Stressed About Real Estate

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

After years of saving and pinching pennies, my husband and I are trying to buy our first house. I am what one would describe as a magical thinker about money. “The money will come from somewhere,” is how I tend to think. My husband, on the other hand, is what one would describe as conservative about money. His approach to money involves hard numbers and never spending what one does not have. (He is also a sensible Midwesterner.)

During the past few weeks we have gone into escrow on a house and these weeks have possibly been the most stressful in our 13-year relationship. The nice savings account we accrued will be completely gone, and because we live in a highly desirable city, the house we can afford is a real fixer-upper. Plus we will be leaving a comfortable, spacious, inexpensive rental apartment.

My question for you: is it worth the stress on ourselves and our relationship to buy a house? I still feel it is the best move, even though the next couple of years will be tight to say the least, and our standard of living will go down in every aspect of our lives. My husband is not sure buying makes sense, and would be happiest with the status quo. Any advice on how to make this process easier on both of us?

Warm regards,

Stressed About Real Estate

Dear Stressed About Real Estate,

The Sensible Midwesterner takes great comfort in how clearly you understand the differences – both in terms of financial thinking and in terms of desire to move – between your and your husband. This sets her mind at ease because the answer is to communicate, listen, see things from each others’ points of view, compromise, and come the decision together.

As the Sensible Midwesterner looks at the 102-year-old plaster ceiling in her living room crumble (plaster walls are excellent, they last about 100 years) as the plumber once again works on the downstairs toilet that won’t seems to top running, she cannot, in good conscience and with her whole heart, recommend home ownership.

Yet we want what we want and you’re in escrow, so I’m guessing the stress will be yours. And there are many fine arguments – some of them even financial (mortgage interest is tax deductible! your home costs are an investment!) – in favor of buying over renting, particularly in hot markets where you can imagine the value of the home will increase even as you lock in your monthly payments and you won’t face scary rent increases. These reasons all involve some amount of hard numbers and some magical thinking, and thus should appeal to and comfort both of you.

You ask how to make the process easier on you both. Tough request. Buying a home is inherently stressful since it is both a large financial decision that also involves lots of issues of taste and emotion and expectation. Moving – after death and divorce – is supposedly one of the most stressful things we ever do. Even some of the good things about moving, like excitement and anticipation, we often experience, on a physical level, as stress.

Hopefully you’ve figured out how much talking about stressful things you both need and found a way to balance that in your marriage. Give each other all the benefit of the doubt you can scrape together during this trying time. You both want your family to have a nice place to live where you can all flourish, that you may disagree on the exact specifics of how best to achieve that is fine and you should be able to discuss them as long as you keep that bigger picture in view.

I would also recommend really playing to each others’ strengths as much as possible. Hard numbers-man can look into home values in different neighborhoods, figure out the costs of necessary repairs, etc. Magical thinking-lady can compare lifestyle impacts from different locations, imaging for everyone how your lives will be improved or changed. Have the organized person do the organizing. Divide and conquer as much as possible. Clear duties and expectations, whether it’s looking into schools or boxing the dishes, should also keep unnecessary stress at bay.

Finally, prepare to fight. If you really don’t agree, coming to a decision and then following through on that decision will likely involve a fight or two. I’m guessing you’ll feel like you both decided to do this and you now want everyone to be enthusiastic about it. He may feel like he was a bit railroaded into a move that he doubted was best. You both have your points. As with most issues married folks fight over, both people are right. Fight fair. Don’t bring up old fights during a new one. Try to remember the big picture even as you may feel like cracking a picture right over his sensible head.

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