I used to sketch out my dream house with colored pencils on printer paper. It was mauve.
Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, my three-story Victorian mansion granted access through the cellar to a secret underwater cave, where I docked my miniature submarine. An infinity pool adjacent to the back deck was also accessible via water slide from the second floor. Versailles-quality greenery lined my circular driveway, and there was a basketball hoop above the carriage house door, because, as head of the neighborhood association, I determined what was and wasn’t “an eyesore.”
I had little concept of the cost of living, so it didn’t matter. Adult Me would gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows of her living room and pet her Dalmatian contentedly. But Adult Me wonders: who could possibly want a 4,000-square-foot monstrosity like that?
1. Owner-occupied housing is your parents’ dream.
And your grandparents’. The idea of real estate as a solid financial investment depends on factors outside homeowners’ hands: the job market, the housing market, the economy at large. Average people buy houses with loans that become larger over time. Cue the “digging a hole” metaphors. Cue the wave of backlash against evil banking empires sapping financial independence from the good, well-intentioned populace. Cue the talk of debt and refinancing and loan security. New subdivisions are a different, more circumspect world than Levittown, but our distrust is not unreasonable.
2. McMansions are lame.
Buying a house from a developer with one or two “models” in its portfolio and then choosing whether you’d like the bay windows or covered porch next to your three-car garage is the real estate equivalent of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the whipped cream on your grande vanilla latte. A ‘yes’ doesn’t change the fact that you bought something made with only a slight amount of care because it’s indistinguishable from everyone else’s.
3. Over-consumption is lame.
Didn’t everyone agree in the ’90s that we’re all about “sustainability” and “eco-conscious living” now? We don’t want future generations cursing Millennials for taking the penguins away. Few of us honestly require 21 rooms for ourselves and our belongings, really, and the ones who do might want to ask: “Do I need five television sets and six couches? Isn’t the one projector screen in the living room enough?” You know it takes quite a bit of energy to heat and air condition a space like that, penguin killer. What’s wrong with a nice condominium within biking distance to the grocery store?
4. We’re not doing Manifest Destiny anymore, either.
No one owes you a special plot of land where you can sow your (decorative grass) seed and reap the (heirloom tomato) harvest — not with six billion other human beings on this planet. You’ve got to share.
5. A mortgage means you’re stuck.
Buying a “forever home” is much too big a promise to make! You’re expected to live in one place for how long? The rest of your life, maybe? That means you can’t exactly sign for your Barbie Dream House and, six months later, feel a cold stab of regret in never having lived abroad in college. You’re a bit grounded now, with your savings trapped in floorboards and shingles. A typical white-collar worker is said to make seven career changes in his or her lifetime. Whether or not the number is over-estimated, do you know where you want to settle?
6. Imagine all the shit you’re responsible for fixing.
To rent an apartment, condo, or house is to have a landlord — one who lords over your land. This sounds like one for the “cons” column — a remnant of class-driven society — but is, in fact, a blessing. Just think! You wash your windows inside and out so they nearly sparkle, because letting them become translucent with grime is “gross” and “negligent,” and then a crow flies smack into one, cracking the glass and bleeding all over, so not only do you have to deal with the window but decide what the hell to do with the crippled animal quivering in your garden bed. With a landlord, at least the glass problem solves itself.