Living Style

What They Don’t Tell You About Buying a House

Written by Erin Martinsen

I’m pretty good at making decisions—at least on paper and when that paper is a pros and cons list. I have a very low risk tolerance, so I’ve been running cost-benefit analyses since I was in the womb (final decision: emerge!).

And so, two years ago, when our lease was up and my husband and I couldn’t find any totally affordable, completely updated, utterly charming apartments, I started running online calculators that promised to tell us whether we should keep renting or buy a house.  The internet in its infallible wisdom said that we would only have to live in a purchased house for three years to make it more cost-effective than renting. Perfect. Sold.

In fact, buying a house was almost that easy. We bought the first one that we looked at seriously, and while we had to bid a little for the house, we were still well within what we could afford. Our realtor, whom we would have trusted with our lives, told us that we could afford the monthly payments even if we both lost our jobs and ended up on unemployment. Of course, it has never been our intention to lose our jobs, so mostly we focused on the hardwood floors, white baseboards, and picture window.

We’d been warned about the lurking downsides of buying a home. Several people had told us what a time-suck owning a home is. They were right, beyond right. We only technically own two trees, but my husband rakes endlessly in the fall. This year alone we have sunk hours and hours into researching slug repellant, because protecting the hostas must be done. At all costs. One day early on my mother and I painted for fourteen hours straight, and those white baseboards could be a full-time job. Still, we expected this.

What I didn’t expect was how deeply owning a home would tie us to a place, even when being tied made no sense at all. Our home isn’t perfect—it’s small and I can think of ten updates that we really should do and haven’t—but when I think about how I planted some rhubarb that I couldn’t harvest for the first two years, I can’t imagine moving. No more rhubarb for two more years. Impossible.

When I was looking at master’s programs last year, I simply couldn’t imagine giving up the house, even though it would have been the smart thing to do. I ended up limiting the radius for schools I was willing to consider and ultimately decided to stay in our city. And even though my husband and I still dream about becoming freelancers and living in France, now it’s always with a twinge of hesitation: Could we rent out the house and come back to it? Wouldn’t renters leave it in shambles? Could I bear that?

In short, I find myself tied to this house, even though it was never my intention. Part of me deeply regrets being attached to what is ultimately just a material possession. But part of me says, so be it. Feeling tied, at its best, is no bad thing. I feel tied to my family, too, and that’s the greatest blessing I have in this life.

Besides, every time I realize that I don’t want to leave the house, a rush of gratitude follows. We have a home, we have shelter, and we love it. We have the time and energy and money to plant and paint and fix. Not everyone has these things. When it comes time to move, I’m sure I’ll find whatever fortitude is necessary to do that, but for now the important thing is this: problems caused by love are problems worth having.

About the author

Erin Martinsen

Erin is a loyal Midwesterner, born and raised in Kansas and currently living in Michigan. She and her husband Philip enjoy caring for any living thing, and their current responsibilities include two cats and a large garden full of vegetables. When she’s not gardening, Erin is usually either working as a copyeditor or studying for her master’s in theology—but her first loves are spending time with family and reading good books. And also cats.

Erin and her husband blog about life and literature at http://humandramathing.com/