Each time I bought a house, I thought for sure it was my forever home. But guess what? I purchased six “forever homes” in 16 years. So much for forever!
Through those sometimes happy, sometimes horrifying years, I learned a lot about what to do—and what not to do—when buying or selling a home, forever or not.
Whether you’re a fresh-off-the-boat first-time home buyer or purchasing what you could swear is your final property, here are a few lessons I’d love to impart.
Lesson No. 1: Your first house is rarely your forever home
How long ‘forever’ lasted: 10 months (2002)
Price we paid: $90,000
Price it was sold for: $117,000
Like my parents and brother before me, I assumed my fiancé and I would rent an apartment first. But my husband-to-be had other ideas.
“Why wait?” he said. “If we can buy a place, it makes sense, and it’s a good investment.”
A few weeks later, we toured a townhouse in West Deptford, NJ. Even though we were young, our life paths still unformed, I truly felt we could live there happily ever after. That’s before we realized that the walls were so thin, we could hear our neighbors’ toilet flush, their dog yipping all day, and even their getting amorous in bed.
We lasted in this forever home a mere 10 months, at which point I landed a dream job an hour’s drive away. That seemed to be as good an excuse as any to sell this failed forever home and move on.
Lesson No. 2: Your vow to stay there forever can wear off fast if the house skyrockets in value
How long ‘forever’ lasted: Two years (2003–05)
Price we paid: $157,000
Price it was sold for: $234,000
After we sold the townhouse for a small profit, we stumbled upon a gorgeous split-level house in Cherry Hill, NJ, with a garage near my new office. Even better, we could easily afford it.
This split-level became our mansion, and we cherished our time there. But two years after we bought it, we made the mistake of checking our home’s estimated value online.
“The house is worth $80,000 more than we paid for it,” I screeched to my husband. We started wondering whether we should cash in and sell it.
“It’s only a house,” my husband pointed out. “We can always find another one.”
A few days later, we put our second forever home on the market. We were going to be rich!
Lesson No. 3: If your forever house appreciates, so do others nearby
How long ‘forever’ lasted: One year (2005–06)
Price we paid: $212,000
Price it was sold for: $215,000
Our dream house went under contract faster than we could say “rash decision,” at which point we started shopping around for a new place. That’s when we were hit with an unwelcome reality: Our forever home wasn’t the only house that had appreciated; the rest of the local housing market was priced sky-high, too.
“They want how much for this house?” we found ourselves asking our real estate agent over and over.
Worse yet, since it was a hot market, homes in our hometown were selling sooner than we could even tour them and decide whether one was right for us.
After our billionth walk-through, we decided to put in an offer on a place in Maple Shade, NJ, that would gobble up all of the cash we made from our last house and then some. But it did have one perk: a basement. Neither one of us had ever lived in a home with a basement. We pictured ourselves renovating the basement and hosting pingpong parties galore.
This overpriced house became our third forever home, and our first truly terrible decision. We never hosted one party in the basement, because we quickly found out why the previous owners kept it unfinished: It flooded after every drizzle.
Lesson No. 4: When a forever home seems too good to be true, it probably is
How long ‘forever’ lasted: Eight years (2007–16)
Price we paid: $238,000
Price it was sold for: $161,000
Two years, three sump pumps, and four carpet replacements later, my husband came home with some bad news: His job was no more. Thankfully, a few months later he found a new job, but it was far away, which meant we’d have to move to Cape May County in New Jersey.
It turned out to be an opportunity of a lifetime. We were moving to the beach! But since our rash decision/wet basement house was sold for less than what we put into it, we couldn’t afford a house, townhouse, or even a condo in one of the beautiful coastal island towns. So we shifted our house hunt to less expensive, off-shore locations nearby.
Eventually we came across a beautiful brand-new Cape Cod. After swooning over the house, we walked a few blocks to Delaware Bay, where we enjoyed an unforgettable sunset. We were madly in love, and made an offer on the property even though we both had gut feelings that something wasn’t adding up.
It was a very bad decision to buy that house. The reason? Due to an improperly subdivided lot, the house was riddled with title issues. Yet this problem wasn’t picked up at closing, so we had no idea what we were getting into until after moving in. Eventually, we had to hire an attorney to sort out the huge mess. The blunder cost us a bundle.
Lesson No. 5: A fixer-upper isn’t always fixable
How long ‘forever’ lasted: Two years (2016–18)
Price we paid: $160,000
Next, my career and a family member’s illness moved us close to our hometown of Cherry Hill again, and into our fifth forever home.
“I’m so nervous about buying another house again,” I told my husband as we toured houses.
“Why don’t we start small?” my husband suggested. “We can find something below our budget, and we can slowly work on it. That way, if it ends up a bad decision, it won’t crush us like the last one did.”
We bought a 100-year-old home with wisdom, history, and strong bones. But it soon became clear that it’s not as easy to fix up a fixer-upper as Chip and Joanna Gaines make it look on TV.
This time, we didn’t sell our fifth forever home. Instead, we rented it out to a sweet couple who happened to love hundred-year-old money pits filled with amateur renovations. Timed alongside a job promotion at work, my husband and I took advantage of this opportunity to buy our sixth forever home (sigh).
Lesson No. 6: In today’s ever-changing world, ‘forever home’ is a fantasy at best
Price we paid: Over $300,000
How long ‘forever’ will last: Who knows?
I refuse to call our current home our forever home, but this one would definitely qualify if we were to utter those words ever again.
Will we live here forever? I hope so, but it’s really impossible to say. With six forever homes under our belt, we’ve learned that careers shift and fade, basements flood, family members call for help, and pretty much all plans and circumstances can change almost before the ink on those closing documents is dry.
And that’s OK. After all, nothing lasts forever.
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