Home Ownership is a Tool, Not a Goal

Published at 10:06 on 12 January 2013

This goes along with my recent post on stability; just like stability, while apparently sought by many as a desirable end goal in and of itself, is not a valid end goal, neither is home ownership. In this case, it’s a distinction between a tool and a goal, rather than the validity of something as a goal in and of itself.

I see home ownership as very much a tool (or maybe tactic or strategy would be better words) not a goal. Part of that’s because I’m fortunate enough to have enough money to easily afford a home, should I choose to purchase one.

It’s also because life is never simply a decision about which doors to open: it’s also a decision about which doors to close. That’s because those metaphorical doors turn out to be connected by metaphorical strands of very hard, thin, but uncuttable cable, and they all open away from the metaphorical hallway. Open one door, and the previously open door connected to it across the hall slams shut.

Going to college opened the door to a professional career, which opened the door to a higher salary than if I had just gone to trade school. But if I had gone to trade school and become an electrician instead, I would have had much more freedom to choose my city of residence: building trades are in demand everywhere, while software jobs are concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas. That latter fact has been to my regret in recent years.

Home ownership opens the door to greater stability in one’s housing situation, and the door to having the freedom to modify one’s home as one sees fit. But the door across the hall labeled “freedom to relocate easily” slams shut: the transaction costs involved in exchanging one owned home for another are steep indeed.

But, to reiterate, I am not seeking stability right now. My employment situation is presently about as good as it could be, but Seattle is lacking enough in what I see as making a place desirable to live in that there’s no way I’d want to make the sort of long term commitment to live here that owning a home here would entail.

All in all, I’d much rather be living in Bellingham. It’s much easier to get out into wild nature there; unlike in Seattle, you don’t have to fight your way through a wide moat of sprawl and horrible traffic to get out into the country. It doesn’t have all the amenities of a big city, but (thanks to many decades of dysfunctional local and state policy) neither does Seattle (consider Seattle’s absolutely pathetic mass transit infrastructure as a case in point). And, being a college town, it’s actually quite sophisticated for its size; for example, it has a very robust local arts scene.

I plan on taking the first steps to pursue that goal this year, by attempting to transition to telecommuting for most of my work. Even if those plans go far better than expected, I still don’t see them ending in my purchasing a home in Bellingham in the near future. Bellingham is sorely lacking in employment opportunities (inability to find employment there, despite trying, is why I’m not there already). The only practical way to move there is to move together with one’s job, and I’m not yet sure enough about the longevity of my current employment situation to feel comfortable committing to living there full time.

Fast forward a few years into the future, and if everything is going fine with my current employer and it looks like something that’s really going to last, then it will be time to conclude that the doors opened by home ownership in Bellingham outweigh the ones closed by it.

Alternatively, if I go through a few exercises of trying and failing for various reasons to secure telecommuting to work from outside of Seattle, and I’m burned out by the process, and I decide it’s time to give up on that goal and pursue other goals from within Seattle, then it might be time to start thinking about purchasing a home in here.

But only then, not now. In neither scenario is now the right time to commit to settling down. Doing so would entail giving up too soon, and in general, “giving up too soon” is something I’ve tended (to my detriment) to do altogether too much. It’s the time in my life to entertain the virtue of persistence for a few more years at least.

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