Home ownership isn’t what it used to be

Marketplace Staff Jun 11, 2010

Home ownership isn’t what it used to be

Marketplace Staff Jun 11, 2010

Frank mentioned buyer’s remorse, and for the most part we’ve been talking about smaller purchases. But sometimes that remorse comes in much bigger packages, like a house. About two-thirds of American households live in homes they own. But only 13 percent tell pollsters that they’ve achieved the American Dream.

By Curt Nickisch

Andrea and Raymond Quenneville think they timed it about as well as they could, taking the plunge last year at what they considered a low point in the market. They bought a yellow house in Merrimack, N.H.

“Four bathrooms, two-car garage, and then upstairs, we have five bedrooms,” Andrea said.

“We have a bathroom downstairs,” one her children pointed out.

“For a family of six, it’s really nice to have so much space,” she said.

Three thousand square feet. Enough for Raymond to have a room stacked with guitars and a sound-mixing board — he records music, at least when he has time. And upstairs, Andrea has her own sewing room. She crafts tote bags with flower and animal prints and sells them online. Although she admits, it’s more of a hobby than a moneymaker.

“Maybe this is one reason why I have buyer’s remorse,” she said. “My fabric budget has drastically decreased.”

When Andrea and Raymond first met, they discovered they shared a love of the outdoors. Even after they had children, they enjoyed hiking and camping. They named two of their kids after national parks: Bryce and Acadia, the one where they married.

So the house with a porch under tall pines looked good to them. They timed the purchase so they got the first-time home buyer tax credit. And they figured buying a teenage house would mean less maintenance. But Andrea says that tax credit ended up going straight into some big-ticket repairs.

“Unexpectedly, had to replace the roof,” Andrea said. “And then day the roofers arrived, to start working on the roof, the water heater burst.”

Andrea and Raymond always knew there’d be costs to owning. It’s just different when you’re actually writing the checks. To save money, they’re trying to do more on their own, but that means more time. Take the leaky shower repair that Andrea says has put one bathroom out of commission.

“I think we started this project in July,” she said.

They haven’t been camping since they bought the house.

Now, their weekends are for raking and mowing. When it’s not the yard, it’s fix-it projects in the house. Raymond does miss the days when they were renting, when the weekends were theirs. He’s a systems engineer and works long hours in Lexington, Mass. His commute is over an hour each way.

“The kids always want to play with me, and I come home from work and there’s things that need to get done,” Raymond said. “That, to me, is one of the biggest struggles with the home ownership, is having enough time to play with the kids.”

But Raymond’s trying to persuade Andrea that it will pay off eventually. He says those big mortgage payments are good, because it forces them to put money into the house, instead of another guitar or another bolt of fabric. But the tradeoffs work against them, too. For now, to manage the payment, Raymond is contributing less to his retirement plan, which means giving up some of the money his employer puts in as well.

The house debt — owing more than $330,000 — worries Andrea.

“I feel like with renting, we had more of a safety net, which is strange,” she said. “Because everyone thinks you buy a home and it’s stable and safe and you’ll be there for a long time. And it’s the cornerstone of being an adult, and it’s seen as a sign of wealth. Now, in this economy, it doesn’t seem that that’s true.”

The house has dropped in value since they moved in. Andrea Quenneville realizes this is the choice she and Raymond made. They’re living with it. They’re not looking to sell. But she wants to be a better mother, raise good kids, and she worries home ownership undermines that.

“It’s overwhelming and it’s a burden that weighs on me,” she said. I’m sure it colors how I see other things, and it impacts how I parent, and how much patience I have, and it spreads through your life.”

There are days Andrea is glad they bought the house. Other days, she wishes they were still renting.

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