Our Starter Home is Our Forever Home

I remember when my wife and I first purchased our very first home. After years of renting in a tiny duplex we finally had a place to call our own. I was so proud – I told everyone and showed them pictures of our house. That was when a coworker looked at the picture and said, “That’s a nice starter home!” Thanks for the backhanded compliment guy! We spent years saving up enough money to put 20% down and we should consider this a stepping stone to another house? Which got me thinking. Is our house we have right now not good enough? Should we be working to get an even bigger place in the future?

Nope. I love our home.

Paid Off

Our house isn’t big. It’s about 1200 square feet with three bedrooms and one bathroom and a decent sized yard in a suburb of Los Angeles County. It’s not that big, but for the three of us it’s more than enough. Currently our third bedroom is our guest bedroom that also doubles as a changing room and closet. Does that sound like a small house to you?

Bigger House = More Expenses
I don’t need much to be happy. I just need my two girls. To me, a bigger house just means more expenses. I just see more furniture, more clothes, higher mortgage, more expensive bills, and more space to decorate and fill with crap. I enjoy the coziness of our current place. One end of the house is not too far from the other end. Although my wife will still text me from the other room to get her water 😉

Avoiding Lifestyle Inflation
My wife and I live a modest lifestyle. When most people move up in the world, they adjust their lifestyle to compensate for the added money, whether that be a bigger house or nicer cars. While that’s great for some people, that’s not what my wife and I have in mind for our future. We would want any extra money we make as we progress in life to go towards other goals such as vacations, early retirement, college savings, or investing in our future. A smaller mortgage allows us that flexibility.

I’d Rather Upgrade than Move
The biggest negative about our house is that there’s only one bathroom. I know it’s not ideal, but my wife and I make it work – I’m pretty sure my wife begs to differ :). If the bathroom does become a bigger issue in the future, I would rather spend $50,000 to add a bathroom than sell our home to upgrade to a new place and spend an extra couple hundred thousand dollars. I also don’t like the idea of restarting another mortgage.

I Want a Paid Off House
It’s a crazy thought, but I don’t want to live with a mortgage all my life. Can you imagine what you can do with your money if you have no house payment? I don’t want to just imagine it. I want to live it. And not just when i’m 70.

I just want to be clear – there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a big house. There’s nothing wrong with renting either. Home ownership isn’t for everybody. I’m not completely opposed to the thought of moving. One day we might change our minds and want to move to a bigger place. Our family might grow, we might get relocated for a job opportunity, we might eventually use our current home as a rental, or the neighborhood may get worse. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll have moved on. Until then, I’m perfectly happy enjoying my family in our “Starter Home”.

Photo Mar 21, 12 50 01 PM
all I need are my two girls in my home.
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41 thoughts on “Our Starter Home is Our Forever Home

  1. Great post. The phrase “starter home” has always been odd to me. It suggests the current home is just for practice or something. I mean, I get it; but it sounds odd.
    Anyway, I think you make a great point about lifestyle inflation and the additional costs of a larger home. Like you said, there’s nothing wrong with a bigger home (though yours sounds plenty big), but naturally, it usually leads to filling it with more stuff. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, either, but it’s something we don’t often consider when we upgrade. It’s also nice to see a homeownership post that doesn’t admonish renting 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      You’re absolutely right about the phrase “starter home”. Like I said, I wouldn’t mind moving some time in the future, it just wouldn’t be because we made more money. My wife and I are trying to purge right and hope to have a big cleanse with a yard sale this weekend!

      Renting gets a bad rap. There’s plenty of cons that come with home ownership that you don’t worry about when you rent such as maintenance and taxes. Some days when pipes are leaking I long for the days of renting so I can call someone to fix it for me!

      That being said, I love owning a home. I know it’s not necessarily the best investment, but I like the stability of owning – you’re not at the whim of the landlord that can raise rents when they want. Our low mortgage payment is not much more than when we used to rent.

      Like

  2. Vic, you are speaking our language! We have been in our starter home 15 years+, which is how it has come to be paid off. It’s 3 bdrm, 1 bath. We use every single room in the house. Why buy extra space? So far with a 10 y.o. girl we are making the 1 bathroom work. We would consider adding a cheap bathroom in the basement but in our high tax area there are more taxes with more bathrooms, and we aren’t sure it’s worth it to us yet. Taxes are something you pay year in, year out, and can be a huge savings if you have a smaller house.
    When your kids are older, you don’t want the house so big that you can’t find them. You can keep an eye on them in a smaller house. Remember this when your little cutie is in middle school 🙂
    If we upgraded I would have to get a full-time job. That would necessitate DD spending her summer in a rec department camp for day care.
    A small house enables us to be debt-free, so we stay at very nice places when we travel. If there is a house ON the beach, we can do that because we have no mortgage! At our last vacation spot on a lake I said to DD, “You know we can only afford this because we ‘live like no one else’ right?
    A down side/upside is that my daughter plays in the livingroom. Right now there are 5 dolls and their kayak in the middle of the room. It looks junky, but this too shall pass, and all too soon.
    It’s interesting that our house, which is similar to yours, was built by a successful dentist and his family consisted of wife, dog, and 3 kids! Clearly, attitudes have changed about what a “nice” house is.
    Keep at it! Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Jen!

      You don’t have a mortgage? You’re weird! 🙂 Did you call and do a debt free scream? I love hearing those stories. They’re so inspiring!

      The Total Money Makeover was the first book that I read that made me believe that we could be better with our finances. We weren’t terrible – we saved a lot and were pretty frugal, we just didn’t really plan for the future or think about investing.

      We’re still on the 30 year mortgage – but I’m adding as much as possible each month as I can. I know you did a 15 year, we’re just not at that stage just yet 🙂

      I do like the idea of a small home so you can be closer to your family. I actually grew up in a pretty big home (4 bed 3 bath – two stories) and I can totally relate to feeling distant to family members because we were so spread out in the house.

      I’m going to tell my wife to read this! She may eventually be a stay at home mother and I know if we can stay in our current place it would make that transition a little easier.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I agree! I love the simplicity of a smaller place. Less stuff to manage. We have enough space for my daughter to roam freely and that’s what matters most to us right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so, so, so smart! I know so many people who talk about their first homes as “starter homes” and I want to ask if they’ve even considered the switching costs of buying and selling a house – because most of the time the answer is no! Especially in a short timeframe, the switching costs will 100% eat up any of the gains they’ve seen.
    Kudos to you and your family for being so smart about it! I look forward to following your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I hate the idea of the word “starter home” as it implies that the home is not good enough. I definitely would rather pocket the savings than worry about paying a larger mortgage. My wife and I live a simple life and it works for us 🙂

      Like

  4. Love this! We also live in a smaller home, and the financials of small home living are awesome. Our costs for everything from taxes to upkeep to heating/cooling are lower because our home is small and modest. Doesn’t get any better than that! Good for you guys!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! My wife and I recently moved into our first home (a 2 bedroom, 1000sqft, with a nice property.) Even when we were purchasing our real estate agent was telling us that this will make a great starter home. We love the place so much that we would probably build a small addition, maybe adding a third bedroom, before we would move somewhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations on the first home! I wouldn’t worry to much about what your agent said, he’s just planting the seeds for a future sale should you decide to move :).

      I agree about doing an addition, it would be more cost effective to do that than move into a crazy big home.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  6. Our “starter home” is about 1,200 sq ft and we just paid it off a year ago (took us 7 years). If we move, it’s going to be because we want LESS space, not more. I’m in love with those Tiny Houses!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! 7 years?! That’s amazing. Do you have any tips on paying off your home early? I hope to accelerate our loan payments to get to that point :).

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  7. I think 1200 square feet is ideal for a family. I personally like 800 square feet – as a single person. No more than 1200. I think you’ve got the right idea! And the idea of living without a mortgage…well, YES. I can imagine it. I want to live it. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading!

      Regarding paying off the mortgage – I just used to always be in the mindset that I would ALWAYS have a house payment. As I started reading and hearing stories of people paying off their mortgages early I was inspired. There will be a future post about me paying off my mortgage. It might take me 10+ years, but we’ll get there 🙂

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  8. Our home is 1800 sgft including the basement and we raised six children with just one bathroom. It was not easy but we made it work. I too miss renting at times but overall i prefer to own. On the good note our mortgage is less than rent and we invest the difference. Not worried about paying my house off for two reasons 1 not sure if we’re staying here and 2 I earn more with investments than what the mortgage is costing me. Overall I love my smaller home. It allows us to be together and forces family members to interact with each other instead of hiding in separate rooms and becoming antisocial. Plus less stuff to clean and lower utility bills. It’s a win win.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Six kids with one bathroom? My wife complains about me and her with one bathroom! We just need to be mindful when others need to use the restroom and not take our sweet time 🙂

      That’s great that you earn more with investments than paying off your mortgage. I know it’s not necessarily the best financial decision to pay off my home early, but it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. That being said, I have slowed down my extra payments on my mortgage to focus on other investments.

      I love the point about forcing family members to interact! I grew up in a pretty big home and there were a lot of times where we didn’t socialize because we were in our own little world in the house.

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  9. I’m so with you! I wrote something very similar on Simply Save a few weeks ago when a friend told me, “Your house is so small!” It’s more than enough space for me! And I share a lot of the same perspectives as you….cheaper to heat and cool, and would rather renovate than buy again. I love my house! Society has been trained to think bigger is better and never stop trying to trade up, but I am very happy with what I have and like you, I want to be done with house payments someday! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read your post – how rude of your friend!

      It’s a shame how society makes us think that what we have is never good enough. I’m perfectly happy with our home right now and look forward to have no house payment.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good post. There’s definitely an expectation out there that if you can “afford it” you should move up. When we built our current home I thought it was a “starter home”. I thought we’d go from 2,200 to about 4-5,000 square feet eventually because that’s what you do, right? Well, 14 years later, we’re still in the same house and we’re good with it. Two things have materially changed for us house-wise: 1. it’s been paid off for a while 2. we’re even talking about downsizing! 🙂

    BTW: According to the book Accidentally Happy by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, nearly 50% of our take home goes to housing and transportation, two categories that have nearly NO correlation with overall happiness. Mind. Blown.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you! A paid off house is definitely a dream of mine!

      Mind definitely is blown! I’m trying to keep our expenses as little as possible. My wife and I plan to drive our current vehicles as long as possible and then buy slightly used cars all in cash. There’s more to life than huge houses and brand new cars!

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  11. Love this, and wish more people would think this way! We used to have a condo in the city which felt too cramped for us, and we longed for our own, unshared walls. When we moved to the mountains, we were so excited to buy a house, and though we didn’t buy an extravagant house by any means, we now realize that it’s more than we need. So in our case, our “starter home” has ended up being our “too big” home, and we’ll almost certainly downsize in the next few years. Until we retire in 2 1/2 years, we’re both working from home, and appreciate having our own offices, but after that, this will be way too much space for us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading!

      In your current situation, it sounds like you’re home is “just right”. Since we don’t have a lot of space, we use the dinner table as our home office. The one day my wife and I both worked from home I drove her crazy!

      Good luck in your retirement! I look forward to the day I can say I’m retired!

      Like

  12. The listing for my house said it would make a great starter home or retirement home. I don’t see any reason it can’t be great “in between” home, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. LOVE this post. Just found it and could not agree more. The term “starter home” does imply this is a “practice” home. I’m sorry, but why does anyone with any financial sense need to practice paying bills? The whole idea to living comfortably is living well within your means. This should also be a factor when buying a house (and the rule of buying a house at 1/3 your income is BUNK, but I digress)

    The husband and I just bought our own “starter home” and the price was amazing. We got a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathrooms with an in-ground pool for 163k…oh and it’s on 6 acres and 20 mins from the city. Many realtors attempted to push us to higher price homes based on our incomes and all of them weren’t for us. We picked out the house we loved, visited it and made them come down from the listing price of 170k. But because it didn’t cost 300k and up people (friends and family) were judging our house without even seeing it. We love our house. We don’t have kids yet but this “starter home” will be our “forever home”. Even if hubby’s job makes us relocate there is NO way we are ever selling.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do hate that term “starter home”. This is my way of turning a negative term and making it positive 🙂 Currently my wife and I live comfortably in our house so that’s what’s important.

      Wow. What area of the country do you live in? $163k won’t get you anything in Southern California! That sounds like a great place! 4/2 sounds like it’s good enough space for you and your husband.

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Like

  14. I live in a tidy little 1950s house very much like yours but just outside San Francisco. I bought in 2011 during the downturn. It wasn’t cheap but do-able. I’ll have it paid off in 10 years or sooner on a standard 15 year fixed 20% down. Debating the early mortgage payoff vs investing calculation.

    My house/neighborhood probably doesn’t impress anyone but it’s a solid home in a good neighborhood close to transit, culture, jobs and everything I need for my wife and 2 kids. I don’t see any reason to move for the rest of my life. And I’m so looking forward to being mortgage free as that’s when the party really starts financial independence wise.

    On the other hand, I can’t fathom the mindset many of my co-workers (in tech & finance) have, enduring extreme commutes and/or extreme mortgages to live out some expectation of what a successful professional life looks like. Especially in pricey boom/bust coastal California, it’s really a slow motion tragedy for a lot of these families stretched to the limit.

    Honestly if they want to live the McMansion lifestyle they’d be better of in Texas or even Seattle where the stakes are not so high. It’s good to see your blog offering an alternative lifestyle from the perspective of professional family man because it’s way more relatable than the tales of the smart kids that saved like mad during their 20s before they had a family.

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  15. Great article! So many people focus on getting more, more, more. I appreciate your realization that your starter home is good enough. I’ve actually briefly mentioned this post in my most recent blog. Thanks for providing some great inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I love this – I wrote something similar last year. We actually downsized from our ‘starter home’ (I hate that term) to one of our rentals but if we hadn’t we would have stayed in that house forever. To quote myself “I’m pretty sure the term ‘Starter House’ was coined by the real estate industry who wanted to ensure you know your place on the property ‘ladder’. In case you don’t it’s at the bottom. You live in a starter home. That’s the first rung. Just above the dirt.”

    The thing is – I have so much more cash and freedom to travel than the people I know who upsized to a McMansion. Everyday I think about how much I love being home with my boys (because we can comfortably service our small mortgage on my husband’s income). I actually love my small house – we’ll have to do some work on it eventually as it’s 860 sq/ft and we’ve just had a 2nd baby but we can convert the attic into a loft space or the dining area into a tiny third bedroom. Either way, I’m not moving.

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  17. People have totally said the same thing to us! Some even more blatant like, “Surely you will be buying a bigger house soon.” We just smile and say, “Actually we really love our home, we might never move.” Awkward silence. But our home is paid for, and I am not crazy about the idea of taking on a payment for a bit more space. We will cross that bridge when we need to.

    Liked by 1 person

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