What We Learned from NOT Buying a House

What We Learned from NOT Buying a House

We almost bought a house last month.

We put an offer in. Our offer was accepted. We were under contract. We had an inspection. We had our mortgage all lined up.

And then we didn’t. We withdrew our offer. We took a step back. And we resigned our lease on our current rental.

I feel confident that we made the right decision for us, for now. Here’s why.

So much of what was in our price range was condos or houses that are challenging functionally. Buying in the city is no joke. Philadelphia is certainly not New York or San Francisco but you still get a lot less for your money than what you’d get in the burbs. We aren’t space people so this wasn’t an issue but we did struggle to figure out how we’d make many of the spaces we saw work for us for the next 5-10 years. Basement kitchens are common as are bedrooms on separate floors. Small spaces are great as long as they’re functional. The house we made an offer on was more of a “we’ll make it work” than “this will work great”.

The inspection terrified us. The inspector even looked at me before the inspection and said “Don’t be scared by everything I’m going to tell you. I will find every little thing but just remember, someone lives here right now and is doing just fine. Don’t get freaked.” But then I did. I totally freaked. The heater was older than me. The roof needed replacement. The front wall needed an additional look by a structural engineer (to the tune of $600+). The water heater pipe was too close to the heater exhaust and was an “explosive hazard”. When we got the inspection report, the home had more than $40,000 in things that potentially needed to be fixed. Sure, not right away. But woof.

The responsibility seemed overwhelming. The deeper we got into it, the more it felt like so much responsibility. WE had to replace the heating and AC. WE would have to repair the roof. Sure, I was ready to re-paint the whole house and have an outdated kitchen for a few years. But we weren’t ready to sign our lives away, fork over all of our money, and then still need more than $10k just to make the house livable (the inspector felt certain the heater was about to go). We’re also not naturally handy people. It started to feel really lovely that when something breaks in our current home, someone else comes to fix it.

It was at a higher price point than we originally wanted. We knew this might happen. We’d heard that you always wind up spending more than you set out to when you buy a house. Our mortgage payment wouldn’t have been outrageous but it was more than we originally set out to pay (and significantly more than our current rent). With our other hesitations, this started to feel like a bigger issue.

My gut said no. What is your gut? How much do you trust it? Sometimes I worry that my gut is just a wimp and is trying to keep me from doing big things or being brave. But in this case, I just kept having a nagging feeling that maybe we were making the wrong choice.

We already live in a place we love. Sure, we don’t own it. But as long as we pay our (reasonable) rent they leave us alone. We know they aren’t interested in selling (because we’ve asked them if we could buy our house and they said they weren’t interested). We could stay put for years if we wanted. We’re close to the park for Archie and we love all of our local neighborhood spots. Really, I just love my street. It’s one of those little Philadelphia streets that cars can barely fit down. The neighbors know each other and it feels safe. It feels like home. I’m sure that was contributing to my gut feel because part of me just wasn’t ready to leave our current place. I love it too much.

The bottom line is this: you can be financially able to buy a house but not emotionally or mentally ready.

We weren’t ready and that’s okay. Maybe when the right home comes along, we’ll feel differently. Maybe a year will make all the difference. We’ve chosen to be happy where we are.

Now tell me, what is your favorite thing about owning your home? If you don’t own your home, what’s your hurdle?

  • I have been here and I am also so glad we didn’t end up buying. Besides actually ending up making a major move (3x) afterward, I’m really glad we’re in a much better place now than we were then. We will buy eventually, but it will be when we’re able to get exactly what we want.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone in being thankful we didn’t buy. Lots of people in our lives are a little disappointed in us because they think buying is the right move. Maybe it is, but we have to be sure and we just weren’t.

  • You made the right choice! Always follow your gut. And kudos to your inspector for giving you the straight dirt. We bought in Queens last year, and our inspector was super off-base in his assessment and made our house appear in perfect condition when it definitely is not! However, if you’re looking to buy in a city, there will always be trade-offs with space and functionality. I didn’t love this place when we put in our offer (and we tried to back out too), but ultimately I’m glad we stayed because I love it so. The place you buy won’t be perfect, but you’ll be able to see its potential and feel good about it in your gut. Good luck and take your time if you love where you are! I remember the process like it was yesterday and it was beyond stressful.

    • We definitely didn’t think we’d get our dream home but I think the inspector’s honesty brought to light every possible negative. Sometimes I think I would have rather had a slightly gentler inspection but I can’t knock him for being thorough.

  • Love this! We put in an offer on a house almost 2 years before we ended up buying and it fell through… I was looking back at pictures of the old house and I’m so glad it didn’t work out because we really like our current home. We just moved in October and I love that there is so much potential and so many projects (we are handy people and love that kind of stuff). I love that I can do something really bold and not have to worry about a landlord. I love that we can feel secure and know we’re going to be here for the next 5-10+ years so I feel comfortable putting down roots. I also love that I’m not going to have my rent suddenly raised (happened in our old apt) and have to stress about where we’re going to live. Owning is for us, but I really see the benefits of renting… especially when a week after we move in there is a furnace and other appliance issue.

    • I certainly see the benefits of owning – all of the stuff you mentioned PLUS a tax write off! But where we live we couldn’t afford a house that we’d be able to stay in for 10+ years. We could afford max a 2 bedroom so it made it hard to figure out if it was worth it or if we should wait until a 3 bedroom was in our budget and we could stay for longer. Plus we certainly need to work on our handyman skills haha.

      • Yes, I totally agree with you. We searched for a couple years to find our home and had to get a fixer upper to be able to find something in our price range in the school district (one of the best in the state). Its tricky when you’re ready to own, but the right place isn’t there yet. Hopefully your landlord will change their mind and let you buy.

  • Whitney

    I’ve just recently started looking around in the suburb where we currently rent….I’m not sure a full blown house is ever going to be in the cards, but I’d love to find a nice little condo….in like 3 years lol. Good for you doing what was right for you though.

    • We actually fell in love with a condo first! There are lots of great condo options these days however the one we loved didn’t allow dogs over 30lbs 🙁 Some of the condo association rules are a bit restrictive.

  • Jae

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a similar post with this perspective, Nadine. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I quite agree that one may be financially ready but the rest of your mental and emotional state aren’t. I’d potentially get freaked out, too, if the inspector told me the same things you heard!?

    • Thank you! I think most people will tell you that it’s smarter to buy if your able (our families certainly felt that way). It just wasn’t for us right now.

  • Ris

    We’re probably moving away from our current city in 1.5 years because of job stuff, and as much as I’d love to buy a house (and torture myself looking at zillow listings) I know it doesn’t make financial sense right now, in this city, for us. Some people think we’re stupid for renting in our 30s but for us having that liquidity is more important right now.

    • Zillow can really get you, right? Oh gosh I spent hours on Zillow per week and had email alerts set up for every neighborhood in the city. Having the ability to move if you have to (or want to!) is a perk of renting. Plus, like I said, you aren’t responsible for fixing things. There’s peace of mind in that.

  • Cara

    Trust your gut!! Philly is crazy right now. Our neighbors both just sold their house (we are in Fishtown in new row houses that are 3 years old) and both houses sold for over $200K more than they were purchased for…3 years ago (like over 30% appreciation per year). While it is a good investment, it is definitely something that you can’t rush if it didn’t feel right. That house sounds like it may have been a money pit for you guys and not the right one. The market is insane and I completely understand how you’re feeling. If it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t right and something in the future will be right for you guys. I’m not sure which neighborhood you’re looking in, but I honestly cannot believe this housing market. It compares to CA which I just never thought I’d see. I think there are also so many other things to consider in a city like Philly because the city is older and parking is a nightmare and homes are just different here. You’ll find something perfect when the time is right!

    • Your neighbor’s experience is exactly why we thought we should buy. We’re scared we are going to get priced out of Philly. Realistically, it could happen. I do think that most of the houses that are being sold for a lot more have had significant renovations (at least that what I tell myself) to justify the drastic price increase. The house we made an offer on was a trinity. I don’t know if you’re familiar but basically one room per floor and it had a triple spiral staircase, one to get to each floor. It was certainly very Philadelphia and very quirky. We loved it but it would have been a challenge.

  • We’re going through the home buying process right now and definitely started to have a lot of these feelings during two of our inspections (here in Seattle you have to do pre-inspections because the market is so crazy that you’ll never get an offer accepted with an inspection contingency.) While no house is perfect, I definitely feel you on the “making the spaces work” aspect. It’s just not worth it. You definitely have to make some concessions no matter what, and it sounds like you made the right decision for you now! I’m sure in the future the right house will find you, or maybe your landlords will change their mind. 🙂

    • Pre-inspection and an inspection? That sounds crazy! I worry that we are going to get priced out of Philadelphia by waiting a year or two but I also don’t want to wind up trapped in a house we hate (or that’s falling apart) simply because we were too scared we’d get priced out. It’s tricky, isn’t it?

  • Thank you for sharing this, Nadine! We are just now thinking about looking for houses but know that it is going to be a little while longer since the Seattle market is out of control … I guess I’m not emotionally, mentally, or financially ready, ah 🙂 This post actually made me feel a lot better about our current renting situation. And as @jennhaskins:disqus said, maybe your landlords will have a change of heart!

    • I’m glad it made you feel better. Sometimes we feel like the people who are way behind because so many of our friends own houses and our families think we should buy. The market in cities is so different and we’re scared we are going to get priced out of Philly (which would break our hearts). But I’d rather wait then make a hasty decision and regret it.

  • Buying a house is SO stressful! We bought our home in 2014, and we love owning because in southern NJ, mortgages are often less expensive than renting a similarly sized place. I love being able to decorate however we want, and that the money we’re spending each month on our mortgage is getting us equity for when we want to move.


    We had a really hard time finding this house, and even though it didn’t have any major structural issues or need major renovations, there are enough “little things” that need to be done that it’s really annoying. Being a homeowner is no joke, and so if your gut said to not go with it, you made the right decision. Chances are, if we move out of state for my residency, we’ll be renting again for a bit before we decide where we’re settling, and I’m kind of looking forward to it! I think there are definitely pros and cons to each. Good luck as you continue searching. Home buying in Philly sounds insane!

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective! I think the idea that we’re throwing our money away (and not getting that equity) is what bugs us a bit. But like you said, there are pros to each. I’m sure if I was a home owner I’d want to do all of those little things ASAP. It would be hard to wait until we had the time and money to do each project right.

  • Our story is similar to yours, though we never got as far as you did! We’ve met with a realtor and gone to a few open houses to start the process and, for a little while, were talking seriously about buying something this spring. But this past weekend we decided to take the pressure off and keep looking casually, with a goal of saving up more for a down payment (so we can have 10%+ rather than the 3.5-5% we have now…) so that we can get a home that will be good for us, not one we’re settling for. It was kind of a let-down for a little while, but we really do love where we are. Our rent can’t be beat, we have plenty of space, our neighborhood’s the best… this is not a disappointment for us either 🙂

  • I love owning our own home so much (I’m in the ‘burbs), but you’re totally right- having to be responsible for any little thing that goes wrong is totally scary. Our house was flipped so nearly everything was brand new, but we have had bad basement leaking which has been suuuuper fun to address every time it storms.

  • We bought our Baltimore row house 7 years ago during the lowest point of the recession. We were young I think, having been out of college for 3 years, but our reasoning was that we’d build equity and our money would be going somewhere. We were able to actually decrease our payment by buying instead of renting by about $100. Considering the circumstances, it seemed like a smart move and we love our house. We love being able to add our own touches to it (though admittedly, my husband is an architect and we are both pretty handy) and we’ve done a lot of work– added a patio and pergola, made some fairly big updates to our kitchen, etc. However, now that the economy has rebounded, we’re priced out of our neighborhood. The row house next to us is the same 1,000sf footprint with similar features and was recently rehabbed and just sold for $320k. I can’t imagine trying to buy in this current market where you pay an absurd amount for such a small house. And yes, we’ve had to replace our roof, the a/c unit, and a few other minor things, but at the end of the day it’s been worth it. We know the equity we have will pay off if we ever decide to move. On the flip side, considering your circumstances, I think all of the things you mentioned would have made me feel uncomfortable too. It’s daunting to make that big of a purchase knowing you’ll be paying more per month already plus have potential big ticket items to replace.

  • Really interesting to read your perspective! I live in Aberdeen UK and the owner/renter balance is off because the majority of people are here on a short-term basis, either at one of the universities or working in oil & gas. We were renting a 2-bed flat in the suburbs and bought a 3-bed house five minutes away, and pay less in mortgage than we did in rent. I definitely agree that trusting your gut is the way to go but it actually worked the opposite way for us – for our budget, we were expecting to find something smaller and in worse condition than we did, so we were pleasantly surprised on that already, and then the whole process from starting viewing to the house being ours (including getting the mortgage etc) was done within a week! It seemed insanely smooth at the time but four years on and having read some horror stories I’m counting my lucky stars!

  • I think you’re doing the right thing by listening to your gut feeling. Buying a house is a stressful process, especially with working with lenders, the inspection, the offers and also updating the house with repairs. Wow. That was a good call to not go for that house. It sounded like a huge money pit.

    For me, I haven’t bought a home because I need to get my finances together. I’m not very handy either so ideally I’d like to get a condo or a townhouse where they take care of the lawn and it’s gated.

  • It was the closing costs that killed me in this city. I didn’t understand them before I closed and I ended up needing to go back to my dad to ask for an additional large chunk of money, which felt pretty crappy. (Although, yes, I was lucky he could help.) I sometimes feel a little bit trapped. I call my house my little people house. I’m now finding myself browsing zillow for houses that are at least 1,500 sqft. This 800 sqft thing isn’t fun anymore. And it’s crap for hosting parties. I think you totally made the right decision if your gut wasn’t into it. That said, yes, you have to fix all the things. Or you could just be like me and not get your heater fixed and carry a space heater up and down the stairs with you all winter. Not the most fun, but you get to do everything on your own time. The roof thing, that sounded a little more complicated. Now I’m rambling. Hope all is well with you, I’d love to see you in person! Tria?

  • I definitely went through this when we were buying our house. I had ALL the overwhelming emotions and it was not a fun experience. Ultimately, we found the right house for us… but I can relate to everything in this post. When everything went wrong with the renovation, I definitely felt all the remorse (especially feeling like we overpaid for the house). I think you have to trust your gut on this one and buy when you’re ready. I’m glad you didn’t push forward with something you weren’t comfortable with doing!

  • we bought a house last year and had to replace the roof about 6 months later. it’s alot, but like any commitment, you definitely have to be ready. fyi, lots of home warranty companies out there cover the costs of replacements like water heaters, furnaces, a/c units, etc. as long as you purchase one with the sale of your home (or better, negotiate it into your offer before going under contract), then you typically only have to pay a small fee when stuff breaks or is about to explode.

    Great post! Glad to see you blogging again.

  • Trusting your gut is always the way to go! When the inspection was done on my house I freaked out too, but like your inspector mentioned, their job is to find all the things big and small. It sounds like yours had too many things that needed to be done though! I couldn’t wait to be done with renting but the price kept skyrocketing every year and it started to feel wasteful, so buying a house was the right decision for me!

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  • Jay T

    Keith bought our house before we even started dating so I didn’t have an opportunity to freak out over the inspection or anything. I’ve always been glad I didn’t have to go through the house hunting/buying process, but after living here for a couple of years I’ve realized there are some things that are REALLY important to consider when you’re buying! Figuring out how much it will cost to make it livable is really important. And it’s good to plan for unexpected but likely disasters. Example: our deck (where we park our cars) got eaten by carpenter ants a few months ago and had to be mostly replaced! The fireplace needs to be cleaned! The roof started leaking! And so on! I’m glad you trusted your gut and are happy with your decision.

  • Structural Sleuth

    Great post! As a Structural Inspector, I find that some people just want to buy a house. They don’t care if the foundation has structural issues or that the roof is leaking. I think their idea of success includes buying a house, rather than buying the right house. My advice is to wait until the housing market is right for you so that you find the house of your dreams that doesn’t have structural issues that will cost you down the road. I created a checklist for homebuyers to help determine if a house has foundation issues before any inspections at StructuralSleuth.com

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