Ah, the things people do for their kids. One of the biggies? Buying a megamansion with a massive backyard perched in a stellar school district so they can give their offspring the best life possible—even if they’re mortgaged to the hilt. And yet, making real estate decisions solely for the sake of your kids can be a recipe for regret that can actually undermine your family’s happiness.
“People get idealistic and sometimes irrational when they choose the home they plan to raise their kids in,” says Holly Breville, a McEnearney Associates real estate agent in Washington, DC. As proof, just check out some real-life home-buying mistakes so that you can avoid falling into the parent trap.
MISTAKE NO. 1: BUYING TOO BIG
“Expectant parents often want more space,” says Breville. “They want an extra bedroom for visiting grandparents, or they might want every child to have their room.”
They might also want expansion room in case they have more kids down the road. But affording a big home usually means buying in a more remote area, which isn’t always worth the trade-off—something San Francisco mom Abbe Clemons learned the hard way.
“When I was pregnant with our second child, I was convinced we needed a bigger home, so we sold our bungalow in a great neighborhood where we could walk everywhere and bought a big, cavernous house in the hills, where we had to get in the car to go anywhere,” says Clemons. She regretted the decision as soon as her second child arrived.
“I felt totally isolated and, with two tiny kids, we lived on top of each other in a couple of rooms, so a big house was unnecessary.” Breville encourages clients to think hard about whether more space is worth what they’ll sacrifice for it.
“If a larger home means moving a half-hour away from your friends and community, or to an area where you can’t walk anywhere, the impact on your quality of life might not be worth the extra bedroom,” she says.
“And ask yourself if a guest room is worth the money. How often will family members really stay with you? Do you even like having your in-laws stay with you?”
It might make sense to put them in a hotel for their brief visits rather than straining your budget for a bigger home.
Mistake No. 2: Buying before you can afford it
Blame it on hormonal nesting instincts or societal programming, but new parents (or parents-to-be) can become fixated on owning a home, without regard to financial practicalities.
“The moment I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to buy a house. It was an overwhelming ‘I have to do this or I’m going to freak out’ desire,” says Amy Klein of Eugene, OR. “Everything in our price range was old or ugly, so we wound up maxing out our budget on a home 12 miles out of town. I didn’t care that the interest rate was 5.75%. I didn’t care that I had to drive on somewhat of a dangerous road to get to work. All we cared [about] was that we had a house. But now I care a whole lot.”
The reality: Having a new baby can be stressful enough without a backbreaking house payment, so you’d better think hard about whether homeownership is right for you at this point. Here’s how you can figure out how much home you can afford.
Mistake No. 3: Buying for a school district
A home with top-rated schools is the holy grail for parents, but keep in mind that great public schools aren’t truly free.
“Homes in highly regarded school districts usually come at a premium in terms of home prices and property taxes,” says Breville. “So you need to factor in how long you will stay in the area, how many children you have, if your children will definitely use the public schools, and for how long.” Maureen Legac learned firsthand that buying for a school district doesn’t always work out as planned.
“When we relocated to Florida, we were determined to buy in a great school district. We bought a home near A-rated schools, but it was 40 minutes from the beach, and 10 miles to the closest grocery store or gas station,” she says. “Then our children decided to participate in an International Baccalaureate program, which was located at the worst school in the district and had us driving across town past the A-rated schools to go to a D-rated one that happened to house the IB program. We wouldn’t have moved to an area so far from town and the beach if we’d known they wouldn’t be using the schools anyway.”
It might make sense to test out that great school district by renting in the area before you commit.
Mistake No. 4: Renovating for the age they are now, and not for the future.
Coleen Christian Burke knocked down walls to four rooms on her main floor because she thought it would be easier to keep track of her kids in the house. “It turned out fabulous,” she recalls, at least while the children were young. Once they became teenagers, “I learned that they hate open-concept,” she says. “There wasn’t space for them to have privacy when their friends came over, and they spent more time at the houses of friends who had 1970s-style dens and basements. They call our house the fishbowl!”
Lesson learned? Children grow up fast, and their habits and tastes change, too. That backyard play structure that seems so desirable when your kids are in kindergarten will never get used once sports or video games become their entertainment of choice. So try to imagine how any renovations might suit who they are now, and who they’ll become.
By Celeste Perron, Realtor.com