Back in 2006, when I was newly pregnant with my first child, my husband and I decided we’d move from Brooklyn to the “suburbs,” which was really just a town in Queens, right on the suburban Long Island border.
We had a chunk of money I’d inherited, and we decided to invest it in a small co-op apartment that we planned to sell a few years down the road. The real estate market was doing great at the time, and we expected we’d turn a pretty good profit and be able to move to a bigger apartment — and one day, hopefully a house.
Then the recession happened, which was punctuated by an enormous real estate crash. The worth of our apartment sank dramatically. A few years down the line, my husband lost his job and was out of work for a year, so our finances crashed along with our real estate venture.
Along the way, we had a second child, and by the time he was a year old, our tiny apartment was just too damn crammed, and we needed to get out. The reason we hadn’t moved earlier was because we knew moving would mean losing all the money (and then some) we’d invested in our apartment all those years ago.
And it ended up being painfully true. We sold our apartment for much less than what we had purchased it for seven years prior, and when real estate and moving fees were added, we didn’t even break even. Yeah, it totally and completely sucked. Big time. It was one of the most stressful, disappointing moments of my life, and I still get a knot in my stomach when I think about it all.
We moved into a duplex with more than twice as much space as we’d had before, and a yard for our kids to play in. We love the neighborhood. We feel settled here, and it feels like home. But we rent. And with our “nest egg” gone, we aren’t sure when and if we’ll ever be able to buy a house.
As a child, I always assumed I’d be a homeowner when I grew up. In fact, it was something I wanted with all my heart. I was raised by a single mom who couldn’t afford to buy a house. We always lived in apartments. And though my dad owned a house, I only lived in it during summers and vacations. I desperately wanted a house of my own, complete with a white picket fence — the whole shebang.
Maybe that is why I was so quick to invest our money in real estate when we were young parents. I still blame myself for putting our money into that little apartment, though I remind myself that the real estate market was doing great when we first purchased the place, and I couldn’t have predicted where things would go.
As things are now, I don’t see us being able to save enough money to put a down payment on a house in the area where we live, which has one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. We could move, but we are settled here. Plus, this is where 3 out of 4 of my kids’ grandparents live, and they are very involved in our kids’ lives. I don’t want my kids to lose that. Besides all that, right now, any money that we save goes into classes for our kids, summer camps, and — gulp — college.
I think that bottom line is that you can’t have it all. Maybe if this or that element of our lives were different, homeownership would be on the table. But it is what it is at this point, and the most important thing I can do is accept it.
But it’s so hard, isn’t it, to give up something you’ve been expecting to happen all your life? Sometimes parenthood — adulthood, really — can throw you for a loop, and things don’t always fall into place as you expect they will. And as much as I want to accept it, I have to admit that there is something reassuring, stable, and truly gratifying about the idea of homeownership — at least to me — and I regret that I most likely won’t have that and won’t be able to give that to my kids.
Lately, though, these regrets don’t occupy too much headspace. What I see is that our family has a full and vibrant life, and most importantly, a warm and loving home. My kids have good friends, a great school, and a welcoming community that they can truly call their own. We have many of the trappings of the happy, domestic life that I envisioned all those years ago. Just not the white picket fence.