What To Do When You Get Stuck In Your Starter Home

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What To Do When You Get Stuck In Your Starter Home

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card​

Looking for the best credit card to start earning travel rewards points? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is our pick. With a 50,000 point signup bonus (after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months), the $95 annual fee waived the first year, and ultra-flexible points (transfers to 13 airlines & hotels!), this is our top choice!

Sour Lemons

There is an old saying that goes, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. Sometimes you'll face undesirable outcomes or situations, but the saying urges you to stay positive and make the best of those unanticipated events. So, as someone who is officially locked out of my town's real estate market, I'd say my current housing market is pushing me to make the best of my situation.

Below is insight into my housing purchase, my family makeup and, of course, my reflection on this concept of buying a small/inexpensive starter home, in a great neighborhood, with the hopes of moving up to a new home in the future. *Spoiler Alert* We don't end up selling or moving (yet), but we made some moves along the way to keep us happy on our path to FI.

The Purchase

Back in 2012 I bought a quaint home in a really nice town in Massachusetts. The home is a 1,200 square foot ranch, with a fenced in back yard, and it cost $313,000! Back then, this was the lowest price I could find in the town. The basement was unfinished, but equaled an additional 1,200 sq ft of potential living space. The house is within walking distance to a local elementary school (my three children attend this school), and the town has a middle school and high school within a mile of my home. I live approximately two miles away from my parents, which helps significantly with childcare and family time.

The Life Style

Currently, I work about two miles, door to door, from my house. Many days I choose to head home for lunch, just to get out of the office. There are five of us living in this three bedroom home. The two boys (11 and 3) share a larger room, while my 9 year old has a small room of her own. We share one full and two half baths. We have a basketball hoop in our small driveway, the town sports are close to home, there are a few coffee shops and some small restaurants if we need a night out. Essentially, we live our lives within a three mile radius of our home base! Right now my home fits my family and my life perfectly. We each have space to spread out and can retreat to our rooms for moments of solace. However, the kids are growing quickly, and I'm unsure of if we will continue to live comfortably.

Reasons to Move, and Why we Can't

Ok, let me be clear. There are only a few things I don't like about my house, and these items are fluid in their level of importance. Some days they truly bother me, and other days they don't.

  1. I wish the house was not on a cut through street. Cut through street + three year old = so unsafe! And Remember that basketball hoop? The ball is constantly going into the road. I wish the street was less convenient to drivers.
  2. The life style creep struggle is real! While on the FI Path, I feel I am constantly struggling with figuring out what is worth spending my money on. Since others seem so sure about their “forever home” purchases, I sometimes think, “Oh, is that what we are supposed to do next?”. I'm constantly assessing what the right choice might be.
  3. I don't like feeling trapped. With an exploding housing market, I sometimes feel like my only option is to stay in the house, even if I don't want to.

A different home, in the same town, on a quieter street would be awesome! A home with a fourth bedroom, or one where the kids in the neighborhood can come out and play in the road would make us happy. Maybe one where we can take our soccer nets out or hockey sticks out and play without the fear of danger. It seems like our home could be better if we could be more active and safe at the house. So, why can't we move?

A year ago, the house next door to mine sold for close to $500,000. I have Zillow alerts for my town, and this year, the entry point is $599,000 for the cheapest listings. Listings that need “tlc” and “elbow grease”. The other parents and I talk about the sudden increases often, as we watch from our starter homes while houses change to “pending” right before our eyes. Not only is paying 200-300k more than we paid a painful thought, we also lack the ability to buy the homes because they are snatched up before we can even contemplate a buy.

Making Lemonade

I am on the path to FI, and realistically, adding to the cost of housing would create a huge obstacle to my reaching FI on time. I accept this fact, and know that I will stay in my current home, but sometimes we FIREWALKERS need to vent! In addition to venting, though, we also need to take action so that the journey to FI is an enjoyable one. Here is what I did to combat my itch for another home:

First, we rehabbed the basement! This has opened up our living space, essentially by doubling our usable square footage. We now have a sound booth, a second family room, an office, a work out space and a laundry space. We also have more storage closets. We thought we would need tons of storage at the time, until we did the next step!

Second, we KonMari cleansed our home! This has been a game changer. We have more space, we have less clutter, we donated a huge amount of usable stuff to charity, and we aren't shackled to constantly de-cluttering our home. The process took a KonMari Consultant (a close friend and fellow Fi-er), and five days of pure mayhem. But in the end, the process was magical and the outcome unbeatable. Here are some photos:

Kids Room Neat   Neatly Stored Documents

Third, there has been alot of talk about finding and exploring true happiness. In many of the recent ChooseFI Podcast Episodes, Brad and Jonathan have explored the Why of FI, bringing that exploration to a new level. Focusing on what truly makes us happy is so important in quelling the temptation to jump back into spending. I realized that I need to find my happiness, and that led me to exploring more outside of the home. I started a business, I started saying “YES” when invited to explore events or visit with friends, and I have reinvested time with my kids. “Distracting” myself from purchasing a new home, by exploring my true desires, has helped me to stay on track. It has also led us outdoors…

Fourth, get out of the house! We have begun to look at our house as a warm home base, but it is not where our lives have to begin and end. We get up and out on weekends, and stay busy during the week. We break free of the monotony of using that same basketball hoop, or the same back yard soccer nets, and we explore elsewhere.

Aquarium - turtle     Target with Arrows at Bullseye    Kids at soccer

Finally, revisit your FI Plan! We may sell our home or move one day, but the move MUST be able to help us achieve our ultimate goals, our FI goals. This is the difficult part of FI-staying on track over many years and through many temptations.

So, there you have it. For now we will continue to highlight what we are grateful for in our current home (especially that price tag!), and stay put.

To those of you facing the same sour situation of being stuck in your starter home, what do you do to combat your desires to move?

Want more from Reluctant Frugalist? Check out her other articles here.

What To Do When You Get Stuck In Your Starter Home

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7 thoughts on “What To Do When You Get Stuck In Your Starter Home

  1. Convince your parents to move, sell your house, move to some place affordable and you’ve reached FI!

    🙂 I know. That’s a tough sell.

  2. Your starter home is someone else’s forever home. It’s easy to want more, but it sounds to me like you already have the perfect home, minus the cut through street. But children grow quickly, and your 3 year old will grow to recognize the dangers of crossing that street before you know it. We just bought a 2 bed 1.5 bath 1,100 sq. ft. condo, which will be our forever home. We have one child and plan to have another. The kids can share a room, even if they end up being different genders (unheard of in the U.S., right? But in the country where I was born, you have an entire family sleeping in one hut with no separate sleeping quarters, so this is already considered a luxury). We have a friend with a $1 million house who went to tour a $6 million house, and now she wants to upgrade. It’s human nature to want more, but at what point will it be enough? That’s something only you can answer, along with figuring out what truly makes you happy.

    • Oh I love this comment. Our perspectives constantly take assault from lifestyle inflation. You are so right that what’s someone’s starter home is someone else’s forever home. The wisdom of using comparison to point out these difference is not lost on me- more and more FI reinforces my desire to be less wasteful in more areas than just money.

  3. Yes, it’s all about perspective. I grew up on a culd-i-sac and hoped the same for my kids. We bought our 3 bdrm 1.5 bath starter home for $115k when my oldest was two and we always thought we’d move to our forever home; it didn’t happen and he’s now 24. But compared to urban families who live in high-rise apartments, even just a backyard was enough, in hindsight. Our 3 boys learned to ride bikes on family vacations to grandparents’ house. Sharing a bedroom prepared them for college roommates and married life. We traveled the world because we paid our house off in 12 years. And I got to FIRE at 45. I totally hear you on the venting and we did tour a few new homes at $700k, but after renovating our kitchen, we are content that this will be our forever home.

  4. I’m A little confused. If housing prices have gone up so much, your house should be worth more, unless it’s appreciated less than other houses. If you owe 300k or less (assuming it’s at least a bit less) and your house is now worth 700K+ (since you’ve doubled the usable space, and presumably aren’t in the “needs TLC” category) then you’re sitting on 400K equity. If you Sold your house and moved to a $850K house in a different neighborhood would be no different than making a similar jump without the appreciation because of all the “equity” you have from the rising market. Alternatively, are rents through the roof? Can you sell your house, move into a rental for a few years and watch your 400K grow in the stock market till housing prices normalize? Certainly not trying to talk you into anything, but an exploding house market has some huge upsides for people who own houses…. it’s first time buyers (in the area) that are in the worst position.

    Maybe I’m missing something coming from a smaller town(40k people)… sounds like your house would be about 150K in my town, which is the most expensive in the area. You could buy a working bed and breakfast in a mansion on 2 acres of grounds for the equity in your house if you moved here!

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