Friday, March 07, 2008

A breakthrough: We're staying in our townhouse

The past three years haven’t been easy for M and I when it’s come to discussing our housing situation. We’ve struggled with whether we should stay in our 3-bedroom townhouse or move up to a larger house. Finally, last weekend, we had a breakthrough: We’re staying in the townhouse.

That might seem odd, given all the reports that housing prices are on the decline. But I think it’s the right decision, and most importantly, both M and I do. For the first time, we are on the same page regarding a topic that has been a steady source of conflict. And really, the credit belongs to M, for whom letting go the idea of a bigger house—at least for the time being—was emotional and difficult.

Still a big stretch
The decision is hard for me, too, but for different reasons. It is a good time to buy, or at least better than it was a few years ago. M’s regular monitoring of websites like Realtor.com indicates that single-family home prices in the Burlington County, New Jersey, area have fallen anywhere from 10% to 15% from their highs in 2006.

However, they still ain’t cheap. While we have a fair amount of equity in our townhouse, it would be a financial stretch to buy the kind of home we really want—a contemporary four-bedroom house that we envision living in for the next 20 years or longer.

We toyed with the idea of killing ourselves with extra jobs and belt-tightening over the next 12 months to save for a bigger down payment. But with M juggling full-time mommy duties for a toddler, an infant, and a teenage daughter, and my daily two-hour work commute, our schedules are already tight. And our $500 per month grocery budget is considered “thrifty” by many standards.

A focus on other goals
So instead, we’re going to concentrate on modestly improving our townhouse more to our liking, and saving for our kids’ college. For instance, our 3-year-old son’s basement play area is half-finished (our friends half-kiddingly call it “the dungeon”) and too close to sharp tools and old paint cans for comfort. Plus, my stepdaughter graduates high school in 2012, and we are far short of having the money we’ve agreed to provide for her college (the actual amount requires some explanation; I’ll get into that in another post sometime).

Without the specter of a new house looming in the back of our minds, we can focus on achieving those goals.

Can’t do it all
I asked M what the turning point was for her in deciding it was best to stay where we are. Her personal sacrifice is enormous, on multiple levels: As a young girl, she always envisioned marriage and family life with having a house and a yard in a neighborhood—a far cry from our multi-unit, parking lot-covered townhouse complex. She also knows we could afford that house if she returned to full-time teaching, a job she loves, is good at and well-paid for, and finds much more appealing than cooking and cleaning.

I imagine many women today, balancing work and family, can relate to her response (which I’ve paraphrased).

“It was a combination of things,” she said. “The kids being sick so much this winter. Trying to keep up with doctor and orthodontist appointments and cheerleading practice, while also tutoring just a few hours a week on the side. It’s overwhelming.

“I think God has been showing me that I can’t do it all, that I have to decide what’s really important. And I want to be there for my kids when they need me. I don’t want someone else raising them. If that means waiting to have the bigger house, so be it.”

Peace in exchange for a bedroom
I’m confident we will someday have the house of our desires, probably in about five or six years, when M does return to work. And we are still passively “in the market” if an opportunity arises. We’ll take any miracles God wishes to send our way.

But we’re not counting on a miracle to make us happy. We are hopefully putting to rest our discontent with the blessings He’s already provided, removing it as a flashpoint in our marriage. I’ll trade an extra bedroom for marital peace any day.

2 comments:

savvy said...

It's quite refreshing to read of someone who has thoroughly considered the emotional and financial costs to purchasing a home. Kudos to both of you and I wish you the best.

calgirlfinance said...

CJ, This seems like a tough decision and I commend you and your wife for making it. I am starting to see that smaller is better and less is better. Since I started blogging, I have really changed my mindset on what's important in life.