Eric and I bought our first house in November, 2002, just a few short months after we got married. I had a tiny (I mean TINY) little slice of stock in Albertson's grocery--I think almost every one in Idaho did, at one point--that I convinced my parents to let me cash out. We combined this with some of the money we got for wedding gifts, used it for a down payment, and moved in.
The house was a wreck. It had been empty for eighteen months while it was on the market, and some squatters had lived in it for a while. Before that, it had been a rental with out-of-state landlords, the same landlords who refused to accept any decent offer on the house, listing it only "as-is." Someone had come in before the house went on the market and had sprayed paint all over the walls (and hardwood floors) and had put in the cheapest carpet imaginable. My guess is that this same person told the out-of-state landlords that he or she had "fixed the place up," which also meant stripping it of any and all fixtures in the house. There was no kitchen, only an empty room with one cabinet and a tiny little sink. There was linoleum everywhere that there wasn't crappy carpet. There is no garage and the basement is unfinished.
But, we bought it. At the time, the house seemed huge to us, and we didn't have kids, so fixing up the place sounded like fun (yes, I realize how completely insane this sounds, now). Plus, the house was in a "low-income" neighborhood, so we got an excellent loan at a very low rate with no mortgage insurance. We have done a lot of the work on the house, we make an extra mortgage payment every year, and our neighborhood is slowly but surely gentrifying, so we've built up some good equity and the value of the home has substantially increased.
Now it's 2007, and our lives look a lot different than they did in 2002. We've got two precious babies, and we both work in cities a half hour away. Though we don't accumulate a ton of material stuff compared to a lot of folks, the house is feeling small to us, and the drives to work are getting to be more of a hassle. It takes me an hour to drop off both kids at their respective daycares in the morning and to get to work; it takes an hour to get back to Denver and pick them up. In addition to paying for the gas of the drive, the girls are in daycare an additional 6 hours each week while I drive back and forth to work. All told, we guess this adds up to an extra $200 a month in gas and daycare.
If we were to stay, we'd need to build a garage and have the basement refinished. We definitely don't have the capital to do either, so these would have to be long-term plans. In the meanwhile, we're outgrowing our space.
These reasons alone would be good enough motivation to consider to moving to Golden, where I work, or to Louisville, where Eric works. I teach environmental studies, and thinking about global warming and peak oil is giving me hives, so it would be good if we could get down to one commute. Since I'm usually the caregiver to take the girls and pick them up, we think it might make more sense to move to Golden. Both cities are suburbs, but Louisville is, I don't know, a little more suburban. Golden feels just a little more city, or closer to Denver, at least.
But I have mixed feelings about all this. I was calling daycares in Golden yesterday to arrange visits so we can get on waiting lists for next fall, and I started feeling weepy. I love Addie's preschool, and I love Miss Debbie, who watches Nolie. I love our pediatrician. I love living within walking distance of Denver's biggest park, and the zoo, and museums, and restaurants (even though we don't go out anymore). I love living near downtown. And we have put a lot of work into this old pit. I have some nostalgia about it, too.
And, of course, there's the market, the market, the market. Everyone has an opinion about whether or not we can even sell this thing, and for how much. We want to sell it for enough to pay off our home equity loan and to garner a decent down payment on a new place (which will be more expensive than what we're in now, but also substantially bigger). If we can do this--and I think we can--we'll just about break even financially every month (because of the savings we'll have in credit payments, daycare, and gas, and given the increases in the mortgage and utilities).
There's so many variables. Will our house sell? For how much? Will we find the right house for us in Golden? Will we like it there? What if the house doesn't sell? Will we decide to stay? Or should we just find another place in Denver? What if one of us loses a job and then we're stuck in a suburb to which we have no ties?
I'm realizing more and more that finances are not just numbers--they are deeply emotional issues, and interwoven tightly with who we are, what we value, and how we want to live. But, as one of my mentors reminded me last December, "You can't plan for disaster." Instead, I think we'll try to plan for the life that allows us to be happiest and most fulfilled, and hope we make the right choices.