Issues Buying a Home... (venting)

DH’s grandmother’s old house in the suburbs has recently been put on the market, and we’re considering making an offer. While we’re going to wait and see what type of mortgage we can get (we qualify for a VA home loan), we’re not very confident because the DC metro area is outrageously expensive and we’re a single-income household until I can send my manuscript in for publication. I have a disability, so it would be very difficult for me to find work outside the home, and I’d end up quitting once we have kids in a year or so, anyway. His mom has offered to pay off all the debt we have left from when DH experienced 4 months of unemployment and might help us out even more. She always regretted selling the house after her mother passed.

The downsides to this are a) the county the house is located in is a sanctuary county for illegal aliens, which is causing problems, and b) this gives his (sometimes very demanding) mother an excuse to butt into our lives whenever she wants. If not for these two things, this would be a dream come true. That is, if we are even able to afford this place with her help.

I’m also just frustrated with the COL situation here in general. We can barely afford the rent on our apartment, and there is almost nowhere affordable we can move that isn’t infested with mice or over an hour away from the city where DH works. We can’t move because DH works for the government and we don’t know if or when we’ll be able to transfer to a new location. We considered moving out to the more rural areas, but the urban sprawl is already starting to arrive there and we still might not be able to get a mortgage with our current income. We can barely save any money because of our rent, and we don’t even have much to show for it. I’m tired of living in a studio apartment and still having to scrimp and save. How are we going to afford to send our future kids to parochial school when it costs over $5k per kid and we have almost no disposable income? I can’t stand living in an urban area. I grew up in a small suburb where everyone knew their neighbors, we had large yards, and there was almost no crime. I’ve tried to look on the bright side, but it’s hard when the only reason I wouldn’t want to leave is that I like the Catholic community here. It drives me crazy to know that in other areas of the country, you can buy a house for under $100k. I’m so frustrated and stressed out, and I feel like we’re going to be stuck renting a tiny apartment in the middle of soulless urban sprawl forever.

Thank you for sharing, I am sorry for what you are going through.

I can offer you no practical advice since I am on the other side of the country, however I have been in frustrating life situations that seemed to have no way out.

A question: has this been on your mind a LOT? Have you been thinking and re-thinking ways out of your current situation? If so, my advice is to stop and focus on something completely different just for Christ. Take time off emotionally from your own situation and volunteer (if possible) at a pro-life pregnancy center, make flower arrangements for someone, bake a meal and deliver it and spend time with a lonely person. This may seem odd but I speak from experience, although I am not always so good at this to be honest. When I become embroiled in my own MESS it seems I get tunnel vision and that is all I can see! I get frustrated and discouraged. It is at those times when if I take a step back and do something just for God, and let the Holy Spirit take over my life that I have seen some wonderful things happen! Use this opportunity to draw closer to Him. He wants to be closer to you!

The God that created the Universe out of nothing, that put each star in it’s place, that knows every molecule in your body and that rules the Heavens and the Earth can certainly help find you an affordable mortgage if that is His will. Nothing is impossible with God.

I would honestly take this in steps. First, talk to your bank and see how much of a mortgage you can afford. If you can’t afford the house then the problem goes away. Second, I would not take up your MILs offer on paying off your debts or any future financial assistance. That invites your MIL into your future financial making decisions no matter how much you don’t think it will be that way. (Why are Son/DIL buying THAT when I know they don’t have the extra cash?) And if your MIL is already a little too demanding now imagine what that will be like in her former house paid for with her money. So if you can’t afford the house on your own I would pass. A house is a house. Yes, memories are nice but they aren’t tangibly in the house there are within each of us. Third, if this location isn’t what you’d want (high cost of living, undesirable neighbors, etc) then that won’t change no matter what so why buy in to the negative location?

To sum it up if you can’t afford it on your own and dislike the location I’d pass. Good luck!

Thank you, I really needed that. I tend to latch onto things and obsess about them even when the issue isn’t pressing or I can’t actually do anything. I’ll try to find something positive I can do next week.

Very good points about MIL feeling even more free to demand things.

The location (DC metro area, not the specific neighborhood, which seems nice) isn’t desirable and the COL is high, but almost all the jobs DH is qualified for are in this area, so we’d be stuck living here anyway, unless DH manages to get transferred somewhere else in a few years, which looks like it will be difficult. So this would be a way of getting a house when we are otherwise not going to be able to for a VERY long time, if ever, if we stay in this area. But I think that even if we can afford to buy this house, money will be very tight with the mortgage, property taxes (I’m holding back the urge to go on a libertarian rant about paying taxes on something you OWN), and everything else. I don’t know…maybe it would be better to rent for a few years and try our best to save what money we can and get out of here. DH’s supervisor told him that to be able to afford to have more than 2 kids in this area, you basically need a GS14 ($105k+) job these days. We want 3 children, minimum…

My fear is, even if we move, we’ll probably still end up living in a city. Just a less expensive one. I don’t want to spend years of my life surrounded by concrete like I am now. It’s suffocating.

I am afraid that I don’t have any advice for you, but I can commiserate. Because my husband is a foreign service officer his stateside work is in DC. This area is home to all of our children who all work in businesses that are directly or indirectly involved with the federal government. In order to see our children and grandchildren on a regulat basis, we will be retiring to Fairfax County. Who in their right mind does that? We will stay in our little townhouse which is now worth over $500,000, because even if we sold it, the large amount of equity we have in it is still not enough to buy a small, one floor ranch which would be better for retirement. If we were to sell our house and move to another part of the country, we could buy a mansion, but being close to family is more important. Two of our sons are married, and they and their wives all have masters degrees. One couple lives in a tiny condo, and would like a home for a family. The other family is in a rental, and would like to buy. The traffic in DC and NOVA is so horrendous that spending two hours in traffic each way to work and then home is necessary to live where an ordinary family might be able to afford a home, as you know. That doesn’t make for a good family life especially if both the husband and the wife have to do it. In order for our country to function the government needs workers, and support from other businesses. These people have to live somewhere. I want you to know that I hear your pain, and I want others who don’t live in our area to know what we are dealing with here.

Personally, I’d never accept money from a family member to pay off debt or buy a house. Especially someone who already has a tendency to insert herself into your lives. Also, the fact that the house belonged to your husband’s grandmother might give your mother in law the idea that she has even more “claim” to your home and lives.

It is really hard to buy a home right now. My husband and I would love to buy a home, but are stuck renting because, even though we currently have two incomes, we still do not make enough to save a good down payment. We are in a relatively expensive area too, though not as bad as DC. This also means that I will need to return to work after our baby is born this fall, something I never wanted to do. It’s depressing, but it’s truly the only way we can save anything (for me to have paid employment).

If you are able to write, is it possible for you to get even a part-time job working from home (editing, data entry, etc.)? I work almost entirely from home, and although I dislike my job, it does help with a medical condition I have. Being able to telecommute is becoming more and more common, so if you could find a job to bring in some more income, you may be able to save enough to pay off your debt and get yourselves in a better position to afford a home at some point.

If you truly hate your location, you and your husband have to make a choice. And yes, you do have a choice. He could look for employment in an area with a lower cost of living- it might not be a government job, but he must have some transferable skills that are valuable. In our case, we could do the same thing. However, it’s important to both of us to be close to our families, so as much as I complain about not being able to afford a home, we have both made the decision to stay in this area and do what is necessary for us to stay here. Does your husband know how you feel about your location? Would he be willing to consider a move?

My company has offices in the DC area and when they ask if I’d be willing to move out there from Denver I was floored by the cost and how little you got for the money. I asked others that were already in that office how they could afford it and most said they commuted 1:30 - 2 hours each way. I know several of them said they lived in West Virginia (Martinburg?) or cheaper parts of VA and MD. It’s the same for people in our San Francisco offices where they work in a high COL city, but live in an area with lower COL.

As others mentioned, first I’d talk to a lender to see how much you can qualify for. I’d then make a list of what you want for housing and qualify them as must have vs nice to have. Finally make a list of compromises you are willing to make (i.e. willing to commute X minutes a day, less shopping or entertainment near by, etc). With that information you can start to build a plan on what areas might work for you.

My wife and I did something similar when we moved 5 years ago and are starting to do so again. She wants to live in a rural area with acreage, but I need to be close enough to a moderate to large city for the type of work I do. I defined close enough to be no more than a 40 minute drive. We also wanted a 4 or 5 bedroom for our growing family, but couldn’t afford the premium for that size house in the area we lived in. Five years ago we moved about 40 miles away from where I worked. It added 35 minutes to my commute, but housing was 18-20% lower for comparable houses. Now that I am used to the 35 minute commute I am more willing to do an hour to allow us to move further out from Denver.

I just mention the above to illustrate that you should see the realities of your life (i.e. single income, need to be near fed government work, etc) as modifiers rather than constraints that lock you into the status quo. It could be that you couldn’t buy a house right now, but in looking how far you are willing to move out, you might find lower rents in the area you eventually want to settle in. That might give you the breathing room to start saving to buy a house a few years down the road.

I wouldn’t touch grandma’s house with a 10-foot-pole. If MIL wants grandma’s house, she should buy grandma’s house just for herself.

Marysann, thank you for sharing your experience. We actually considered braving the horrific commute and moving to Loudon County, but in 20 years, Loudon will be well on its way to becoming the new Fairfax. We drove to Middleburg last weekend for a day trip and in Chantilly and a few further out towns, we could already see huge tracts of land being dug up for those subdivisions where every house is identical. Not to mention, I don’t want to put my husband through 4 hours of driving a day. He grew up in Chicago and the longest commute he ever had was 25 minutes when he was stationed in WA.

Lorelei12, I have tried to get freelance translation work, but it’s very difficult to find clients when you’re one year out of college. I’ll look into some other “work from home” employment options.

My husband knows how I feel about our location and while he does not hate the city or this area in and of itself, he does agree that the prices are ridiculous and that we should try to move. He has applied to jobs in other areas of the country, but the only interviews he’s gotten are in DC. We’re not going to move without a solid job offer in place; that will only put us in further debt. (Our debt now is from moving here and having a job offer basically disappear, leaving us scrambling for a new one). Until he gets an offer somewhere else, we’re stuck.

The only money we’ve accepted from her in the past is when she’s freely offered to pay for our cats’ medical treatments, and I’m reluctant to allow her to do more than that. I just feel like we’re between a rock and a hard place. I think that maybe I’m letting my fears and anxiety cloud my judgment.

Usige, thank you for sharing your experience and the solid advice. Like your wife, I’d prefer to live somewhere rural and with acreage, even if we were on a smaller property than normal for that area. The problem is that here, that would mean a 2 hour commute, and we are not willing to put my husband through that. Even worse, rural areas are already starting to be chopped up and turned into subdivisions, so we’d have to watch as our little piece of paradise gets ruined. We have looked into renting condos a little further away, since that appears to be cheaper than renting apartments in the same areas. That way, we could at least save some more money.

Xantippe, I’m definitely starting to agree with you. I had a weird feeling about this from the start, and after talking it out, it’s become clearer why.

I asked DH once he got home and he said that he is still applying for federal jobs outside of this area, and until last month had been applying to non-government jobs. Still, the only people interested in him are federal contractors and the government. In DC.

We’re going to see the house on Friday with a realtor and we’re going to see how much of a loan we’ll be able to get, but I don’t feel optimistic. I tried to distract myself today, but I just felt upset and depressed all day.

I want to live in an area where we can afford to raise a large family. I am willing and eager to homeschool, if we both agree on that, but if that doesn’t work out, I want to be able to send them to parochial school or live in a good school district. It doesn’t look like we can do either of those things here.

I don’t know what to say. People keep moving here. Who are they, and where do they work? I don’t know.

My commute is about 45 minutes. It’s not too bad. It all depends on where you live and where you work. My boss has a commute that’s a little longer but many more miles away.

This area is indeed expensive and full of people.

Speaking of commutes, I have to tell a cautionary tale.

Some of my relatives used to live about an hour from the city and commute in. Unfortunately, as the city grew and traffic worsened, they found that their commute had practically doubled while they stayed in the same place (it’s an area with a lot of bridges and tunnels).

Reality Check:

What is the reason for buying this house?

Personally, I see none.

If you can barely afford a small apartment, you can simply forget about buying a house in such an expensive area. And remember to account for utilities, maintenance, etc., on top of that. I recommend focusing on your priorities first; e.g., what are your realistic goals in life.

Personally, I would not let an inlaw help me purchase a house, particularly if she was already intrusive. I highly recommend not biting off more than you can chew. People have ruined themselves financially buying too much of a house.

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