Buying my first house was thrilling, scary and a lot of work. While it happened many years ago, the experience is still vivid as becoming a homeowner was a huge commitment. We'd just gotten married and my husband was a full-time student at the University of California, Berkeley. As a 25 year old, I was supporting our family and we lived thousands of miles from where I grew up on the east coast, and where our family and friends still lived.
What's amazing now is how my life's journey through many years of home ownership has led me to become a leader and advocate for women homeowners. I've learned so much and tend to think of myself as a logical person, yet I realize there's something larger guiding my journey as a homeowner from the day I bought my first house.
Adventures Around Buying My First House
California is probably one of the easiest places to buy a house, except for house prices. On any weekend, you can drive around and pick from hundreds of open houses to visit. When you're from another part of the country, it takes a while to learn what you like or miss, compared to where you came from. It took more than 6 month for me to fall in love with California's golden hills, a stark contrast to the lush green of the Hudson Valley in New York.
You definitely have to shop around to learn what you can afford in a house, and it varies greatly from area to area. Our first house with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and a postage stamp lot, cost $54,500 in California. In New York, we could have bought a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath house with several acres of land. Try explaining all this to your parents who are trying to support you buying your first house, sight unseen.
My Homeowner Journey: First House to A Condo
As a child, your home(s) are provided by your parents and you might like a friend's bedroom better than yours, but you probably don't know much about how your parents picked your house, financed it or anything because it wasn't important to you. From your parents home you might move to a college dorm or an apartment and suddenly you're looking for your first house and you don't really know what your priorities are.
We tend to list our requirements for a house in terms of number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square feet and maybe how much land we want, although that is often determined by the location you want. We'd already owned 5 houses when we moved to Tokyo. When the real estate agent asked what we wanted, I explained that I'd never lived in an apartment with 2 young boys so I wasn't really sure.
It took one very dark apartment to make me realize I need lots of natural sunlight (and we discovered there's not enough natural sunlight in NYC), something that has been a consistent theme in all my homes although I didn't realize it until that day in Tokyo. Other key requirements from my first house to the condo where I live in today:
- Lots of natural sunlight.
- Lots of windows with great views, although they've varied from sitting on the top of a hill in El Sobrante, California to being surrounded by 27 acres of reservoir watershed land in Danbury, Connecticut.
- Open floor plans and high ceilings for lots of visual space, which I probably learned to love in California where they built walls taller to compensate for smaller a footprint.
- Lots of storage and few hallways as they don't make good use of space.
How Long Have You Lived in One Place?
At a party recently, someone asked what was the longest I'd lived somewhere? I explained that we'd lived in New Hampshire for 14 years although we'd moved from Portsmouth to Hampton. She said that didn't count so I had to think a while and the longest I've lived in one house, the one we built, was 8 years. It was a fun conversation as we both admitted we're wanderers and know we'll move again, and it's just a matter of when … and where.
Do you still live in your first house?
… or are you a wanderer who likes adventure, like me?