A few weeks ago, my husband and I were having drinks with two friends who had just bought a house together—a fixer-upper they plan to tear down to the studs and rebuild in a labor of love. They are in their 30s and have been dating eight years.
“So is the ring next?” My husband asked them, half-joking.
“No way!” the woman said without even glancing at her significant other. “We aren’t ready for that kind of commitment.”
They’re not ready for the “commitment” of marriage, but happy to fling themselves into buying a house together? However strange this situation may sound, my friends have plenty of company.
My husband and I have been married 15 years, and have three children. To most people, that sounds like a commitment. And yet, no decision in my life felt quite as serious and deep as buying a house. The fact I made this pivotal purchase with my husband certainly complicated matters further, but make no mistake, the “house” part of this threesome is what has weighed most heavily on me over the years. Here’s why, at least to me, buying a house feels like way more of a commitment than walking down the aisle will ever be.
1. You can return a ring—but not a house
Truth: I got engaged three times, to three different men, before one finally took. It’s sad, painful, and gut-wrenching to break off an engagement, but regardless of how close you are to the wedding date, you still have an escape hatch. In fact, there are almost always clauses that allow at least a 50% refund from wedding vendors if someone gets cold feet.
There is no such return on a house. It’s just about impossible to “return a home” after you’ve bought it. And that means there’s no wiggle room to change your mind—or, if you do, you’re looking at a much bigger financial loss than some flowers.
2. A house can’t go into counseling
Even the best couples in the world go through rough patches, and when they do, counseling can be a good option. And sure, you can “work on” a house as well—by, say, swapping out a pedestal sink or installing soapstone counters. But the bones of the home will remain. The plumbing will remain. The electrical wiring is hard to change when it’s installed wrong and the house is 100 years old. The size of your lot won’t change, either, unless you buy the lot next door.
All told, you have to accept a house for what it is because even if you could change it, you are looking at tens of thousands of dollars to do so. A person can pay 20 bucks for a yoga class or $200 for couples counseling, or do some deep squats for free and vastly improve themselves. That’s a bargain compared with what it takes to change a house.
3. You can’t give a house the cold shoulder
When you have a fight in a marriage, you can blow off steam in different rooms. You can go for a drive and ignore your spouse’s texts while you cool off. Houses, on the other hand, can’t be ignored. Turn the heat down at the wrong time, and you could be looking at a burst pipe the next day. Neglect one small trickle of water, and the next thing you know, you have $5,000 in water damage.
Absence makes a heart grow fonder in a marriage. But it makes a house grow weaker and more expensive.
4. To ‘divorce’ your house, you have to get someone else to buy it first
If you get divorced, you divide assets and that’s that. Putting aside, for a moment, the whole pesky issue of the children, your spouse’s problems are no longer your problems. A house, however, is your problem, at least until you can find someone willing to take it off your hands. That can be tough when a home inspection reveals an oil tank buried in your front yard that your own home inspector missed, or a faulty chimney you’ll have to fix before this new buyer will even consider getting on board.
5. Houses don’t get better as they get older, they just get worse
We all fall apart as we age, of course, but we also get better. We get wiser. We get gray around the temples in a “distinguished” way. Love grows.
When houses grow older, they crumble. Their water heaters leak, then stop working entirely. They need new roofs. Insurers start to drop you so they can go insure younger, healthier houses that will cost them less in the long run.
OK, so lots of people “trade in” creaky old spouses for younger models. But in general, upkeep of a human requires much less money and emotional energy than the upkeep of a house. A support beam in our aging house had to be fortified to the tune of $10,000 so it wouldn’t cave in and kill someone. Aging humans don’t tend to kill people with the parts of them that go soft.
And besides, my husband and I sometimes hate our hundred-year-old house, but we love each other’s sagging timbers. That has to count for something, right?
By and photo credit: Realtor.com, Sasha Brown-Worsham