When we sold our first home to buy our current one, we did the opposite of what a lot of growing families do: we downsized. Our first home was a modest 1,900 square feet, but it was still too big for the two of us. The house had 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a full basement and attic, with full living quarters on the second floor.
Because we didn’t need the extra space upstairs, we kept that area closed off so that we didn’t have to heat or cool it. It basically became a glorified storage area, which only encouraged us to buy and store more furniture and stuff.
Why Pay for What You Don’t Need?
We decided we didn’t want to pay for wasted space. We didn’t like the payment on a house that was bigger than we needed, and we didn’t like the utility bills that accompanied it. We decided to sell it, even though our family had grown to include a new baby, and we downsized to a smaller, more economical home, which was marketed as a starter home.
It was a smaller home with no fancy finishes, but we could put our own stamp on it to make it ours. Downsizing to a starter home quickly became the best decision we’ve ever made.
“This 3 bedroom, 2 bath starter home with 1,500 square feet is perfect for the first time home buyer,” read the listing of our house when we first read about it. Sounds pretty typical, right? It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “starter home” in any real estate conversation, but it’s a phrase I’ve long despised because of what it implies.
What Message Are We Sending?
The phrase “starter home” frustrates me because the meaning behind it is arrogant, as though no seasoned buyer with a little money in their pocket would possibly want to purchase a starter home because they would instead rather purchase a much larger home with all the fancy finishes that money can buy.
What kind of message are we sending here? Bigger is always better? Is a 1,500 square foot house not something you should feel satisfied with if you can “afford” to finance a 4,000 square foot house in a fancier neighborhood? Should you always retain a goal of one day moving into something “bigger and better” instead of being satisfied with where you are?
A Starter Home is a Happy Home
My mom and dad’s house is what would be called a starter home. It’s 1,400 square feet and my parents raised three children comfortably in that house, even though the bedrooms were small. When my brother and I were younger, we thought nothing of sharing a bedroom. In fact, it was fun!
My mom has told me that at some points it was hard watching friends purchase bigger homes as they worked their way up the corporate ladder, while our family always stayed put. My parents were great with saving and budgeting and always valued family vacations and experiences together over nicer homes, cars, and furnishings, so they chose to keep our affordable home.
Fast forward a few years when my parent’s factory laid off all of its workers to move the factory to Mexico, and my almost retirement-aged parents were relieved that they were 100 percent debt free, including their mortgage, while many of their co-workers were in rough shape financially. Not trying to keep up with the Joneses and choosing instead to have a “starter home” all those years had paid off for them, and now that their kids were grown and moved out, they had all the space they needed (and then some).
As a child, I never knew how small it was because it was a happy and loving home. The house was not perfect, but it holds so many wonderful memories for my family, and I’m so glad my mom still lives in it to this day. I’m also thankful that my parents’ financial values rubbed off on me.
Paying Off Our Mortgage
Today, my husband and I are in the same boat as my parents, in part due to their good example. We have a small (starter) home, but we love where we live and our family is happy here. Part of that is because we own fewer things in a small house in the country, and our lives have been simplified.
The other part is that we feel like we are financially free because our mortgage payment is so small. Now we even feel like the 1,500 square foot house is too big for us and dream of one day living in a tiny home or a little farmhouse in the middle of the country.
For now, our goal is to pay off our house as quickly as possible, and we’ve already paid off 90 percent of our mortgage balance. When we finally get to pay off the mortgage on our starter home in a few short months, I’ll be sure to let you know what it feels like.
How do you define a ‘starter home’? Do you feel pressure to buy a new or bigger home when friends, co-workers and family around you do? How do you decide what’s ‘enough’ or the ‘right’ home for you?