How one M.D.’s dream house became a kind of nightmare
I bought my “doctor house” in October 2013. In five years we have packed this house full of memories. Two of my three children have never known anywhere else as home. We’ve thrown at least 40 birthday parties here. We’ve had bridal showers, bachelorette parties, baby showers and even once hosted a wedding with 100 guests. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter have all been good excuses to make feasts for friends and family, year after year. These walls have witnessed some of the happiest moments of my life.
There’s just one problem: I really regret buying this big, dumb house.
I grew up in a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot house built in the 1940s. There was no air conditioning. The only form of heat was old-fashioned radiators. The backyard was 20 feet by 20 feet and could be mowed in about five minutes flat. I’m not complaining. I grew up fed, clothed and loved. All my needs were met, and everyone I knew lived in similar houses.
My wife grew up in a single-wide trailer. When she was growing up, her definition of being “rich” was having a double-wide trailer. She, too, grew up fed, clothed and loved. Everyone she knew lived in similar trailers.
Our first rental
I became an attending in 2011. We were new to the area and were broke. Actually, we aspired to be broke — we were worth negative $250,000. We rented a three-bedroom beachfront town house that faced the water. I could walk off the back deck down to the sand. There was a fishing pier, a pool and total privacy nine months of the year. I could watch sailboats going by the window as I drank my coffee on the porch listening to the seagulls. The house was small. It was drafty. There was zero storage space. The toilet leaked. It was paradise.
Our ‘forever’ home
In 2013 we bought a five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 5,500-square-foot house on a 0.75-acre perimeter lot that backs up to wooded state park land. Half the doctors at the hospital live in my neighborhood. My next-door neighbor is an influential state senator. There are beautiful hardwood floors, walk-in closets, granite counters and a two-car garage. It’s a five-minute drive to the beach. We thought this was the “forever” home.
Here are the top 10 reasons I regret buying my big, dumb house:
Big down payment
I’m pretty conservative when it comes to money, so I wouldn’t buy a house until I had saved at least 20% to put down. With lots of hard work and hustling, I saved $135,000 to reach that goal. That 135K involved lots of shifts, including moonlighting, as I described in the post “Have Stethoscope, Will Travel.”
Now, $135,000 is not chump change. It could have done a lot of things. One thing it could have done is grow. If I invested that $135,000 in the Vanguard Total Stock Market index fund VTSMX, +0.04%in October 2013, it would now be worth $233,550. Doh!
Furniture you don’t use for rooms you don’t enter
Five bedrooms means five beds. It also means lots of TVs, dressers, nightstands, carpets and lights. A big living room means new couches, chairs and rugs. A formal dining room means a fancy table and chairs. A screened porch means new patio furniture. And 5,500 square feet typically means a lot of walls that need paint. None of these things came cheap.
Less money to invest
Aside from the fact that my down payment could have grown 75% in the past five years, my mortgage payment is twice what I used to pay in rent. Some of that is tax-deductible, but even after deducting mortgage interest I have less free cash as a homeowner. I would have had at least an extra thousand dollars a month to invest every month for the past five years if I continued renting.
Larger house means larger property-tax bill
Paying more taxes doesn’t get my kids more public schooling or make the roads any more plowed when it snows. Paying more taxes just means having less money.
Related: High-property-tax ‘blue’ states sue federal government over Republican tax law’s curbs on local-tax deductions
At any given time there are four toilets and three showers that need scrubbing. Those beautiful hardwood floors need to be vacuumed and mopped. Those vast granite countertops need to be wiped down, after removing the mountain of junk that ends up there every day. We hired a house-cleaning service several years ago but found ourselves spending so much time picking up kids’ clutter so the maids could clean that it defeated the purpose. After a year we got rid of the service because it wasn’t saving us any time. It is a never-ending job keeping the place clean.
It turns out it costs a lot to heat and air-condition a 5,500-square-foot house. Having five TV sets means a higher cable bill. Those nifty automated lawn sprinklers sound like money being drizzled on the grass.
Living next to the Joneses
The Joneses have nice cars and take fancy vacations — I can ignore that. But the Joneses also have beautifully manicured lawns, never-ending blooms in their flower beds, flawless power-washed houses and driveways that never seem to fade or crack.
Suddenly I found myself caring about dandelions in the lawn and mildew on the siding. Who the hell have I become, and what happened to the barefoot beach bum?
That ¾-acre lot has a lot of grass and a lot of flower beds. When we moved in, I bought a $2,500 riding mower to get the work done faster. I spend another $3,500 a year on landscapers to weed and mulch the flower beds and trim the trees. I spend another $200 a year on lawn fertilizer and weed killer. None of these expenses existed when I was renting a house with a sand backyard.
Room to store crap
When you have five bedrooms, an attic bigger than your first apartment, a two-car garage and a shed, you can hoard faster than you’ve ever imagined. People take up as much space as they have. I think if you had a 100-bedroom house you would eventually fill every room with stuff you don’t want or need.
Location, location, location
We miss the beach. I miss watching the boats sail by while I do the dishes. I miss waking up to the sound of seagulls. I miss walking off the back deck down to the sand with my daughter. The beach is only a five-minute drive from my current house, but it’s not the same as having the ocean as a constant backdrop.
The tide is turning
We dream of a smaller, simpler house closer to the sand. Fewer bathrooms to scrub. Fewer closets to stuff. Fewer counters to clean. Sometimes the things we own end up owning us.
I cherish all the memories we’ve made in this house. I look forward to making new memories with the sound of waves breaking in the backyard. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but I do know I will find my way back to the sea.
This column originally appeared on SideHustleScrubs. It was published with permission.
SideHustleScrubs is an emergency physician practicing medicine on the East Coast and blogging about personal finance, taxes and early retirement.
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