could afford.

Then we did. And we were ecstatic. The conversation about where we’d eventually live when our 800 sq ft, black mold infested apartment no longer accommodated us had always been a tense one. My husband was insistent that we stay in the city: if that didn’t work he wanted to move across the bay to Oakland. But my parents, and my job, are on the peninsula. I didn’t relish the idea of having a notoriously traffic-jammed bridge in between me and my life. 

Buying a house in the city was not just about having the security of our own home, where no one could evict us or double our rent, but also allowed us to avoid some difficult decisions about where we’d go if we couldn’t stay in San Francisco.

So yes, I’m still incredibly happy that we bought our house (especially when we did – we got a great interest rate). Having said that, homeownership is a total bitch. Holy shit do we spend a lot of money on maintenance! And the fixes are only ever necessities–we never make unnecessary improvements. 

This past winter we found out our heating system was insulated with asbestos. It’s not like we were breathing the stuff, but if the ducts got hit or moved (or, say, shaken in an earthquake), we’d basically have had cancerous materials floating up through the ducts. So we had to get the whole thing taken out, including the furnace, and a new heating system installed. That happened last month, to the tune of $4K.

We also have water damage. Now I don’t know much about water damage, but I can tell from the way people look at my pityingly and say, Oh I’m so sorry to hear that, like I’m announcing I have a terminal illness, that it’s probably pretty fucking bad. Right now it’s only in one spot in the main part of the house, but the back addition–the “sun room” where we eat and above where our tenant has his kitchen–is riddled with it (not down in the tenant’s unit though, thankfully). The back room didn’t used to bother me because our plan was to tear it down and build inside stairs so we could live in the tenant’s unit. Now that moving down there is not the plan, it’s stressing me out. Big time.

There are also little things. We had an electrician fixing some shady outlets and possibly adding a circuit breaker. She found a bunch of live wires that went no where and had to pull them out or cap them. We constantly have slow draining issues in our sink and bath tub (which are in our ONLY bathroom). The refrigerator needs to be replaced, but the space for it is so small it’s hard to find a model that will fit. You all remember the mouse-eating-our-washing-machine-tubes-fiasco of late last year. It’s just thing, after thing, after thing.

Frequently our parents’ “presents” to us are to get something fixed, like our faulty front gate and a portion of the electrical work that was done. This is very much appreciated, as I’d rather get something fixed than acquire stuff we don’t need. But we pay for most of the fixes, and we usually spend the money slated for savings on our house. 

I sometimes wonder if homeownership is all its cracked up to be. Here in San Francisco it is almost a necessity if you want to stay for the long haul. We wouldn’t be able to spend a year abroad if we didn’t own our house (my sister’s boyfriend can’t join her for a year of grad school in London because he has to keep their rent controlled apartment–which is a disgusting pit of a place). It’s not that I’m not grateful, it’s just hard. And I wish our house weren’t so old and so cheaply made–seriously EVERY expense was spared–and didn’t require so much work. 

Let’s just hope the water damage doesn’t leave us underwater.

Do you own your home? How do you feel about homeownership?

28 Comments

  1. We have owned two homes, rented one out and then decided landlord land was not for us. We recently sold our second home when the cost of fixing it (so it was safe for our children) was greater than what it was worth. Thankfully we were able to sell it (the market in our area, DC Suburbs with amazing schools) is hot and people flocked to it. But now we are renting. and while we do plan on buying again in the future (we haven’t seen anything we love and since we plan on purchasing our forever home this next time) we aren’t in any rush. It is SO nice to not have any worries about what happens if (the washing machine breaks, the well pump fails, the roof gets blown off in a horrible storm, we have another mold issue like we did at our previous house) we don’t have to pay for it.

    1. So I take it you would buy again to be able to keep that home forever, and not for some ultimate financial investment?

      I will say that it helps to know we live in SF, where the housing market is VERY resilient. Sure bubbles burst here, but not in the way they do other places. We can feel pretty sure that, barring some horrible damage in an earthquake (definitely a very real concern) our house will always be worth more than we paid for it.

  2. Its a never ending time and money suck, but I feel like we just wouldn’t have understood that until we experienced it.

    1. So true, not now that you have experienced it and you do know, what do you think? Is it worth it to own, or is homeownership just another perpetuated American myth?

  3. Grateful I own because I could not afford the rent on this unit. Also glad I under bought what the real estate people said I could afford because I have paid it all off. Worry how in the world can people afford house prices today and what will happen next? But for now people are doing it. Not owing a house payment when you are older makes a HUGE difference in finances!
    I agree gifts that fix house problems are wonderful. Be careful and watchful about the water problems because the wet spreads and the problems increase faster than breeding fruit flies. I was going to say rabbits, but they take longer to multiply than ‘wet in houses’ problems.
    Good luck. It will all hold while you are away. Can you share date you return? Super thrilled for you!

    1. Yeah, we couldn’t afford the rent on our unit right now either (both the housing market and rental market are crazy right now). It is so nice to know that if we can keep paying out mortgage, no one can ever price us out of our house.

  4. We bought our first house many years ago. The market immediately tanked and when we sold it 5 years later (we were moving to another city) we lost a huge amount and had to bring money to the table to get rid of it.

    We bought again in our new city a few years later and our house is currently worth something like three times what we paid for it. But still, our experience with our first house haunts me and makes me worry about losing all our equity.

    And this is even though our town has the highest home prices of any city in the state — with a median price of about $1.7 million for a single family — and prices have been going up at 20% per year.

    1. The thought of losing money on a house is terrifying to me. I would have definite reservations buying in a place where the market wasn’t as stable as here.

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. It sounds like your luck has changed substantially the second time around. For that I’m glad.

      1. Thanks! The hilarious (well, not really) thing is that our first place was in what is now a super-hot market (a townhouse in what has become a very desirable part of D.C.)
        If we had held onto it for another 10 years or so, it would have been worth a fortune.

        So, basically, we made a huge mistake in buying that house. But we also made a huge mistake in selling it.

  5. Our sale is finalized in 2 days on our condo (cue crazy happy dance on my end)! After 11 years of holding on, we’re finally going to be free.

    That said, there are mixed feelings on this topic. There’s definitely benefits of homeownership, from fixed monthly payments (condo dues did fluctuate) to choices about repairs and updates. The flip is now knowing about construction on a whole new level and seeing an insane number of houses that really should be leveled. Add in contractor corruption/incompetence and I’m all too familiar with the fear of the money pit.

    Our plan is to save up for another down payment, but for now I’m actually very happy renting. Though the stress of rental increases/landlord disputes may push me out of that happiness bubble sooner than later.

    1. Ah landlord disputes. I know those. And I will say, that while it sucks to have to pay for things to be fixed, I appreciate having a say in the quality of the work/replacement parts. Our landlord always had his “handyman” do everything, and his handyman was not very good at anything, so stuff was always shoddily done. Everything in our house was shoddily done as well, but as we fix things, we improve the quality, not detract from it.

  6. I hear ya – I feel like I’m bleeding money, all the time, with home ownership. Our home was built 2003 and there are little things like siding and A/C and roofs. Ugh. However, renting vs owning is not a lot better. In fact, we’re paying less a month with owning than renting. Good luck with the home repairs!

    1. Yeah, with the way the rental market is right now, we’d probably have a higher monthly payment renting than we do owning, and that includes property taxes. We are also lucky because we have a unit we can rent out, which allows us to make some money as well. Right now we need it to pay our mortgage, but after our son is done with day care, it will be extra cash. I would love to move down there some day, but the alternative (making some extra money every year) isn’t too bad either. 😉

  7. I’m definitely thankful that we own our house. We refinanced to a 15 year mortgage a few years ago, so we will be paid off the summer before Stella starts her senior year of high school. Our mortgage went up $300/month, but we decided we’d rather do that and save over $100k in interest and be paid off 15 years sooner instead of contributing to college funds for the kids. Now we figure that when the $2,000 monthly mortgage payment is gone, we can funnel some of that to help the kids with books/tuition/whatever in college. Also, a 3 bedroom house rental in my town is INSANELY expensive right now. Our friend who bought his house at the same time & cost as us 7 years ago just rented out his home (which is a 4 bedroom, but only 200 sq. ft. bigger than my house) for $3,500/month. I live in a town of 900 people with dirt roads. It’s INSANE. Yes, the maintenance/upkeep sucks sometimes, but we are still coming out ahead, and by the time the kids are out of the house, we will own our home outright, and that’s an amazing feeling.

    1. That is awesome you were able to refinance. I looked into it, but our mortgage is still so huge, we couldn’t afford the accelerated payments. We are already paying down $100K that my parents “gifted” us (so we could avoid a PMI of $550 a month) on a 15 year fixed. We also have such a low interest rate, that even if we refinanced to a 15 year fixed we probably wouldn’t get a lower rate… Ah well, it is what it is.

      Living in your town is such a strange set of seemingly contradictory circumstances. It seems like you get paid a smaller town salary, but have the COL of a much bigger, super expensive city. That must be really hard!

  8. The expenses are staggering. We had several roof leaks we discovered this year, spending about $5000 (at least) on roof repairs. Also, at some point, we need to replace two tubs – one we can use, as long as we don’t use the shower, and one we can’t use at all, which is not a huge deal. And we have to also repair the water damage on our ceilings from the leaking tub and roof. And our backyard needs to be regraded due to flooding. Our house was fairly new when we bought it! And it seemed to be in good shape! I guess there were all of these drainage issues that went unnoticed during the years of drought since it had been built.

  9. “If it’s not broken, were not spending the money.” I hear that weekly from my husband. But he’s right. Something is always going wrong when you own a house (and cars) and, in my case, spending thousands of dollars to have the entire inside repainted (every single wall connects in our open floor plan, even from our main floor to the basement) isn’t a priority. So, we paint the bedrooms and bathrooms because they have hard stopping points and we live with the rest (I absolutely hate the color). I know that I shouldn’t even mention replacing the kitchen backsplash!!!

    You know how I feel about owning versus renting. If I could rent a real house that fits our needs here, I would.

    1. We simply don’t have the money to upgrade things that aren’t broken, which is why we keep the fridge that has no lights and sounds like a mac truck when it turns on. Ugh, I hate that fridge, but it keeps things cold and that is technically it’s only real function, so it stays. Someday, when it breaks, we will have to pony up, but until then we keep it.

      I REALLY want to paint both the inside and outside of my house. BADLY. It’s all taupe. TAUPE EVERYWHERE. I like colors. I am all about bright colors, so this weird grey color behind everything drives me crazy. I actually decided I was going to paint my daughter and son’s room when I was 8 months pregnant and my mom and husband had to basically order me not to. They were right, of course, but I’m still annoyed that I didn’t get it done.

  10. I’m really happy we have rented up to now. The last 3 places we lived, we paid 25-50% more in rent than a mortgage in the area would have cost BUT we didn’t have to deal with maintenance and that was fantastic. We also weren’t stuck with a house in a market where everyone wanted to rent or sell but nobody was buying houses. Now we are renting an apartment on the way to downsizing to a nearly tiny house that will be all ours in the next year or two. We see the benefit of having a forever house but up until now, the benefits of no maintenance and no permanent commitment have been worth it.

    1. It sounds like renting was absolutely the right option for you. PLEASE update us on the tiny house situation! I am fascinated by tiny house living and would love to hear how you’re making it work.

  11. We own our home, but it’s an apartment in an apartment building, not a house. My husband and I are both very unpractical people, and we really like to avoid all unnecessary stressors, so this is a good choice for us. If something needs to be fixed, we have to pay of course, but the actual fixing happens automatically without us having to find a repair person etc. And the expenses of big fixes to the whole house are shared with many households. It’s really stress-free.

    That said, having a yard would be great. Thankfully we live really close to nature and basically at seashore, so we can do e.g. nice picnics basically at our “backyard” – only it’s shared with our neighbors. Many people here do the community gardening and I’ll probably try to get into that at some point.

    Owning vs. renting: my thoughts are pretty simple: owning gives me peace of mind because it adds to our property, whereas rent money we’ll never see again. I understand that renting is often a very good choice, but as a long-term solution, I prefer ownership.

    1. Not having to find a repair person is SO HUGE. I’ve called so many contractors about our water damage and they are all booked for six months out! It’s crazy. And I hate just calling a random person and hoping they are good. It sucks having to find people to fix things.

      I will also say that while there are days I love our backyard, holy shit does it require a ton of work. The upkeep is INSANE. It’s really windy where we live and so much stuff grows unwanted in our yard. It is a big source of stress for me. So really, you might not actually like it as much as you think you would. I don’t like mine as much as I thought I would.

  12. We currently own our 3rd, my 4th, house. And, since we have a 15 year mortgage we’ll have it paid off within about 5 years if all goes according to plan. Personally living where we do in California (We had one stop in AZ that was bad and took us forever to sell and it was at a loss because we wouldn’t wait it out any longer) I don’t really worry about losing money on a house long term. Sure, it might in the short term, but now we’re finally where I plan to be forever (first time in my life I can say that! LOL) so that’s fine. But, we’ve made money on 2 of the first 3 houses and I hate throwing money away on rent and having nothing to show for it. All of our houses have been relatively new so most of our expenses have been either doing things you have to for a new house- like all the window coverings, yard etc. or upgrades like we did a bunch of cabinetry last year, and this year we added solar. I do hate having to find people to fix things- currently I need someone to hack down our teeny, tiny yard. But, for me, it’s a small price to pay for being able to do whatever we want to the house, not having to worry about “pet friendly” and knowing that before I turn 50 we’ll own our home outright.

    1. I am so jealous of people on 15 year mortgages. Ours is just so big, we couldn’t afford to pay it off in that amount of time. I also REALLY want to add solar but we don’t spent enough on electricity (just $10 a month too little) to qualify for the state and federal incentives, and now that we’ve owned our house for five years, we don’t qualify even if we spent enough. I really want to go solar, but we just don’t have that kind of money lying around… Boo. Evidently we have the perfect roof and location for it.

      The “pet friendly” thing is actually really important. It was watching the results whittle to basically nothing after we clicked the “cat” box when we were looking into moving out of our old apartment, that made me realize how hard it was going to be to find something. That is when we seriously started considering buying instead of renting.

  13. We own our house. We were worried there for a while (early 2000s) that we’d never be able to afford a house, so it was a relief to buy after the market tanked. I guess it depends on where you live but I just couldn’t stomach throwing away rent money every month and ending up with nothing.

    We also refied to a 15 year mortgage so the house will be paid off the year my oldest graduates high school, which is nice. That makes our mortgage payment close to 4K (that includes property taxes and insurance), more than this house would rent for, but at least we’ll be paying less in interest.

    My husband is remodeling our kitchen right now and has done some other work in the past and he keeps finding out how poorly/cheaply our house was built…I swear someone had to search hard to kind kitchen cabinets that ugly and cheap. We had to buy a new heater/get a new roof/treat for termites when we bought the place but that was already figured into the price. With the kitchen remodel we found termites $$$ and had to reroute something which was more $$$.

    But I’m still so thankful to own–no worrying about whether pets are allowed, no increases in rent, no noisy people above/below/on the other side of a wall (neighbors can still be noisy but at least there’s some separation). And we often say “thank goodness we’re not renting” when my kids run around pounding their feet bc surely we’d annoy people/get kicked out.

    Kudos on getting rid of the asbestos, well worth it.

    1. It’s so awesome that your husband can do work on the house. If we were to do the work ourselves, I’d be the one who’d have to do it, as I am the “handyman” around the house, and a lot of work I’m just not qualified to do.

      It is SO nice to not have to deal with inconsiderate neighbors, although we do have a tenant and I do sometimes worry about how loud we are in the mornings. We spent $10K to sound proof his ceiling, and we offer that place at WAY under market value, so I never let myself feel bad for very long. 😉 It would be nice to have our house all to ourselves one day.

  14. We own our home, and as much as I love our house, it’s also a lot of work. Jeff insisted when we were looking for a house that he wanted a lot of land, because he grew up on 10 acres, but of course we have no time for the kind of maintenance it needs. (And also, black thumb. I kill plants. I really don’t understand how I manage to kill everything that I try and take care of!)

    So yeah, it’s hard. But we have great neighbors and a good house and I (mostly) love that own it. It’s ours, you know?

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