Ask Colin: Buying a Home

Hi Colin,

I am a planner. I value financial security.

My wife and I, both in our mid 30’s, have worked our way up into nice jobs. She is now the boss. She receives decent pay and gets to make her own schedule.

I finished a four-year apprenticeship and landed a job at one of the highest paying shops in the state where I work an awesome weekend shift and enjoy four days off a week while still making a great income and receiving amazing benefits.

I could retire there. We have saved a large chunk of money to put down on a house and it would be easy to kick our feet up here in Washington and say that we’ve made it, but we find ourselves wanting something different.

We often talk about moving to Texas to be closer to her family, or to somewhere like Colorado or Montana to get away from the crowds and capture the small-town feel we grew up around. Anything different.

I’ve lived in the same place my whole life! The hardest mental hurdle in our way is justifying walking away from the positions at our jobs that we worked for years to obtain and the sense of security that comes with.

What advice would you offer us and what are important things to consider? Thank you.



Hey Drew-

Firstly, that’s wonderful—good on both of you for working hard to get to where you are now. It’s nice to have options, and to be in a secure place, career-wise.

It’s also wonderful that you’re taking the time to assess this good thing you’ve got going to ensure you don’t accidentally lock in good at the expense of great.

In terms of angles from which you might consider the situation, I’d start with what you give up if you decide to plant deeper roots where you are now by becoming more financially invested in the area via real estate.

A house is a big commitment, and often for a very long time. Expenses expand beyond just the up-front cost and actual payments, and maintenance on a house—monetarily, but also in terms of time-commitments, security, things like that—can add up.

Having that kind of investment in one place can also influence all future decisions, from career opportunities that would take you elsewhere, to travel ambitions that might be nudged aside because you would rather commit the time or money to house-related endeavors.

It can be reassuring to know you’ve got that steady home-base, but it can also be liberating to know that you have upcoming milestones, at which point you can reassess just about everything, from work to lifestyle to where you live. Paying rent is an overall bummer, but it’s also the price one pays for the flexibility to move whenever one wants—or at the most restrictive, on a semi-regular basis from lease period to lease period.

As a renter, you can decide that you want to move to a smaller town for a change of pace when your lease period is up. You could then decide, after a year away from the metropolitan hubbub, that you want to be back amidst mass-transit and bustle and skyscrapers.

That flexibility disappears to a large degree once you plant your flag in one house in one neighborhood in one city. You could always sell the house and move, but the number of frictions between you and any kind of fundamental change increases dramatically.

Another component of this conversation, right now, unfortunately, is related to shifts in population density and climate that’ll likely happen over the course of the next decade or two.

Washington state, to my knowledge, is in a pretty good spot, all things considered, in terms of near-future climate change adjustments. But low-lying regions may experience more flooding, areas that already face extreme conditions may experience even more extreme conditions more regularly, and certain pests (including disease-carriers, like ticks) will be an issue across larger swathes of geography than is currently the case.

This is an issue pretty much anywhere you go right now, and there’s no perfect prediction model that can tell us what to expect, to what degree and how soon. But it’s worth keeping in mind: in part because that might help determine where to get a house if you opt for that as a next step, but also because it’s arguably a feather in the cap of the “keep things flexible” path.

It also sounds like there’s at least a little bit of travel-ambition in both of you, which could very well be a tougher itch to scratch if you build yourself a nest and settle into it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—part of why you would settle in is that it would probably be super cozy and awesome—but it could accidentally put the kibosh on travel ambitions even if you buy the house and plan to travel, on the side.

Now, all that said, there are some very good reasons to invest in a home, as well.

Among them is that a home is, in fact, an investment. There’s research that goes both ways on this, but some numbers still show that homes are good investments, especially in places that have good work and infrastructure adjacency, and in places that are near-certain to keep growing in the future. It’s therefore—if you choose the right place in the right area—a way to convert the money you would otherwise be molting away as a pure expense (rent) into an investment.

Putting down roots is often another way of saying “building stronger relationships with a place and the people living there,” which is can be beneficial in terms of overall happiness and in terms of personal growth. There’s a lot to be learned from travel, and from meeting people who are wildly different from you, living in very different places. But there’s also growth potential in building deeper relationships with people who live nearby—which is something that’s difficult, if not impossible to do unless you have that adjacency over time.

You could also, conceivably, buy a house, live in it part of the time, and then travel the rest of the time—either as a typical vacation, based on what work allows, or as part of a change in lifestyle where you work remotely or live part of the year elsewhere.

I know people who have bought a house as sort of an anchor, and as an investment, who live in it half the year, and then rent it out the other half, using what they make from that rental to pay their mortgage, and to pay for part of their expenses wherever else they choose to live for that six-month away period.

I know other people who have invested in a house, opting for something smaller than they originally planned, less-expensive than they could afford, so that they could buy a cheaper house in a more rural part of the country, as well, giving them options in terms of renting one or the other out if they choose, or living a flexible, urban-rural lifestyle; two investments, but also two options that they can take advantage of whenever they like.

A lot of what’s feasible here will depend on income, of course, and your shared ability to continue to earn such an income. It will also depend on time, which tends to be the even bigger determinant of whether a person or couple can travel than money, in a lot of cases.

It does sound like you both are keen to see more of the world, and that you’re genuinely concerned that settling in would be great, but would also limit you.

I think this is a valid concern, and it’s worth working that stress, and the potential for future anxiety and regret, into your formula as you figure out which option or combination of options to aim for.

I suspect it’s possible for you to build something with structure and stability that also allows you to expose yourself to new things and people and ideas, but it may require some kind of change at the core level, especially if time gets in the way of ever acting on those ambitions.

It may be worth looking around to see what other options you both might have, career-wise, to see if there could be something available that would give you more time-freedom, while keeping the income levels somewhere near what you currently enjoy; though there’s nothing wrong with taking a pay cut if you get more freedom in the trade-off.

Keep in mind, if you do choose to see what’s available on the job market, that one of the more demotivating, energy-draining things a person can do is work a job they hate, that is physically or psychologically or morally degrading, or that doesn’t align with their values. So such a search should ideally be informed by those concerns, as well.

It would truly suck to find a job that pays well and that allows you the requisite time off, but which leaves you feeling like an empty husk of a person, completely unmotivated to do much more than space out and attempt to recover at the end of a long work period.

One more point of consideration: you can make absolutely any path you choose to take a happy and fulfilling one.

When we have this kind of discussion, it’s not about choosing between good and bad options, it’s about choosing between neutral paths that you can make of whatever you like.

So whatever you choose to do, do it well, enjoy what you’ve built, and continue to tweak and iterate your plans and actions as you learn and grow and change.

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