Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Single Homeowners: Ready to Be Home Alone?

Once upon a time, the "single-family home," despite its misleading name, housed a mom, a dad, two kids, and a dog...or, at the very least, a husband and wife in training for the kids and dog. If Mr. Jones pulled his Chevy into the driveway after a long day of work and disappeared into a dark, quiet house to eat take-out and watch TV by himself, then it was whispered that there must be something wrong with him. Why would one person need all that space? He must be antisocial...or a child molester...or...or...something else bad because everyone knows the key to being a good person is getting someone else to listen to you snore for the rest of your life, right?

These days, "single-family home" often has a more literal meaning as a house where a single adult lives, with or without kids. In case some marrieds are still wondering, singles buy homes for the same reasons you do--for privacy, space, an investment, stability. Apparently, these basic human needs are pretty important to American singles because, in 2008, 30% of home buyers were single according to the National Association of Realtors. Let me rephrase that for added impact: More than a quarter of U.S. home buyers are now living "home alone."

Since homes have declined in value by over 20% since their 2006 peak, now would seem to be the time to buy in for singles who have the means. But before you graduate from paying the rent to paying the mortgage, you should take an honest look at the hidden costs and upkeep required to keep those window boxes blooming and that picket fence sparkling white. Keep these factors in mind when evaluating whether single home ownership is for you:

1. The cost of owning a home extends well beyond the mortgage. It also encompasses property taxes (about 1.5% of the property value), insurance (about .5% of the property value), heating (about $101.20 per month) and electricity (about $1,182 from October to March), and routine maintenance. Some of these costs will vary by location and could be much higher. For instance, if you live in a northern state, the cost to heat your home during the winter months will jump to $2,725. Likewise, if you live in a good school district, expect to pay thousands more per year, such as the good residents of Westchester County, NY, who cough up an average property tax of $7,908 compared to their brethren in Vernon Parish, LA, who owe a scant $115. And the sad fact is that you can't call a landlord when you need a new roof or septic system, either of which can easily run you $20,000. So make sure you prepare yourself and your bank account for these additional expenses.

2. You will need to be your own handyman (or -woman!). Even if you move into a brand new house, sooner or later there will be drains to unplug, electrical outlets to install, major appliances to repair. On a more frequent basis, there will be minor tasks awaiting your tired back after a long day of work--carpets to vacuum, shelves to dust, windows to wash. In your one-bedroom apartment, you may polish off these jobs in an hour on a Saturday morning, but the average size of a house is well over 2,000 sq. ft.! And we're just talking about the inside. Outside, there will be grass to mow, leaves to rake, snow to shovel. Some of these responsibilities you will need to tackle yourself, and others will require you to hire a pro, often for a hefty $75 or $100 an hour, and take the day off to wait for him to (possibly) show up. Think about whether you have the time and physical endurance to be a good housekeeper...or whether you can afford to have someone else do it for you.

3. A house is first and foremost a place to live, not an investment. If you want to invest, try an IRA or a mutual fund, as millions of unsuspecting homeowners backed by Countrywide and Fannie Mae learned this year. That is not to say that your house won't appreciate over time, but we now know its value can also plummet, leaving you in hot water if you owe more than it's worth, a situation now facing 27% of American homeowners. So don't assume that buying is always a financially savvy decision. In fact, if your rent is at least 35% less than the annual cost of owning the home you want, re-sign that lease because you're better off renting. On the other hand, you will get a happy, healthy tax break for owning, so include it in your calculations!

4. A house is a place to put down roots and build a foundation. It is not a substitute motel room with more space and fewer bedbugs. If, like many young singles unsettled in their careers, you don't intend to stay for at least three or four years, you may want to put off buying. The costs incurred when a house changes hands can add up to a big fat loss if you have to go through the process twice in as many years, and if you sell before you've owned even that long, you'll get hit with a capital gains tax. So be sure you like where you live and that your source of income is stable.

5. A house is not automatically a home. While some singles luxuriate in the space and solitude of a house, others find that four walls and a roof don't equal a home without their roommates or neighbors across the hall. If you like to be surrounded by people all the time, living in a house by yourself can be an isolating experience. It also may raise safety concerns for those who are older, have health issues, or live in high-crime neighborhoods. If you're worried about any of these possibilities but still want a place of your own, consider condos and housing developments, where neighbors are more accessible. Also, just because you're single doesn't mean you have to live alone any more than it did when you rented. Now you can become the grouchy landlord you always hated and rent one or more rooms in your house, which will not only provide the companionship you seek but some help with the mortgage, too! (Just remember that if your tenant lives with you, there's a limit to how grouchy you can be before it's no longer in your best interest. ;) )

The five points above are not intended to discourage you from pursuing your dream of single homeownership but to remind you of the realities behind the romance of that little cabin in the woods or cottage by the shore. However, if you understand and are prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of a house, then there's no reason to wait for a significant other to enjoy the comfort, privacy, and personal space as well as the sense of pride that are part and parcel of owning your own home.

If still in doubt, test it out! You can always rent a house for a year or two to get a sense of what it takes to maintain a residence before you're the one required to maintain it. Who knows? The landlord may even offer to sell once you've established a good relationship.

Now that you're ready to join the big kids and be home alone, you face a long and sometimes arduous road from pre-approval to move-in day. Next time, Singletude will guide you down the path step by step with tips for single house hunters.

Are you a single who hopes to buy a home of your own? If so, what are some of the pros and cons that you've been considering? If you already own a home, are you glad you made the decision to buy? What advice would you give to other singles thinking about buying their own homes?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!


Jenn said...

As a single homeowner for almost two years, I agree wholeheartedly with all of these points! The huge drop in the housing market has particularly hammered home points 3 and 4 - whenever I start to think about how much my house has dropped in value, I remind myself that it doesn't matter because I'm here to stay and am not selling anytime soon. If you aren't looking for a place to stay long-term, you probably shouldn't be looking at buying, at least not right now. For singles, that can be a little weird because for most people, it's natural to wonder what happens if you meet someone? In my case, my house is big enough that someone else could move in with me comfortably (and I know I don't want kids); I also live in a neighborhood where it would be easy to rent the place if I needed to. I definitely don't think being single (and the 'what ifs' many people associate with that) should stop anyone from buying a home but it doesn't hurt to leave your options as open as possible.

Alan said...

Thanks for describing both the benefits and the risk of homeowning. All too often people forget one or the other.

Not a homeowner and probably never will be: I'm getting close to 40 and have too many student loans. But I'm not sure what I'd do with a house anyway, with all that space. Even a 1-bedroom apartment sometimes proves a little big for me.

I sometimes think a house would be quieter than an apartment, but then I think about the people I know who live next to noisy neighbors...

Clever Elsie said...

Jenn: Thanks for sharing your advice as a single homeowner! It's much appreciated. I'm glad that even though your house has depreciated, you've recognized that its real value at this stage is its worth to you. For singles who intend to stay put for the long-term, the current housing crisis should hopefully have little or no real impact.

Your comment got me thinking, though...You said that your house is big enough for two should you find a partner in the future. But now that so many singles are buying houses and marrying later in life, I wonder what's going to happen as more and more single homeowners settle down with each other. It will be interesting to observe how gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors influence who sells and moves in with whom.

Anyway, just thinking aloud here...

Alan: This will probably sound a little strange, but I think it's good you've recognized that homeowning isn't for you. Sometimes people (single OR married) rush into buying a house without realizing that they either can't afford it, can't take care of it, or don't really want that lifestyle. Some singles revel in all that additional space, but for others, it's just a burden and a waste.

Having lived in both a semi-rural house and an apartment in a major metropolis, I think I can safely say that one is not appreciably noisier than the other. In the city apartment, you hear the occasional siren, construction, people passing in the street, and the neighbors thumping around upstairs. In the country home, you hear the occasional siren, construction, people out in their backyards, and all manner of wildlife thumping around "upstairs." Of course, all this is affected by the neighborhood you live in and how well insulated your abode is, so your mileage may vary.

Jenn said...

Elsie, I've definitely thought about that - what if I meet a guy who himself has a great house in some other part of town? Could/would I give up my house to move in with him? Could/would I ask him to give up his house to move in with me? Do we start over together in some third house? I certainly think it will be a tough discussion if it ever comes up!

The Singlutionary said...

Oh my gosh! I never thought I would meet anyone else who had the same concerns in this regard. I am a single woman and I own a home. I've always always wanted to have a house and I love it although it is also a total pain in the ass. Sometimes I wish I still had the studio apartment! I loved my moving-every-year-super-simple-minimalist-lifestyle before I bought the house and now I love having roots (or a foundation).

But this whole who-would-move-in-with-whom thing has caused me consternation in my past relationships. I always dreamed that mating would make for fun trips to Home Depot together and building a new fence in the middle of the summer heat in this dreamy romantic kind of way. WHATEVER! Any dude I date in my hecka affordable city is going to also own his house. And with any house comes house projects. So what I've found is that he has his list of house projects and I have my list of house projects and neither one of us has any time or interest in the other's house projects and so we break up.

This fact doesn't really bother me that much because I know that none of these homeowners were my future mate anyways but it does pose a cultural question: what happens to older couples who both own homes when they decide to co-habitate? How does this play out?

I'm trying to think of other people I know who got married and both owned homes and what they did about it but I can't think of any. Most of my friends got married young and bought a house together or one of them already had a house and the other moved in.

Anyways. Sorry for posting this long-as-heck comment! I just got so excited!

Anonymous said...

I would imagine a house must be quieter than an apartment--eventually I hope to move out of my townhouse to a place with air on all sides, because that way sounds can't move through the walls, like the bass from these new-fangled Bose radio contraptions for instance! = )

Clever Elsie,
I was living in my parents' townhouse (their rental property) and then I bought it from them. So I had an easy purchase and a smooth transition. But if I had NOT been so lucky, I could have really benefitted from this and your most recent housing post. How come comments are disabled on your most recent post?
= ) Christina

Clever Elsie said...

Singlutionary: You can post comments as long as you like! There's no limit. :) And sorry that I neglected to respond to this one earlier.

Thank you for sharing your perspective as someone who's experienced the best of both worlds and can now compare and contrast renting vs. owning.

Most of the people I know have also waited till marriage (or at least a serious relationship) to buy their houses. I don't yet have any single friends who have made the leap to homeownership. But as the single population continues to grow, we will surely encounter single homeowners with increasing frequency. If your experience is any indication, it may be quite a challenge for single homeowners to adapt to each others' lifestyles should they want to pair up. Merging residences requires a lot of compromise and may inadvertently become a test of the relationship's worth.

Christina: Thanks for calling the disabled comments to my attention! I wondered why no one was commenting on that one! Sometimes Blogger randomly defaults to the disallow comments setting. It should be fixed now.

kaite said...

I really liked the article, honestly. however; i cannot believe that there was no mention of how truly difficult it is moving from place to place when your the only person doing any and all of the moving. I personally would have liked to see some tips on how to deal with it all in the most time & energy savvy way. if your reading this and know of any please let me know of a site or similar e-how article perhaps about how to best tackle the moving process solo, i'd really appriciate it as i am moving again (i've moved around all over NY state literally in the past)in a couple months but this time it's gonna be much more tirng as i am moving half way cross country not the state (yikes!) so yes, indeed i would appriciate some helpful advice if you have any, thank you again all!


Anonymous said...

Wish I sought out more blogs and non-traditional advice sources when I attempted to decide whether to keep my house in my divorce. I felt I wanted to be a homeowner, but never though much about the difference between being a married homeowner and a single one. Well, let me leave no doubt, single homeownership is not worth the trouble or expense. Even if my mortgage was half the price, I'd still prefer to rent or have a small condo. Homeownership is basically an expensive hobby and if you don't have the cash for makeovers or don't find tearing your house apart fun, stay away at all costs. Watching TV or reading a book is much the same experience in a house or apartment.