This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my husband and I are moving to be closer to his new job. Well, it’s been a whirlwind of chaos and uncertainty ever since. Since I wrote that post, we put our house on the market and began the search for a new home. And despite the fact that we’re excited for the opportunity to move on with our lives, it hasn’t been pleasant.
First of all, something happened that we never expected. Our house sold for almost full asking price in 13 days. Yes, you read that right. Thirteen days. This was great, of course, because we were able to put that part of the move behind us. And anyone who has sold their home knows how big of a pain it is to keep their house in prime condition, especially with small kids. Regardless, the fact that our home sold so quickly meant that we needed to find a new home….and fast. Plus, the fact that the buyers of our home wanted possession in 45 days meant that we had 45 days to make an offer on a home, negotiate a price, and close the deal. Gulp.
Searching for our dream home
So we started our home search by making a list of the features we wanted in our new house. Fortunately, we were mostly on the same page. My main concern for our new home was price. Since selling our current home meant that we would have almost 100K for a down payment, I wanted to find a home that was as inexpensive as possible. One of our dreams is to be debt free (including our mortgage) as soon as humanly possible; so the more we burden ourselves with debt, the further we’ll be from reaching that goal.
Greg’s wish list included features that we have in our current home — a home office, a play room for the kids, and a guest bedroom — and I agreed, adding that I’ve always wanted a Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom. We also agreed that we wanted a nice back yard and a two-car garage with some added space for storage. We thought it would be nice to have an open kitchen, plenty of storage, and a fireplace, preferably wood-burning. So, with our list in hand, we started browsing real estate listings in the new area where we are moving. And, thankfully, we found a huge selection of homes that fit our criteria.
Champagne taste, beer budget
Since the house we’re selling sold for $160,000, we were hoping to keep our budget somewhere near that amount, (hopefully) not to exceed 200K. But, we also started looking in the low 200s and were even willing to go as high as 230K or 240K to get exactly what we wanted. So with our budget in mind, we started looking for a home that would work.
Over the next few weeks, we looked at least 40 homes. I fell in love at least 10 times. I saw beautiful stone-stacked fireplaces, granite counter tops, and great rooms with vaulted ceilings and custom-built bookcases to boot. I saw Jacuzzi tubs where my problems would surely melt into oblivion as well as back yards that were beautiful, peaceful, and tranquil, like I’ve always dreamed of.
As I crunched the numbers, I also saw that I would be paying on these homes for way longer than I wanted. And, even though we had found what we were looking for, we were extremely hesitant to pull the trigger. Something was holding us back. Something was telling us to stop and really think about what we were doing. And one thing I’ve learned is that when that voice talks, I need to listen. What we wanted and what we needed were, as always, two entirely different things. So we started the entire process over. Except this time, we focused on what we need, not what we want.
What did we really need?
The house we’re selling is 2,370 square feet, with nearly half of that unused most of the time. Our guest room is only used twice a year, when Greg’s parents come from out of state to visit. Our home office houses a beautiful desk set that I purchased off of Craigslist, but I rarely use it and prefer to work in the living room. And the kids’ play room? Sure, they love it, but most people I know don’t have a room in their home dedicated only to toys. I didn’t have a play room growing up, after all — nor did my husband, my best friend, or either of my parents. We all survived.
And, since most of the homes we were looking at were the size of our old home, or bigger, we began to wonder if we were even looking in the right place. We started asking ourselves what we really needed. Did we really need a home office or would a small desk in our bedroom work? When Greg’s parents visited from out of state, could they stay in one of our girls’ rooms for the weekend? My 4-year-old does have a queen-sized bed. And was a playroom really necessary or could the girls each keep part of their toys in their rooms?
The more we talked, the more we discovered that we could likely live without much of the space that we enjoyed in our old house. And, in a weird twist of fate, we would soon find out whether we liked it or not.
The small house experiment
We wasted so much time looking at larger homes that we completely ran of time to find a home altogether. And as an experiment, as well as out of necessity, we’ve decided to rent a small home temporarily to see if we can make it work. Starting November 1, we’ll be living in a three-bedroom home with less than 1,200 square feet. Since we’re renting the home from a friend, we’re able to rent month to month without a long-term commitment. Not signing a lease will allow us to continue our search for a permanent place of our own. And, although we’re slightly nervous about the transition, we’re excited to see how it pans out.
If we can learn to love a smaller (and less expensive) home, we’ll likely pay lower property taxes for the rest of our lives. We’ll easily resume paying off our mortgage at lightning speed and we’ll pay less for upkeep, utilities, and repairs. And, thankfully, we’ll spend a lot less time cleaning which sounds like an excellent deal to me.
Anyway, maybe I’ll find that my dream house doesn’t have a Jacuzzi tub, granite counter tops, or a giant play room for my kids after all. Maybe I’ll find that my real dream house is one that I actually own, without having a mortgage payment hanging over my head for the next five, 10, or 20 years. Regardless, I’m excited to find out what small house living is all about as we dive head first into this true-life “try before you buy” experience. As the small house experiment begins, I’ll follow up to tell you how it works out for our family. Until then, just picture me in a tiny room with giant furniture, wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into.
Do you prefer a small house or a big house? What do you think are the benefits of each? And, do you have any small house living tips for me?