I never really expected that I’d buy a house. As a millennial in my mid-thirties, the economy has been in a series of sharp upswings and downswings since I was a teenager. The attacks on 9/11 changed everything seemingly overnight; in high school, I watched as friends’ parents were laid off from their manufacturing jobs; and not too long after I graduated, the 2008 crisis in sub-prime mortgage lending led to people losing their homes along with everything else.
Even without the economic uncertainty that has defined much of my generation’s adulthood, the process of home buying has always seemed opaque and unknowable. What exactly is a mortgage? How do people get them? As a soon-to-be first-time home buyer, I am as mystified as I am skeptical.
Aside from my executive dysfunction around banking and legal documents, I also find the entire concept of owning property to be strange and somewhat distasteful. This planet and its resources that sustain us are living things. Water flows, fire consumes, air moves and trees grow, die and become the dirt again. How is it possible to own a life cycle outside of the one we are born into?
The concept of property ownership becomes more absurd to me when considering questions like, how far down into the earth or up into sky do a person’s rights of ownership extend? Does someone own the view from their property?
I admit that I would be angry if I bought property with a view only to have another home or development built in my line of sight. But I also recognize that this is ridiculous, and I would prefer to avoid this situation altogether by not putting myself in a position where I may feel entitled to own what I can gaze upon.
And yet, my husband and I are taking the steps to buy a house.
It’s been a torturous process, full of made-up concepts like “credit scores” and “escrow.” Ryan and I are not making this decision lightly. In fact, we have explored all kinds of alternatives to home buying, including living in a bus or on a boat. If we have to chain ourselves to a mountain of debt, why not make it one that can also sail off into the sunset?
At this point, we’re not looking to buy a house because it’s a thing we really want to do. The landscape for renting has become appallingly expensive, and if I’m going to spend upwards of $2,000 a month on a place to live, I’d rather not have to deal with a landlord on top of it.
The cost of housing is increasing at an alarming rate, and while home prices are stabilizing in some markets, rent prices aren’t necessarily following suit. As a renter, the roof over my head is getting expensive at a faster rate than the quality of those roofs is improving. We’re looking into buying because given the options, it seems like the least painful way to meet our basic need for shelter.
In our previous community of Mojave, we decided not to buy property because real estate prices were already climbing in 2014-2015. At that point, people called it a bubble, even though we weren’t even a decade from the previous housing crisis.
That bubble in Mojave never burst though, and property values continued to climb in our years there, even as we watched houses (including the ones we rented) crumble into the desert. By the time we moved away from California, a two bedroom home in Mojave was around $200,000. These prices are extremely low for California, but the trade off is property that’s 30-40 miles from the nearest city in an area with non-existent or failing infrastructure, with a home that almost certainly needs extensive renovations beyond the fresh coat of paint the most recent realtor has applied.
I rarely saw families moving into these homes, although the signs for the realtors outside them would change. Meanwhile, these homes sat vacant while a growing population of unhoused individuals set up camps in alleys and side streets.
Now, we’re in North Carolina, one of the fastest growing markets for home buying in the nation. Compared to California, this state has relatively higher levels of infrastructure, available water, and access to towns and cities that will make buying a house here hopefully feel less like pissing into the wind.
I’m not completely thrilled about it, though, and I am still working to accept that this is the choice we’re deciding to make. We’ve weighed the pros and cons, and this is where we’ve landed. But I don’t know yet how to reconcile my objections to property ownership with the reality that participating in this expensive, stressful and often nonsensical process is currently our best option to have a place to live.