Big Reasons Not to Buy a House
Homeownership comes with its share of headaches. That's why some prefer to abstain.
Being a homeowner isn't for everyone.(Getty Images)
Living in your own house is the American dream. At least, that's what everyone is told – by the government, by Hollywood, by our friends and family. It's an idea a lot of people buy into, and it's understandable. You get the wrong landlord and some lousy neighbors in an apartment building, and anyone might quickly want their own house.
But buying a house isn't for everyone. So if you're looking for counterarguments, or you simply want to feel better about your current living situation, let's review some pitfalls of homeownership.
Houses are time-consuming. If you feel time is money, you could wind up utterly broke once you factor in all the time it takes to keep up the maintenance. For instance, Samantha Boles, president of her own security company, Automated Security I.S., in Houston, says, "I hate living in a house."
She admits that it wasn't always this way. "I feel like homes are for couples and families with children," says Boles, who has been divorced for seven years and has three children, one of whom is in college and another, in the Navy.
"Four more years and counting," Boles says, referring to when she can dump her house, adding that her teen daughter is well aware of Boles' displeasure with homeownership. "She jokes that I will be in the auditorium at her high school graduation with my bags packed."
Boles says she isn't a do-it-yourself type of person. "The sheer upkeep is exhausting and expensive," she says. "Every time an appliance breaks, I have to call a repairman."
It gets expensive, especially the $400 a month for a yard service.
"If I lived in an apartment, I would save money and be able to call the maintenance man for free if something broke," she says.
It's being able to call maintenance that has kept Esfira Shakhmurova from becoming a homeowner. And she is a real estate agent.
Shakhmurova, who also owns a salon specializing in hair removal and electrolysis, lives in New York City. She has lived in an apartment for over 20 years and says she will never buy a house.
"I've seen endless tasks that come with the house," Shakhmurova says. "From outdoor problems of lawn, patio and structural defects to indoor problems of plumbing, electrical and possible mold and lead issues. Now, I'm not saying that you don't have these headaches in an apartment," Shakhmurova adds, "but the price you pay … provides someone to take care of this work for you. If the roof leaks, you don't worry about it because the superintendent will take care of it."
Houses are expensive. Even if you don't feel time is money, or not in this case, and you love being DIYer, maintenance projects are expensive. Shakhmurova mentioned a leak in a roof. At some point, if you're a homeowner, and you live in your home long enough, your roof is going to wear out, and you're going to have to buy a new one. According to Angie's List, professionals charged between $5,000 and $12,000 to replace a standard 2,200- to 2,600-square-foot roof in 2014; and Angie's List members reported paying an average of $11,905 to remove and replace a roof last year.
Even if you manage to get away with never replacing your roof or siding or your water heater, simply paying money to be handed that front door key is a reach. The national median price for a single-family home in the second quarter of 2015 was $229,400, according to the National Association of Realtors. But again, that's the median. If you live in the San Jose, California, the most expensive market in the country, the median for a single-family home is $980,000. (On the other side of the spectrum, Cumberland, Maryland, is the cheapest metro area; you can buy a single-family home for $82,400.)
But the costs go far beyond the monthly mortgage payment, says Ron Throupe, associate professor at the Franklin R. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the University of Denver. "There are many additional fees," he says, including: "The principal interest, property taxes, property insurance, homeowners association fees and home-maintenance costs."
He adds that you'll likely need to buy a lot of things for the house at the beginning of your move, too, from new furniture and appliances to a snow shovel or lawn mower.
There may be too much freedom. One reason apartment dwellers consider moving is that they're tired of all the rules. They may not be able to have a family member crash on the couch for a month if that family member needs a place to stay. They may want to blast the stereo but know they can't without being reported. Someone living in an apartment may want to paint his or her walls but can't.
And wanting freedom from those rules is a perfectly good reason to move out and buy your own place. But you may end up missing those rules, according to Sid Savara, a technical product manager and software engineer in Honolulu.
Savara, who has lived in homes, says that for the past few years he has lived in apartment complexes and may well never go back.
"The biggest benefit to me are the rules," Savara says. "I like that if someone is making noise at 10 p.m., I don't need to call the police. I just call our on-site manager and security, and they take care of it."
Granted, some apartment complexes are small enough that calling a landlord or manager at 2 a.m. to deal with noisy neighbors isn't exactly easy, and plenty of neighbors have homeowners associations, or you can often report a neighbor to your local government if you don't like that he or she has a rusting automobile in an overgrown front yard.
But Savara does have a point. An apartment complex generally has a lot of restrictions that you may find you like, and those rules often attract like-minded people.
"I never have to call in to actually have the rules enforced," Savara says. "Having the rules written down means that folks self-select … They want to have a certain style of living. In this case, peace and quiet."
And there simply may not be as much freedom as you think in a house. If your neighbors are unpleasant, you can sell your home, but selling a house is far more difficult than switching apartments. You may even find that you can't really sell your house without losing money if property values plummet and you owe the bank more than the home is worth. Living in a house could even cost you a better job. Two years ago, a study released by the Peterson Institute of International Economics suggested that as a state's homeownership goes up, its unemployment often does as well. The thinking: If you're anchored to a house, you can't as easily uproot and move to an area where there are a lot of jobs.
None of this means you shouldn't buy a house. If owning a house were all that terrible, nobody would have one. But if your home-owning friends or family members ever look at you in wonder because you're singing the praises of apartment living, you may want to look back at them with equal curiosity. Do they really think you're crazy, or are they just jealous?