Michael on July 8th, 2009
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Last week, I mentioned that my wife and I had recently started the home buying process. I asked if you cared. You said yes.

You: I did?

Yes, it’s in the comments – honest! Anyway, here’s one of several posts on the home buying topic from which I hope to both provide an education.

What Matters Most When Buying a Home

Perhaps the most overplayed line in real estate is

“The three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location.

You: I’ve heard that.

Good. Will you tell my wife?

You: Can’t you tell her?

Don’t you think I’ve tried?

You: I’m not sure I want to get in the middle of this. I’m not sure you want me to get in the middle of this.

I don’t. Truth be told, my wife understands it. She just doesn’t agree with it as passionately as, say, some other people.

You: Like you, for example.

Right. We’re learning more about each other’s housing preferences as we go through this process. For her, the most important thing about a home is the home. Location is important, but less critical. I, on the other hand, have learned over the past few weeks that I’m not overly bothered by the prospects of putting my family in a 2BR shack last painted in the nineties if it’s in a great part of town.

You: The nineties weren’t that long ago.

The 1890s.

You: Oh.

Yeah, Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a very old town and I love it. Right now, we live in a part of town where we can walk to everything. More importantly, we actually do walk extensively, even in the winter. But to get a great house, we’d need to move well beyond walking distance to downtown. Alternatively, we can get a lesser house that would allow us to walk to the farmer’s markets, playground, and restaurants and also have the kids walk to their school.

It’s as though we’re about to make two different important decisions simultaneously:

  • a house
  • a lifestyle

When we moved here from New Jersey nearly four years ago, it was for the lifestyle. We wanted to raise our daughter (now daughters) in northern New England. But now it appears we are about to be forced to make another lifestyle decision, albeit within New Hampshire. Are we going to be a family that lives “in town,” where privacy often consists of turning down the blinds but friends and get-together happen frequently and spontaneously or will we move out to the country where you’re in a big house built in 2005 (not 1895) on a big piece of land, but must drive several miles to get to anything.

I don’t believe either my wife or I is right (or wrong.)   This is unusual, because usually my wife is right. Maybe she is this time too and I just haven’t realized it yet.  It will come down to compromise, for the types of houses available a 20 minute ride away simply don’t exist in the town we live in – at any price point. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. I’m grateful for the buyer’s market – it has allowed us the time and space to think about all these factors before making a decision.

How do you size up the location vs. house trade-off?

What other potential conflicts, err differing opinions, are we about to face?

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5 Comments to “Looking for a Home: Location vs. House”

  1. Deb Morgan says:

    Hi Michael,
    Great column. We love our community but I really miss the “walkability ” factor of my previous homes. Another option may be to consider something walkable in a neighboring community’s downtown area-Dover for instance:) We’d love to have you here!

  2. Liz Garcia says:

    I enjoyed your article. It is such a compromise between location and house possibilities. We had the same problem in Northern Mass when we first moved out here, except then it was about price as well. We wanted a house with a yard that wasn’t a postage stamp, but couldn’t afford anything like that in a “good” neighborhood. It was frustrating, so we looked outside area and wound up here.

    I have hope you two can find the answer!

  3. Michael says:

    @Deb and Liz: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with this issue. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

  4. Alison says:

    Hey Michael – really enjoyed reading this – as I know exactly the tug of war you are going through (self & friends in same situation). We keep landing with “walk to town”. In fact we almost bought a GORGEOUS home in super low property tax Rye, NH…but we couldn’t walk to town and I would have to pay through the nose to use the Portsmouth Indoor pool. So – I wish you guys luck with this one!!! Enjoy the journey.

  5. Michael says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Alison.

    Isn’t it interesting that all the traffic on this post is from people living in the Seacoast region of NH? Sometimes, I wonder if it just us that gets the “walk to town” concept. In metro NYC, where I lived previously, one either chooses Manhattan or doesn’t. The lifestyle implications from culture to cost. Here we have, I feel, the opportunity for a happy medium, but trade-offs still exist.

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