"Where do you live now?" I asked the interested young couple, with toddler in tow, who'd come to visit me at the end of last weekend's open house and were clearly smitten with my latest listing ; a cool Mid-Century. (What's not to love?)
'We're in Oakmore," they said, "but we should have bought in Piedmont. This is exactly what we want."
It's a story I can easily relate to.
Cliff and I met and married in the City and desperately hung on for years, ultimately sending our kids to pricey private schools while we renovated one crappy home (that's a technical Realtor term) after another, utilizing advantageous tax laws that allowed us to realize profits every two years without paying any capital gains. (Thank you Uncle Sam.) Each successive project was slightly larger than the last, and each moved us closer to the goal - or so I thought.
It seemed reasonable at the time . . . and based on our available capital, it was.
I planned to eventually hopscotch our way into Pacific Heights or north of Lake Street and into the house of my dreams - albeit with a lot of blood, sweat and tears - and Cliff (bless his heart) was game as he focused on building his budding law practice (small practice, BIG ideals) and let me work through my "Martha Stewart" phase (yes, that was a thing then. Thankfully it's behind me.)
In hindsight, we should have stretched to buy the bigger "fixer" from the start and then stayed in it as long as we could. And knowing what I know now, we DEFINITELY would have come to Piedmont 10 years earlier, before the kids entered kindergarten (our oldest was 12 before we set down roots here).
Not that I'm advocating that anyone should aspire to being house rich and cash poor (having a life beyond your home IS incredibly important), it's just that the cost to buy and sell becomes increasingly more expensive with each sale, as do the property taxes, thus, if you are in a position to afford more from the get-go, you probably should.
Moreover, renovating is more EXPENSIVE as well (construction costs only go UP over time) and while our marriage thrived on such challenges, it's not every couple's experience. Don't be fooled by the shows on HGTV that would suggest you can remodel your entire home for $50,000 (you can't), nor are Joanna and Chip Gains going to knock on your door and pull you out of the rubble with a chic renovation and donated appliances and furniture. (I wish.)
When we finally did make our way to Piedmont (at the height of the market), we naively stretched further than we should have, in part, because like now, there were very few homes for sale, interest rates were low, and the lot was truly special. When we sold a couple of years ago, after our last child had graduated high school, it proved to be a very shrewd move and our smartest one to date. In truth, we'd have kept that home into old age were it not for the acre and a half of maintenance!
Did we buy another "diamond in the rough?" Yes, we did.
Will we stay in this one indefinitely? No we won't. (We'll need all-level living at some point.)
But you can still take the lesson from me just the same. While I'd be happy to help you into a new home every few years (that IS how I make my living after all), home purchases, by and large, are long-term investments and shouldn't be taken on lightly. Even professional renovators can lose their shirts on the market if the timing doesn't play out to their advantage. In fact, many wealth managers might say that homes shouldn't be considered "investments" at all; that they are separate and apart from your stock portfolio or retirement accounts.
In other words, when making a home purchase - especially in a competitive marketplace - look for the home you can grow into over time, even if it's not perfect by today's standards. In Piedmont, that translates to adequate covered parking, a lot that allows for expansion, and a bigger envelope to begin with. In short, you may need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h.
Because with each move up the ladder, transfer taxes are higher, commissions are higher, and there's far more at stake. AND in my experience, first-time Buyers don't tend to overbuy, they tend to underbuy. Then like the young couple referenced above, find that they have quickly outgrown their house when a rugrat or two dramatically changes the dynamic of the home environment. (Children do that.)
Years ago, my soon-to-be mother-in-law astutely advised me that I should only buy jewelry "you can grow into." While I had NO CLUE what she meant in my 20s, nor again, the budget to accommodate such a BOLD suggestion, at 56, I totally get what she was saying and now I happily upgrade every 10 years or so (the ring, not the husband). Maybe "upgrading" isn't the game when all is said and done. Maybe you want to start with something you can keep over the long haul and improve upon it (the husband, not the ring),
It's just a thought.
How can I help you?
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.