Tori Dunlap is a financial influencer, blogger, and podcaster. She focuses on teaching women financial skills and how to create a good life through them. On a recent episode of her podcast, Financial Feminist, Dunlap noted that buying a home was (almost) her biggest financial mistake.
The notion that such a cornerstone of the much-lauded American Dream could be a bad idea may be surprising to some people, but I immediately knew where Dunlap was coming from; after all, I did buy a house in my 20s and it turned out to be my biggest financial mistake. Dunlap offered four reasons why she’s glad she didn’t buy, even though she could have afforded the home she almost bought, and in fact, she still rents. Here’s why.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of American life in many ways, including spurring many people to give up renting and buy homes instead. This rise in demand, coupled with historic low interest rates, led to rising home prices. According to Redfin data, in July 2022, the median sale price of an American home was $412,198. And in some markets, this would actually be considered very cheap.
Tori Dunlap is based in the Pacific Northwest, and as she notes in her podcast episode, her job, friends, and social life were based in the city of Seattle, a notoriously expensive metro area. She couldn’t afford to buy in Seattle, so the condo she was attempting to buy was located more than an hour outside the city, in a more affordable area. This left her with a long commute to and from work, and far away from a city with great restaurants and other opportunities to have fun.
If you’re wondering if homeownership is for you, ask yourself: will buying this property mean that I have to give up aspects of my life as a renter that I enjoy? Maybe you truly hate doing yard work, and if you buy a home, you’ll have to maintain a green space. Perhaps, like Dunlap, you can only afford a property far away from the city and people you love. Under these circumstances, it’s absolutely right to forgo buying.
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2. HOA mismanagement
Dunlap was looking to buy a condo, rather than a single-family house. This meant that she would have been beholden to a homeowners association, or HOA. In condos and similar communities, HOAs provide rules governing life for those homeowners. They’re also often responsible for exterior and common area maintenance. People have strong opinions on HOAs, and with good reason — I know I wouldn’t want to pay extra money AND have someone telling me what color I could paint my house or what pets I could have. Honestly, that self-determination is one of the biggest reasons why I’m hoping to buy a home myself in the near future.
Dunlap found out that the HOA for her soon-to-be condo was ineffective and poorly managed, and tasks like gutter-cleaning were neglected while the HOA squabbled and wasted money.
3. Emotional readiness
Buying a home is a huge decision, and not just from a financial standpoint; there are emotional considerations involved too. And as a young 20-something, Dunlap just wasn’t ready to be a homeowner.
Homeownership involves spending more money, more energy, and more time maintaining a property than many people may realize. And it’s also committing to live in a set area for a period of time. The longer you can stay in a home you’ve bought, the more likely you are to actually make money on the property when you sell it. Renting is a much wiser prospect if you aren’t settled enough in your life or career to make this commitment.
4. Real estate agent issues
The last reason that Tori Dunlap states for being glad she didn’t buy is that she didn’t have a good real estate agent working for her. The agent wasn’t supportive of her attempts to negotiate the price (which is a huge red flag!), and seemed more interested in getting his commission on the sale than on making sure the purchase was right for his client.
A good real estate agent should be your biggest advocate in the home-buying process, and if you aren’t meshing with an agent, definitely find a new one. And if in the course of house hunting, you realize that you just aren’t ready, a good agent will also respect that. If you find a good agent, reevaluate your life in a few years and see if you can work with them again if ever you are ready to buy.
Buying a home is something many people dream of, and with good reason. But buying just because you have the money to, and because you’ve accepted that old adage about homeownership being the “key to wealth,” is a bad idea. It’s best to take your time with such a consequential (and expensive) decision and really think it through, like Tori Dunlap did.
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