What to compromise on when buying a house? (And what to ignore?)

what to compromise on when buying a house

You can compromise and still love the house you get!

A friend of mine asked an interesting question on Facebook the other day:  “When buying a house, what did you sacrifice? Location?  Commute? House size? Age?”

It’s a really good question, and it got me thinking.  What do you compromise on when buying a house?  We spent 9 months looking at houses a couple years ago, and we learned a lot about what we were willing to compromise on (and what we weren’t).

Here’s what I told her:

We refused to compromise on:

  • Affordability.  This is our #1 do-not-compromise.  We absolutely will not leverage both our incomes when determining whether we can afford a potential mortgage.  The Two Income Trap is my favorite book on this subject, I highly recommend reading it – following this book’s advice made living on one income for a while much easier than it should’ve been.
  • Commute – It was convenient to the job we used to have, not so much now post-job change
  • Location on street – I didn’t want cars driving straight towards my house all the time, and I didn’t want to be near major neighborhood roads
  • Garage capacity – Must be 2+ for us, we reeaaally wanted to use half of it for our dream home gym
  • Incorporated – We like city services
  • Distance from expressway/noise sources – We put a one mile buffer between our local major highway and our house search zone
  • Structural integrity – Expensive to fix
  • Driveway slope – No X-TREME slope driveways, we wanted a flat driveway.  This was surprisingly difficult to find.
  • Number of bathrooms – Must have at least 2 potties, preferably 2 places to shower as well
  • Floorplan – Some homes had really freaking weird floor plans, some just too weird for us.  Floorplans are like location – pretty much impossible to change.
  • And no more f***ing HOAs. EVER!!!

We compromised on:

  • House’s interior condition – We took on a LOT of projects (big and small) when we bought this house, but the house’s condition is what let us buy into our neighborhood.
  • Kitchen size – Ours has one of the smallest kitchens we looked at. A small kitchen turned out to be not as bad as we’d feared.
  • Number of floors – We had hoped for a one story, ended up with two floors. Going up and down stairs keeps me trim.
  • Terrain – We’re atop a really steep hill. There’s no “but that’s okay because” to this one, my Taurus busted out a misfiring cylinder climbing it. We now take a longer, shallower back route up the hill.
  • Walkability – The nearest grocery store is a fairly walkable 1.5 miles, but that’s it.
  • Yard size – Our yard much larger than we’d hoped for. It’s more than we can maintain, but we’re doing a bit of DIY landscaping each year to improve it.
  • Commute – When we changed jobs, our commute went from 20 mins round trip to 60 mins round trip. Boo, hiss.
  • Popcorn ceilings  – Ugggh, our popcorn ceiling was so ugly and dirty-looking, and removing the popcorn was so expensive and messy we only did the downstairs.
  • Old windows – Any home that came with new windows also came with a 20%+ higher listing price. We just live with ’em.
  • Leaking master shower – We’ll fix this someday, but for the last three years we’ve made do with the shower in our DIY’d hallway bathroom.
  • View and noise – Our apartment had a much nicer view and a quieter street.
  • House color – It’s not the color I’d have picked, and it’d be a shame to spend thousands to paint over what appears to be a recent paint job. We just live with it.
  • Broken furnace – There went several grand before we could even move in.  It was worth it, the new furnace is much more efficient than the 18-year-old furnace it replaced.

We ignored:

  • Flooring or wall colors – Easy to replace
  • Dated light fixtures – Slightly less easy to replace
  • Dirt – We scrubbed it all off
  • Backyard deck – Ours is small, we don’t care (we’re not “deck people”).

In essence, most of the things we ignored when buying our house were things that could be fixed with effort or cash. In some cases, we lived with these things until we had time and budget for fixing them – downstairs flooring, popcorn ceiling, kitchen cabinet colors, light fixtures.

I’m sure this is different for everyone, and to varying degrees in each category.  If you’re a home owner, what did you sacrifice?  And what did you refuse to compromise on when buying a house?

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