As we approach our wedding (a week from Friday), my fiancé and I have begun a conversation about buying a house. We love our jobs and our friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, plus we’re close to family, so it seems like it might be the right time to commit to staying for a while and investing in a home. The problem is, we also love our neighborhood, and there aren’t very many houses for sale here.
If you want to buy in my neighborhood on the East Side of Milwaukee (just north of downtown), you’re either looking at a condo or a duplex where you’re renting out one of the units and living in the other. My fiancé is adamant that he doesn’t want to deal with a condo association (his time as a realtor has shown him how fickle and risky they can be, and the condo market’s not great in our city anyway) and neither of us wants to become landlords.
So we’re at an impasse. Either we keep renting in the neighborhood we’ve come to call home—a neighborhood with his barber, our pet food store, my gym, a beautiful library, several grocery stores, our favorite restaurants, and good friends, all within walking distance and steps from Lake Michigan—or we begin to consider other neighborhoods.
We have two good friends who live upstairs in our apartment building and one of them just bought a house on the opposite side of the city. She got an excellent deal in a lovely historic neighborhood and I’m sure she’ll be very happy there. But I can’t help thinking about how different her life will be in a much more residential and less walkable place (not to mention how we’ll miss being able to hang out with her at the drop of a hat).
I know there is a neighborhood out there that we can learn to love and that might offer a lot of what we have in our current neighborhood (perhaps newer and better things even). But for now, I’m having a hard time imagining giving all of this up, just so I can own a plot of land.
I have concerns about buying a home beyond just switching neighborhoods, but I’m making my peace with those because I know that each of those drawbacks has a benefit that outweighs it: The added maintenance responsibilities also mean that we have control over the design of our space. The financial risk of purchasing a home also means we stand to financially gain from this investment. The lack of flexibility that comes with committing to purchase a house also means we get to commit to a neighborhood and become active participants in it (something I've struggled with as a renter). But what's the upside of leaving my amazing neighborhood? Discovering new businesses and meeting new people? Perhaps.
Part of me wishes I could just be one of those people on an HGTV show where my “must-haves” are only things like “open floor plan” and “master bedroom suite," and I could care less about where the house is actually located. But I’m a strong citizen, and the ability to safely walk places, to not rely on a car for every trip outside the house and to live in a place where people are connected and caring—these are all vital to me.
I think the next step for us is deciding what amenities we need within walking distance— a grocery store, a few restaurants and cafes, and a gym come to mind—and which we can do without. The pet food store and the barber shop, for instance, are places we only visit once a month, so we can probably manage without those close by. The friends...well I'd hate to be farther away from good friends, but a new neighborhood might mean making new friends. Plus, as my friends get older, they may also be making the same decisions that we are and potentially moving out of our neighborhood to buy homes elsewhere.
I know that life (and marriage) are about sacrifices, so choosing a home will be no different, and it's an enormous place of privilege to even worry about making this choice. And yet, it still keeps me up at night. What must we give up to become homeowners?
For those of you reading, I’m genuinely curious how you made the decision to buy your first home. Did you buy in the neighborhood you already lived in or a completely new place? What factors did you consider when choosing your neighborhood (schools, commute time, etc.)? What did you gain or lose when you bought your first home?