House envy, again

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 3, 2017, 12:00 PM | comments: 1

What follows is kind of a ridiculous rant where I explore inner conflict and the ridiculousness that comes with having a lot of opportunity. It is not intended to take a position on anything, and it's mostly a brain dump so I can think about something else.

Last summer, I was quite enamored with my brother-in-law's new house near Seattle. The lot was up against some protected land full of evergreens, it was quiet, and the air... I can't really explain how the air is different up there, except to say it's better. I remember lying in the guest bed, windows open, and thinking, "This is amazing." However, the bigger thing is that they had a lot of room to spread out, and the room he had in his office in particular was fantastic.

Now my best friend and her husband are building a house near us, and I'm getting those feelings of envy again. They have the similar situation where there is room to spread out, and more office space. I'm not hung up here on status or appearances, for me this is the issue that I work at home and sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in a little. Also, Diana is squeezed into her sewing room with the long arm machine, and Simon's stuff is just spread out everywhere. It's not that we don't have enough room, it's that the distribution of it is all wrong. We have a loft area that we don't use and it seems like the patio and porch are poor uses of space. We also complain that the windows aren't large enough, or there aren't enough of them.

The problem is that no one builds houses that have the same amount of space but fewer rooms. I suppose as a family of three, maybe we're outliers, but we don't need so many damn rooms. More room to move around is what we would prefer. Thus the house envy.

Now, "they" say that you shouldn't spend more than 28-36% of your gross income on housing (mortgage, taxes and insurance). That sounds like good advice, though the numbers seem pretty arbitrary. If you make $50k a year, that isn't very much, and if you make a million a year, frankly most of your income is gravy. We spend just under 15%. In fact, our "discretionary" income, which is what's left after all the bills and 401k contributions, is about 27%. When we replace the electric space car with the more sensible one out late this year or next, we can get that up to 32%. I've worked very hard to enable the ability to vacation like it's our job, and that's why we take lots of cruises, do fun things locally and never have to think twice about getting Simon the therapy he needs. Moving to a giant new McMansion would reduce our happy cut down to 20%, which is still substantial-ish.

Part of me still feels the sting of the Cleveland house. A dozen years and nothing to show for it, and that sucked. I did decide, even while living in Seattle, that home ownership was no longer an investment, but rather a lifestyle choice. I don't think you should assume anything about whether or not you'll ever get back what you put into it. This is reasonably liberating thinking, provided that you never land in a negative equity situation. We're at 25% now, which is better than I ever was in my first house. So again, it's a question of lifestyle more than risk, to me. House values can't possibly continue as they are, but on the other hand, we're still looking at new construction well under $120/sq. ft., which is a far cry from the $200+ we saw in Seattle.

I guess the money situation doesn't scare me, and it doesn't even take into account future raises, Diana making money from her quilt empire and other variables. The stress of going through that process again would suck, not to mention selling the existing house. Adulting is hard, and these days I feel uncomfortable being so inwardly focused.



April 6, 2017, 10:46 PM #

I work from home, too. If I lived in a better apartment or house, maybe it would be a less confining-feeling type of situation, but I can't say. I feel like there's equal opportunity for distraction no matter the working situation, because in my situation at least, there's not really someone watching over me in real time making sure I get things done.

I always read that a self-imposed routine helps and that's something I really need to work harder to implement.

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