When the coronavirus hit New York City, my husband and I panicked.
We were living in Brooklyn, and I was in my second trimester of pregnancy. Terrified of getting sick—and possibly passing the virus on to my baby—we decided to play it safe. We left the city, and booked an Airbnb listing in a small town in Pennsylvania.
We’ve been staying in this temporary home for months. It’s a nice house, but very different from any of the suburban homes or city apartments I’ve lived in. It’s older, larger, and much farther from the center of town than I’m used to.
But I sort of like it.
This move has given me a new perspective on homes and, as I’m searching for a place to live after the virus clears up, I’m starting to reevaluate my housing must-haves. After going from a big city to a small town, I’m figuring out what I really want in a home, learning which things I need—and what I can do without.
Here are some surprising lessons I learned about what I want once I’m ready to buy a house.
Having room helped me realize I don’t need that much room
I chose our Pennsylvania rental in part because it had many rooms and a lot space. After quarantining in a studio apartment in New York City, I thought a big house with lots of space would be a luxury for my growing family.
So I was shocked to find that, once we’d settled in, it was way too big.
In fact, this four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home (which included a finished basement) felt unmanageable after only a few weeks. Though I was happy to be out of our cramped Brooklyn apartment, I hated climbing two flights of stairs throughout the day. I hated trying to clean such a large space. And I hated needing to call out to my husband to find out which room he was in.
In the end, I realized that I probably could have saved some serious cash renting a smaller house. But at least I know this before I rent or buy my next house!
Outside space is gold
I loved the extended outside space of our rental. In my family home growing up, we had a square yard big enough for just a table and chairs. In New York City, I had nothing but a window.
I was never bothered by this, though. If I ever wanted to spend time outside, I’d simply go to a park or drive to a hiking trail.
But when I got to Pennsylvania, I appreciated the patio, the large front and back yards, and the nearby nature trail. I went on walks nearly every day and loved being outside.
While I thought the appeal of being out in nature would wane after the weather started getting warmer (and the mosquitoes started biting), I found that, even in the middle of July, I still loved sitting on the porch and going on daily walks.
With a baby on the way, I started to realize how much I’d value that quiet nature trail when I wanted to walk with the stroller. I wouldn’t have to worry about crossing busy streets or loud noises, as I would in Brooklyn.
Now I know I’m ready to compromise on some home perks for a big yard.
More bathrooms are not necessarily better
Our Brooklyn apartment had just one bathroom, which seemed so inconvenient to me.
In our Airbnb rental, I expected having three bathrooms to be a serious luxury, but I soon learned that we basically had the same problem: We were always waiting to use the downstairs bathroom, because neither of us wanted to go upstairs. Plus, we preferred that same bathroom’s shower/tub combo, so I once again found myself rushing to get out of the bath so my husband could take a shower.
In the end, I decided that apartment living, with just one bathroom or an extra half-bath, was probably just fine for our family. It also means fewer bathrooms to clean.
A central location isn’t all that important
When we first leased our Brooklyn apartment, we loved being close to shops, restaurants, and subways. But I soon realized that being “close to the action” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. With the coronavirus raging, those shops, restaurants, and subway stations became liabilities.
In Pennsylvania, far away from everything, I worried we’d be bored. But surprisingly, I loved it.
I was happy to be farther away from people, and felt safer in regard to the virus. But that wasn’t the only reason I liked living in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve learned that the most centrally located home isn’t necessarily the best one. There can be perks to living a little more out of the way, like cheaper real estate, more land, and more bang for your buck.
With so many people working from home and commuting being less of an issue, a more remote location may not be just acceptable, but also preferable.
Don’t buy a home before you rent something similar in the area
Staying in a new place can give anyone valuable perspective.
Using a friend’s swimming pool might make you wish you had a pool. Or visiting the suburbs might have you thinking you should move there, too. But to really know if a place is right for you, you should ideally stay there for a while, because only then will the pros and cons truly sink in.
As such, before you purchase a house anywhere, you should first stay at an Airbnb, VRBO, or other short-term rental in the area that’s similar to what you want. It works as a road test to help you figure out what you want.
Personally, I’m feeling better prepared for the home-shopping process than ever before. I’m excited to see where we end up.
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