Dear Penny: Is Using 90% of Our Savings to Buy a Home a Huge Mistake?

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Dear Penny,

My boyfriend and I are both 34, have been together 10 years, and make about $10,000 a month together after taxes. I contribute 5% of my annual pay to charity. We have no other debt except my student loan debt from graduate school, which should be paid off in three years. 

About four years ago, we bought a small, inexpensive single-family home near where we work. The home was less than what we could afford, so that we could save and eventually move back to a city we both love that is very expensive. We intended to keep the house and rent it out when we moved, as a way to diversify our investments. 

In the past 10 years that we have been working, we have been able to save about $150,000. I am thinking we should use 90% of our savings to finally move to the city. I am nervous that if we wait, we will be priced out again due to high home costs, rising interest rates and inflation. 

Even though this was always the plan, we are nervous to use so much of our money at once. My family didn’t have much money growing up, so I have always hoarded money and had spending anxiety. What if there is another recession soon? We have a cheap, easy — if boring — life in our current town, with lots of friends. We will essentially have to start out all over in building a life, though it will be in the city we both love. 

Also, most of the homes are outside of our price range in this city. We can’t decide if we should buy a condo, which we don’t like the idea of, wait for the right house, or buy a cheaper house in an up-and-coming neighborhood. I am worried a condo won’t have good resale value, or even be impossible to sell. Should we buy a second home? Should we buy a condo or keep trying for a house in our budget? 

-Unsure Investor

Dear Unsure,

Buying your dream home doesn’t buy you your dream life. You could buy the perfect home in the city you love. Yet life will still be boring if you can’t afford to experience big-city life because housing costs are draining your budget.

It sounds like four options are on the table: holding out for the “right house” in the city, the cheaper home in the up-and-coming neighborhood, a condo or staying where you’re at.

I don’t think you should use 90% of your savings to buy a home. That’s not to say using 90% of savings for a home purchase is always a bad move. In fact, in today’s overheated real estate market, spending a large chunk of savings is the only way many people will become homeowners. But I doubt that the $15,000 you’d have left would be enough for the recommended six-month emergency fund. The fact that spending gives you anxiety makes me think you should proceed cautiously.

Dear Penny

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The condo is easy to rule out. You doubt its value as an investment, plus it doesn’t sound like you want to live in one.

So that leaves you with two choices: moving to the up-and-coming neighborhood in the city or staying put. I can’t tell you which is the better option for you. It boils down to whether you crave stability and connection over the novelty of a new city.

As you wrestle with this decision, try not to put too much weight on what your goal was a decade ago when you purchased your current home. As life changes, so do our priorities. What you wanted 10 years ago may not be what you want now.

Also try to be realistic about what city life would look like for you. Visiting a place is a lot different from actually living there. If you’re homebodies now, a move to the big city probably isn’t going to transform the two of you into a pair of jetsetters.

Your economic concerns are certainly valid. But if you have a home that you actually want to live in that fits into your budget, a recession isn’t so worrisome. If you’re committed to staying for several years and you have healthy savings, you can afford to wait out a downturn. I wouldn’t worry so much about being priced out of a future home since you’ll continue to build equity. Plus, once your student loans are paid off in three years, you’ll have freed up more room in your budget should you choose to upgrade.

It’s true that buying a home is an investment, and real estate tends to be a good investment over time. But more importantly, your home is a place to live. Focus more on what you want out of life first and less about the future resale value.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].