Playing house is not my next adventure

January 4 | Guest post by Ashley Lauren
Photo by superawesomecoolkid. Used under Creative Commons license.
We know life isn't a race. We know we're not in competition with our friends. And yet, watching as their picks lead them to different adventures, it's all but impossible not to wonder what we're missing out on.
-Undecided by Barbara and Shannon Kelley

I grew up in a house my parents owned. All of my friends grew up in houses their parents owned. I think I knew one person in high school whose father lived in an apartment, and that was because he was recently separated from my friend's mother, and he moved out of the house that they owned.

In my middle class upbringing, home-ownership was much more than the American Dream. It was just reality, and it was something I assumed would happen to me when I grew up.

Except I got my first job straight out of undergrad, and it was far enough away from home that I had to move and get an apartment. It paid just enough for me to make ends meet. After that, I moved back in with my mom and went into graduate school — paid for out of pocket — and there, I met my husband. We got married with almost no savings and WE got an apartment. And we liked it. No mowing the lawn, no purchasing appliances, no empty rooms — how can you argue with that?

We're at that age where wedding invitations come like rain in spring. We've been to more weddings than we can count, and all of our closest friends almost immediately moved out of their parents' houses and into beautiful, big, four-bedroom, three-bathroom houses with the intent to fill them up with babies as soon as they furnished the rooms. I'd walk into their comparative mansions and be struck with a pang of envy. Their cozy fireplaces and huge kitchens could afford me the entertaining opportunities I could never have in our apartment. So we started looking at houses.

Our search began with houses the size of our friends', but ended abruptly when we decided babies were most likely not in our future. Then, we looked at town homes and condos, only to realize that sharing a wall again was not ideal. Then, we looked at smaller houses, all of which had something seriously wrong with them because they were much older, as no one seems to be building modest-sized houses anymore. Then, our realtor said to me, "Ashley, you're going to have to be the one to pick this house. You're the woman, and women are the ones that play house." Direct quote.

I snapped, and we decided not only to fire our realtor, but to quit looking all together. His ridiculous generalization made me realize something: I didn't grow up playing house. In fact, when my friends wanted to play house, I persuaded them to do something different. Playing house never appealed to me. Now that we are grown up, I'm seeing my friends' adventures as the only option rather than one in a series of choose-your-own endings.

We haven't picked our ending yet — far from it. But knowing we can is the first step to happiness at home.

  1. It's funny how easy it is to assume that what you grew up with is what "everyone" does, and definately what you'll do when you grow up, even when you know there's a ton of other possibilities.

    I was thinking it's weird that so many people make a big deal out of sharing a wall and then it hit me – I think that way because I grew up in a house that shared a wall with our neighbours. As a kid I didn't think anything of it if we happened to hear them. Actually at night I made a point of telling myself all the noises were the neighbours or the cats, because otherwise it might be the ghost.

    So I didn't think twice about it when I moved into a flat and had to share a wall, but the lack of garden did bother me because I'd always had one and automatically assumed I always would. Having no where to have BBQs sucks!

    I am still set on one day owning my own house. I'm too much of a control freak not to, I hate having to ask a landlord who doesn't even live here before I can change anything in my own home and not having a say in how repairs are done and who does them. (Also it's virtually impossible to find a rental around here that allows pets.)

    But the same logic still applies to other things. How many of my 'requirements' for a possible home are things I really want or need and how many are rooted in assumptions about how "everyone" lives?

    Edit: Oh and I agree absolutely on one other point as well – I'd have fired any realtor who said that to me too!

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  2. I'm glad that you fired that agent! I would have done the same thing.

    Sit down with your guy and make a list of exactly what you want in a house. Then, go through and keep looking until you find it.

    Also, extra rooms don't have to be for babies. They could be used for guests, movie room, artist studios (soooo, looking forward to this for me), libraries, offices, meditation / yoga spaces etc. Just be creative and try to use the extra space for however it suits you best. =)

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    • Agree! We each have our own 'extra' room in our house, and mine is going to be a napping/reading/computer space.

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    • Agreed! I've always fantasised about having a library in my house, even one that's actually a tiny back bedroom full of books. In my imagination it means I actually have space for all my books to be shelved properly and somewhere I can read without being disturbed by the TV.

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    • Chrissy – I love the idea of making an actual, written list and coming back to it until we find what we want. People have been telling us to decide on two or three "non-negotiables," but I happen to believe that, if you're spending that much money on something, it should have exactly what you want!

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      • Exactly. Also, there is a lot of houses to choose from in the market today (mainly due to all the foreclosures). So you have the inventory and it sounds like you have the time to do so.

        Instead of having a Realtor choose a few to look at for you, maybe look on your own online. Websites like Trulia.com & Zillow.com both pull their feeds from the exact same source that the agents use (fmls and mls). I only know because I worked for a number of years at a real estate company along side the agents. =) Most have several pictures and you can easily do a drive-by to scope out the neighborhood. When you find one you like, call an agent and ask them if you can view the house. Then go from there.

        Side Note: I have absolutely nothing against Realtors/agents. I love ya'll too. Just sometimes its easier for the person to look on their own and then contact the agent when paperwork needs to be done.

        Side Note #2: It might be worth mentioning what your Realtor did to you, to the Realtor's broker (just call the company office he works with and ask for his broker). They are ultimately in charge of the agent and if anything, will talk to the agent about what happened. Not necessary telling on the agent, just informing them why you won't be using them again.

        3 agree
      • Yes and no – my parents bought a less-than-ideal house in a neighborhood that they liked, and then fixed it up themselves over the next several years. It took an addition and a lot of work, but they eventually ended up with exactly the home that they wanted, and they most likely wouldn't have found it just waiting there on the market for them. You shouldn't have to do anything that feels like settling, but if you're willing to put in the effort, you can make "exactly what you want" happen for you from several different starting points.

        3 agree
  3. Whoa, that guy did NOT know who he was talking to! That's the sort of thing that people say to me sometimes and i just don't know how to respond. I'm glad you snapped.

    It is too bad that houses keep getting bigger even though families keep getting smaller. I don't understand that. We wound up buying a larger house than we needed just because we couldn't find a smaller one that had a decent-sized kitchen.

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    • "It is too bad that houses keep getting bigger even though families keep getting smaller."

      Agreed! I read somewhere that the average home size in the 50s was about 1000sf and a few years ago it was up to 2400sf. That's a HUGE increase!

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    • Agreed about house size! We lived in a one bedroom apartment that would have been perfect if it weren't for the phonebooth sized kitchen (and even SMALLER bathroom). The bedroom itself was huge and I would not have minded losing some of that space that was occupied by dirty laundry to have a larger kitchen and an actually decent bathroom.

      We apartment hunted a few times and could never find something quite right- now we're lucky enough to have inherited a house with a good kitchen. And three extra bedrooms. What. At least we'll have an office each.

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  4. Holy crap. So glad you fired that agent.

    We rent our house, which is the best of all worlds. We get space and a yard (which we love), but we can badger our landlord to fix things when they are broken. And we have a good landlord, so we're lucky.

    But we love being outside and working on the yard (we've cleaned it up CONSIDERABLY since the last tenant, we even put in part of a new fence by ourselves) and I love having space to have a garden. Even if we do have a nasty deer and woodchuck problem.

    We have three extra rooms and no babies (and no plans to have any anytime soon, if ever). One is our guest room. The other teeny one is my craft room. Another is our office. It's fantastic.

    P.S. Our house was built in 1941. I love our hardwood floors and crown molding and old-fashioned wood sash windows and hot water radiators and fireplace and two enclosed porches. But I understand it's not for everyone.

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    • Sarah, we are thinking about renting a house when our lease is up for the apartment we are in now. I think that's a great idea, because it will give us the chance to test out having a house to see if we like it without having to settle in to a mortgage. We're both planners, so that is actually a really great idea!

      When I said I didn't want an older house, I really meant one that was built in the 1970's or 80's. I'd love an OLD older house!

      1 agrees
      • What's wrong with houses built in the '70s and '80s? Real question, I have no idea what might be wrong with them.

        (I live in an area where most houses were built before 1900)

        1 agrees
        • Nothing, generally. Except that if the owners hadn't done much work on the house for whatever reason, costly things are going to need to be replaced very soon… like the water heater, other appliances, the roof, etc. and we don't want to have to spend that kind of money right away.

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          • Also, as someone who grew up in a tract built in the 70's, a lot of that construction was put up very fast with not the best materials or attention to detail so it doesn't last as well as older homes which were built to last forever.

            Not only can the roof be bad, but the wiring and plumbing – or in my mom's case, the entire front facade because they used a building materials that was 1/2 inch narrower than is now required by code.

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        • Well, a house built in the 70's would probably have asbestos unless it's already been retrofitted out of there.

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          • It depends on the area, the builder and when it was built. In my town, for instance, a LOT of the building was doing in the 60's. The house my husband and I bought is from 1965. It does have some cosmetic things that need updating, and it will need a new roof very soon, but as long as you know ahead of time what it needs (Get a home inspection!!!) then you're fine. Do be aware of the possibility that there's asbestos tile under the kitchen linoleum though if it's a 60s or 70s house. Also check for insulation in the walls.
            It happens that our house was built by a particular builder who was known for quality and being more thorough than necessary, so all of his houses are actually BETTER than a lot of the houses built much more recently. A lot of corners were cut during the most recent housing boom if my parents' experience is anything to go by.
            I think, basically (and I'm rambling I'm sure) that the trick is just be aware of what you're buying. Something old can be fantastic or falling apart, but something new can be just as good or bad. Make no assumptions.

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      • Yay! I grew up first in a house built in 1901, then spent teenagehood in a house built around 1970. And I have to say, I preferred the 1970 one! Of course, it had been extensively updated when my parents bought it. It is a four-level split (two story house cut in half with one half with a floor above ground and a floor totally below ground and the other half with a floor partially below ground and the other a second storey) and there was tons of storage, three bathrooms, a living room and family room, a finished basement, and a dining room and deck off the kitchen. Parts of it are still a little ghetto ('70s wood cabinets in the kitchen and family room, wrought-iron railings on the split staircase) and my parents did quite a bit of work after we moved in (front patio/stairs with wrought iron "pillars" to a cute deck with a swing; redid the back deck; new appliances). But it was (and still is) pretty perfect.

        That being said, casement windows really SUCK when it comes to conserving energy and the attic is just a crawl space and there's no central air and it gets really hot in the summertime. And the upstairs bedrooms (parents and sister – mine was in the half-basement) are sweltering hot in the summertime and freezing cold in the winter (baseboard heat also sucks). But it was a wonderful house to grow up in. My sister and I had our own bathrooms (WHAT? I know.) and my bedroom had a waist-high shelf around two of the walls – perfect for books.

        I still love my rental house more. My only beef? Kitchen's not really eat-in and there's no dining room, so our table takes up part of the living room, which is a bit small. And only one teeny tiny bathroom. BUT, the screened-in side porch with a stone fireplace and the front glassed-in porch and the fireplace in the living room more than make up for that.

        If you are going to rent a house, make sure you get a good landlord, or you might find yourself living with broken things your landlord refuses to fix. And since it's just you and not an entire apartment building of people, they may be less likely to fix things.

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  5. Thank you. I need affirmation like this. Life sometimes does feel like a race to me. But it's not. And I forget.

    I too feel house envy now that (some of) my friends have started buying houses and having babies. But I am the girl who always balked at owning a home, pets and babies. If I think about where I want to be in life, it does not necessarily include a house. It does include my partner and the university. Apartments are fine by me. There are more options and adventures in life, you're right.

    But carving out your own path is scary, so please say it's worth it.

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    • It's worth it! If you don't, I think eventually you'll probably look back at everything and think: "I'm not happy!" and change it all anyway.

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    • IT'S WORTH IT!!! If you just own a home because it's what you or others think it's what you're supposed to do, you'll have a particularly rough midlife crisis. I was a very observant child with older parents and I saw this pattern in I don't even know how many of their friends. Do what makes YOU happy now. Plan ahead for the future YOU want. It's worth it, no matter how many times you second guess yourself. The traditional American dream is comfortable for many people, but if it's not for you don't go with it. There are many paths to comfort and happiness.

      1 agrees
      • Thanks! I think I am experiencing a bit of a quarterlife crisis now. Or a major 'ack-what-do-I-do-after-my-degree' crisis. I'm 25, married over a year and ready to start a career (overseas??!). Feels daunting, I tell you.
        But you guys are right, doing stuff now because you think it's expected/everyone does it is NOT a good idea.

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  6. Most of my friends have student loans, and much more interesting things to do rather than settle down with a big house. My partner and I "bought" our house without a realtor (we found the house and the whole process went by quicker than we could even think about getting one), but with financial help from both our parents, since neither of us have any real capital saved up. However, we knew we'd be in our city long-term, and there was no sense in renting anymore. But we were able to get our big 5-bedroom house by having three roommates along with the two of us! So, there are lots of workarounds to getting a home that is the right fit!

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  7. thank you for reminding me that life is NOT a race. I didn't even realize I've totally been looking at it that way and it's been stressing me out. My husband and baby live in a tiny 1 bedroom duplex. Luckily, it has a walk-in closet big enough for a crib. :) I really hate the kitchen but I love the windows and huge basement. I've been freaking myself out about moving asap, but the more I think about it, the more I think we can fit here for a while longer.

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    • This! I've had to remind myself that on more than one occasion – I'm almost 24 (birthday next week!) and by my age, my older siblings were both married, with houses and babies coming shortly after. I'm not anywhere close to any of those things and in fact, am trying to go to law school this next year, which could throw those goals several years down the timeline. It's taken a lot of conversations with myself to realize that it's not a competition and it's /my/ decision to live my life the way I want to- and if that means renting for the next two decades, there's nothing wrong with that!

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      • Most of my friends, and myself, didn't get married until we were in our 30s, and kids came in mid-to-late 30s. So don't worry, there are lots of us out there who don't "settle down" in our mid 20s.

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  8. Ha, we're totally in a different place right now. I'm 6 months pregnant and we just went under contract for our first house. If everything works out, we'll be moving into our very own 1200 sq ft 3 bedroom house next month and I couldn't be more excited. It's been a battle to get this far as neither my husband nor myself were particularly smart about our credit when we were younger. And 4 years ago before meeting my husband, I would have never imagined myself settled down like this. It's an adventure for us: the house was built in 1919 & was a foreclosure & then an investment property so it's been completely redone. And really, it's just a smart decision for us right now between interest rates and prices. We're actually saving money by buying rather than continuing renting.

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  9. After over a decade of tiny city apartment living, I just bought my first house… all. by. myself!
    Built in 1947, just 1100 sq. feet, perfect for just me, my kitteh, a big craft room, and weekend guests.
    I always thought that home ownership was something to be done after I secured a husband. But, at 33 and happily single, despite living in a town of McMansions and young marrieds, I realized that it is possible to have the girly house of my dreams and not have to share it with a man or babies…just yet.

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    • Woo-hoo! Decor decisions are ALL YOURS! Enjoy it, girlie.

      1 agrees
  10. Way to go on firing that douchebag realtor and way to go on being honest with yourself about what you want as opposed to what is expected of you. I enjoyed hearing your story.

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  11. omg i can't believe that agent said that! As a Realtor, that would NEVER be anything I would think of saying. That almost actually goes against the Realtor ethics code!

    Anyway, this is great post! Be honest with yourself and I promise, your home will find you – whatever type of dwelling you decide on :)

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  12. In my area, British Columbia, there's actually a lot of smaller houses being built. There are one bedroom ones coming up in a development outside my town– as small as apartments, but on your own land (teeny yard). Some are a little bigger– but I think it is a good idea. If you make a house more efficient, you need less space, which reduces the price. Although, the average house prices in the capital are almost $500,000 for a little 1950's bungalow (not updated). I came from a little town an hour away from Vancouver, where $500,000 would set you up on 5 acres and a lovely home… major reality check. All the large apartments in our area are senior only, all the teeny ones that have zero living space allow kids and pets. It's ridiculous. I really want a family– it's really hard to find options for affordable (reasonable!) housing.

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    • Kitty – It's amazing, isn't it? How, even as people are talking about the economy plummeting, it's still almost impossible to find something for the price you'd like to pay?

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  13. Hi everyone! All of these props for firing our realtor are making me smile. Believe it or not, I thought he was a really good realtor until he said that, so I wondered if we should go through with getting rid of him, but I think we made the right decision. You need someone who understands your vision to sell you a house.

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  14. I'm looking to buy right now. The rental market around here has been getting crazier ever since I married nearly ten years ago, and my husband and I are sick of having to move ever year and a half or so. We've had some really
    bad experiences over the years with apartment complexes. Mostly a combo of poor management and rude neighbors. One apartment we had constant maintence issues, and repairs could take months. (we were without a working kitchen sink and dishwasher for almost two months). We moved to a more expensive luxury complex hoping to get better service, and while the maintence was much better, the neighbors were awful. The largest two bedroom apartments were $2000 a month, and they would rent them to large groups of college students would used them as private dorms. There would be loud parties at the pool past 2am most weekends, and then they would hang out outside their apartment to talk and smoke for hours later. The only thing we could do was call the hired security company or the police in extreme situations. In either case it took over an hour to get anyone out, which isn't helpful when it's already 1am and you have to work the next morning.
    So then we tried renting houses, one of which got sold out from under us after a year, and the other we got thrown our after our lease was up because the owner blamed us for a rat infestation even though the exterminator said from the extent of the damage that the rats had already been there for years.

    Right now we're renting a town home in a small complex. It's nice and it's more family oriented so the neighbors have been good. We'd stay here, but with child number two on the way a two bedroom isn't going to cut it anymore and this is the largest unit. Plus with the sky rocketing rents around here our monthly expenses on a house in our price range will actually be cheaper.

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  15. I knew for a long time before my husband and I bought our tiny 1950 house that I wanted a home base. My sister on the other hand travels the world, we each want different things. She panics if she owns furniture, it is too much pressure for her. I like having my own place, I want pets and a garden.
    Unless you are ready, really ready don't buy a house just because everyone else it doing it. Owning a home is a lot of responsibility. Mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance.
    My husband and I made our list of all the things we wanted in house, we were very clear about our budget and then we started looking at homes. We knew we wanted an older home and we wanted to live in the older part of town. We looked at 7 houses and found the right 900 sq foot house. It has been updated in the kitchen and bathroom, it has the original hardwood floors and a 700 sq. foot studio space out back. It has an updated electrical panel so that I can run my kiln and it has sky lights in the studio. We knew when we saw this home that it is the right place for us. All we had to contend with was the offer that was already in place before we saw it. It worked out in our favor and we have our own tiny house, just us and our cats. Because we don't have kids and are not planning to have kids a small house is the right choice for us. We live on Vancouver Island and even though the city we live in is not very big, about 86,000 population, houses are still quite expensive here, our little place with an undersize lot, was still a quarter of a million dollars.

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  16. That realtor makes me so mad! You don't assume things like that. I'd have fired him/her on the spot.

    As for that, my husband and I started looking for house over summer–not because we want to fill it up with babies–but because buying was cheaper than renting here. We had a very firm budget in mind, but we kept getting pushed to see houses 150% higher than our highest offer. We ended up not buying when our church offered us the church apartment at a super discounted rate. We couldn't love it more! Its not the usual setup, but we can't complain! Its gorgeous and perfect for a pastor-in-training.

    1 agrees
    • We were living in a college town and same situation- buying a house was cheaper than monthly rent. We just moved in and are in the process of renovating our little old house ourselves. McMansions aren't for us and babies won't happen for some time yet, but we are enjoying the process of making something beautiful.

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  17. I think ultimately you need to do what makes you happy. And if you and hubby are happy keep on keeping on. Maybe one day you will want a house, maybe one day you wont. I agree that you don't have to do everything you thought you would be doing.

    I honestly never thought I would move back to Sask and buy a house…but job markets were a reality as was the incredible lack of renting (less than 1% vacancy rate, and a huge homeless populace). We ended up buying and I am surprisingly happy, as an architect this house became my muse in a lot of ways. I can do what I want to it, I can make big plans to replace pieces of my house with recycled shipping railcars, I can paint, I can tear walls, cut holes in floors, replace appliances, build interior green walls… its my lab of sorts. For me I love experimenting with my surroundings and I never realized how much an apartment can stifle me in that way. But that is what is important to me, I wouldn't expect that out of anyone.

    I don't think kids denote a house, or a house denotes kids. Obviously it may change some factors of the apartment/condo/house/railcar/ whatever you decide to live in. But any decision about housing is about the people (not the person "playing house") who want to live there.

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  18. I think a big part of home ownership too is that it's really tied into the North American identity – and what's just expected of people in US and Canada to do once you become an adult. In Europe and other parts of the world it's a lot more common to just rent for your entire life, and more acceptable because houses are so expensive – but it's getting that way here too! There is no way I am going to buy a house with the way prices are, sure there is the whole equity aspect of home ownership and I know a lot of people strongly identify with a feeling of security in owning your own home and having a place to call their own – but I can't handle the idea of either paying more than I can afford for the place I really want OR choosing a place I can afford and just hating it, because that is the reality of the real estate market where I live right now. Of course where I rent, I have a wonderful landlord and I live in my favourite neighborhood and I don't think I could ask for a better apartment – it has everything! My own grandpa even said, it is better to rent and have enough money to live and be happy – than to own a house you don't like, in a neighborhood you dislike, and not be able to afford to live because it's not like you can take that house with you when you die. Good words to live by! ;)

    1 agrees
  19. We went through 3 realtors before we found THE ONE. Seriously. A great realtor is your key. My realtor was so kooky I loved her. I also, like others suggested, did a TON of my own homework. I looked nightly on realtor.com and tullia. I ALMOST bought a few houses that werent everything I wanted. I am soooo glad they fell through. We were NOT in a hurry to buy, so we had time. And we took that time. We looked for over a year and made TWO offers that fell through due to various things. BE PREPARED for that! I had JUST decided to take a break for awhile because I was feeling pressured and frustrated when I found my dream house in an area I had never even considered before. So my advise is DONT settle. There will ALWAYS be some compromises you will make. Price. Location. Amenities. But make sure they arent deal breakers for you. I found my house quite by accident and the moment I walked in I knew it was my house. You will know too!!!

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  20. Thank you for this. There are so many aspects of the cookie-cutter life that I do not buy into, and I cannot say how wonderful it is to hear it affirmed that I am not alone in this.

    1 agrees
  21. I really want to play house, and am very impatient for when my husband and I can afford to get a place that we own and don't rent. But if our realtor (we used one to find our current condo) had said anything like that to me, I would have probably given the husband a look and walked out on the spot.

    Not everyone wants the same thing, and I loved this post. Thank you!!

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  22. So here's a little story. Mister Rage and I were in a long distance relationship for about four or five years before we decided to take the plunge and get our own place. We started talking about how we were going to go about it and we thought that it made better financial sense to buy a place from the get-go rather than to rent, especially given the state of South Africa's property market and economy. So, we stuck it out for two more years and saved up until we had enough for a deposit/down payment and we bought the end of last year.

    Now, the thing that annoys me the MOST is that EVERYBODY is telling us a variation of either "cohabitation before marriage will doom your relationship" and "seriously, I can't believe how you guys were together so long without living together – I could NEVER get married before living together!"
    I find myself constantly explaining to people that this is NOT the "Marriage Audition" because 1) marriage is not some kind of "finish line" for relationships and 2) because Mister Rage and I don't plan on doing it any time soon either. People seem to think that we are "testing our relationship" while in reality, this is IT – we're in it for the long haul, vows or not. It's not any less "important" than marriage because we bought a house together – it made financial sense to pay our own bond instead of someone else's and we wanted to start our lives together, it just so happens that we decided to do it without any exchange of rings.

    So PLEASE do not let anyone give you the "playing house" crap. In fact, I find the term "playing house" extremely, utterly condescending – especially when it's aimed at women and MORE especially when said woman (like yours truly) does not want children! Find an estate agent that understands you and WANTS to help you – we've also had a shop around a bit before we found an AMAZING lady who was with us every step of the way. A bond originator will also help you a LOT – do consider it! :)

    PS – we have a two-bedroom house because quite frankly, we both HATE cleaning and we just need something big enough for the two of us and since we don't want kids, said spare room has been turned into a study/office/music studio :)

    0 agree

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