Look at that couple up there. So happy, so joyous. Such idiots.
June 1, 2008. That’s the date I closed on my house. Thinking about it brings back the memory of many different emotions. On the day of my closing, I walked into the office of the title company like it was my first day at a new high school — a scared and timid teenager hidden under the facade of an excited and confident adult. I was greeted by my mortgage broker, my real estate agent, and a lady I had never met that worked for the title company. I have no recollection of this lady looking back on it. No name, no face, nothing — probably the byproduct of nerves. They led me back to a meeting room occupied by a table and four chairs. On the table, a one-inch thick stack of documents was awaiting us, or more specifically, awaiting me. I’d spend the next 45 minutes to an hour signing papers, and with them, a terrifying 30-year financial commitment.
After every page turn of this seemingly never-ending stack of financial prison documents, the lady from the title company would ask me, “Do you have any questions about this page?” “Nope, all good,” I’d respond with confidence. But I did have questions. I had a lot of them. I was clueless. She could have asked me, “So, you do agree that I can bury my dead mother in your backyard?” “Yeah, that’s cool,” I would have answered assuming it was common practice for title company ladies to bury dead relatives in their clients’ backyards. In fact, now, five years later, I still don’t fully understand what I signed that day, although I now have a much stronger grasp on the mortgage lending and home purchasing process. On that day, I only knew the essentials: my fixed interest rate, the cost of my home, my monthly payment, and how little of that would be applied to the principal amount. Just the horrifying basics.
After the signing was finished, my discomfort and anxiety subsided greatly. It was a huge sigh of relief, not because I had any semblance of an understanding of the transaction that had just taken place, it was because I was officially a “homeowner.” And like everyone had always told me before, becoming a homeowner was a great and proud accomplishment, a milestone. What they didn’t tell me is something I wish they had: “Sometimes being a homeowner sucks ass.”
Here are my highs and low of home ownership:
High: Walking through your front door for the first time.
The list of more prideful events than entering your own domain for the first time has got to be a very short one. I drove straight from the title office to my new home. It was locked. It wasn’t locked in the sense that “Oh, let me just turn this key and walk right in.” It was locked in the sense that I was locked out of my new house, and I even had the key in hand. There is a glass/screen door outside my front door. It can only be locked and unlocked from the inside. Well, it was locked. The back door, a sliding glass one, took a different key, a key I didn’t have. I had to walk to the backyard where a door (also locked) let you into the garage. I had to kick it in. That’s right, before I could enjoy this proud, triumphant milestone, I had to break into my own house.
I made it inside, though, and when I finally did, it felt pretty damn good. Then, of course, I had to repair the door I kicked in.
Low: It’s expensive.
This isn’t any kind of revelation. Renting is cheaper. That’s the main reason people opt to go that route over owning. My cohort Ross was recently talking about how high the rent was at his new apartment. He lives in a prime Austin location, right by the lake and just off the downtown bar district. His rent is very high, even in the cost-friendly city of Austin. My mortgage is higher, and I live six miles south of downtown, in a modestly-sized home, in a modest neighborhood.
It’s cool, though. I’m only on the hook for another 25 years.
High: It’s an investment.
This is the obvious and most valid counterpoint to the argument against paying so much every month. You can get some money out of it eventually.
This holds true for most people. I’m lucky enough to live in perhaps the most thriving real estate market in the country: Austin, TX. I purchased my home right at the beginning of the recent economic collapse. For years, and because of our country’s struggling economy, the value of my home dipped some. Thankfully, it’s come back in a big, big way. I would stand to cash in nicely if I were to sell now. Of course the market changes regularly, so who knows what it’ll look like when I’m finally ready to upgrade.
Low: Maintenance and repairs.
My house was built in 1980. When I purchased it, everything in it was original — water heater, HVAC, appliances, everything. Shit was kinda old. Shit got even older. Shit started to break.
Just two weeks ago, I’m sitting in my living room at 6:30am catching up on current events, watching SportsCenter and sipping coffee when I hear a sound I had never heard before. It went something like Eeeeeeaaaaahhhhhrrrrrrkkk…followed by silence, and it was loud. I knew what it was right away. I’m no A/C specialist or seasoned handyman — maybe it was just my homeowner instincts kicking in — but I knew right away my A/C motor had just blown its brains out. I was right.
Two months ago, my water heater committed suicide, too.
These are just a couple of the many unexpected costs I’ve encountered during my five years in the house. From carpet cleaning to painting to repairing a leaky roof, it doesn’t end, and since the days of calling your landlord to fix these things are behind you, it comes straight out of your pocket.
High: I can tell people I own a home.
“What part of town do you live in, bro?”
“South Austin. I bought back in ’08.”
You welcome this question among your peers. Secretly, it’s even one of the reasons you bought the home to begin with. What’s so great about owning a home if others don’t know you own a home? You feel financially and intellectually superior to them, and you’re going to capitalize on every opportunity to take little jabs at them because of it.
“You’re still renting? You know you’re just pissing money away, right?”
Low: The realization that I don’t even own a home.
A bank does. And I still owe that bank hundreds of thousands of dollars until it officially becomes mine. I’m only 25 years away, and that’s if I stay in the same home throughout the life of the loan, which I definitely will not do. I’ll sell it, then I’ll start all over again at the beginning of another 30-year loan.
Will I ever actually own a home?