By Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Lately, I've been surprising myself at how often I hear myself reference an event that happened 20 years ago or describe a dear friend as having been my "bestie" for the last decade. But there was no denying that I'm a bona fide grown-up when last year I got a note in the mail announcing my 10-year reunion -- for law school, not high school!
Having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area specifically to go to law school, this means that I'm staring down my 15th year in the area; and having bought my first home just months after graduation, I'm looking at my 10th year of homeownership -- though I've owned three different homes in that time, they've all been within the same metro area.
And it strikes me that, besides the obvious tax and long-term financial advantages of homeownership, I've become conscious of some of the less obvious, unintended advantages of owning a home in the same area for a relatively long period of time. I'd like to share some of them with you:
1. New, deeper relationships. I have relationships with neighbors, with local vendors and even with the natural beauty of my area that I likely would not have if I hadn't owned my home and stayed in the same place for so long. I say this is an unexpected upside of homeownership because homeownership, especially given the down market of the last few years, has meant staying put, and because many of these relationships only deepen after years and years; I'm finding new depth in them, even now, that I didn't have two or three years ago.
Some of these things seem relatively trivial, like the fact that I know that my tailor's Maltese, Momo, leaves her brood at home while she gets to come to work with her mom every day. I know that every May, the private school campus across the street from my house dresses itself up as Hogwarts. I can count on Vernon, the park ranger at the lake, to keep me honest on how many laps I've run on any given day -- and to gently relocate any snakes I happen to encounter en route.
Angelina at my favorite restaurant? She knows my order as soon as I give my name on the phone: No. 64 -- no tomatoes, no onions.
Collectively, these sorts of relationships, not to mention those with my neighbors, are not trivial; in fact, they are part of what makes home feel like home. So are all the nooks and crannies of my street, the hidden spots and stairs and secret spaces that took me years to discover. And I'm not saying that a very long-term renter could never develop such relationships or have such discoveries, but I know these people are part of my commitment to the area that is intertwined with my experience of homeownership.
2. The ability to customize your home with your personality and your life as they change. When you own a home, you can tailor it precisely to whatever is going on in your life at any given time. The same backyard in which your kids' playhouse and ball games take place when they're 10 can quickly be repurposed for your vegetable garden and outdoor living room when they go to college. You can morph your family's den into a chic dedicated office or yoga room as your needs change -- or your man cave can convert into a nursery, as the facts require. To some extent, renters can put different furniture in rooms over time as they need to, but most (wisely) prefer not to invest serious cash into truly converting or remodeling rooms in homes they don't own.
3. The ability to leverage your space. I'm not talking about refinancing, pulling cash out or flipping your home when the market goes up. Rather, I'm talking about how, if push comes to shove (or if you just have extra space), you can rent a room, a floor or the whole place out, for a night, a season or a year.
I'm talking about the writer I know who dog-sits while she works, letting her little canine charges run amok in their homes and yards and earning a side income at the same time.
I'm talking about the ability to put a pin in your place in the market, continuing to grow your equity and harvest your homeowner tax advantages, while you explore adventures by renting out your home or even trading it with another homeowner across the country (or the globe).
Owning a home is not for everyone, and it has definite pros and cons. But as I embark on my 10th year of homeownership, I wanted to share some of the unexpected upsides I've encountered with you.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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