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I thought ditching homeownership for a rental would be freeing, but in reality it left my family feeling stuck

Mary Sauer,Mary Sauer   

I thought ditching homeownership for a rental would be freeing, but in reality it left my family feeling stuck
girl running towards family home

Cavan Images/Getty Images

Recently, my husband, our realtor, and I stood in the empty living room of a fixer-upper while our three children ran circles around us. It wasn't awful, there were no bugs or weird smells, but there was an ugly kitchen and a dilapidated back deck.

"Can we do this?" I asked my husband as we loaded up our kids into their car seats, referring to the burden of buying a home that needs work.

This isn't exactly what we had in mind when we starting talking again about buying a family home again, but a decision we made a little over a year ago has left us feeling like we have few options.

Selling our first home and moving into a rental

In 2018, we listed our three-bedroom home in the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri, valued just under $180,000, and sold it within a few hours. Instead of turning around and using our profits to buy another home, we signed a lease for a rental.

It was an unconventional choice, but it wasn't impulsive. We imagined a certain lifestyle for our family, and where we were living wasn't cutting it. We chose to rent instead of buying another house because the market was so competitive when we sold our home and we really needed to make a change.

Unfortunately, nearly 18 months later, we're realizing that the choice we made, although largely positive, has come with consequences, too. Honestly, we thought that ditching homeownership for a rental would be freeing, but in reality, it has left my family feeling stuck.

We chose to leave our home behind so we could spend less time in the car and more time together as a family. My husband was spending two hours each day getting to and from work. With young children, that often meant he was arriving home just in time to put our little ones to bed. On top of that, any time my kids and I had an activity planned, it typically meant spending a lot of time in the car.

Now we live in a rental home - it is much closer to my husband's work and has given us the gift of spending less time commuting and more time together.

We have spent less time trying to maintain friendships because all of our friends are nearby again. We walk to dance lessons, and drive less than 10 minutes to piano lessons and school activities. We're minutes from my sister, my mom, and my brother. Our park is a bike ride away, and our grocery store delivers if we're having a busy week.

The big downside of our new life

All of that has been amazing, but we also can't say we feel free. The biggest downside of this decision is that it has been difficult to navigate reentering the world of homeownership.

We want to own near where we rent, but the financial cost of renting is making that harder. As many tenants know from experience, renting can be expensive.

We're spending $1,600 a month for our family home, nearly $600 more than we were spending on our mortgage. This has left us feeling like we need to own again. It feels like we're throwing money away, especially since we know we could have a lower monthly payment if we owned. At the same time, it has also left us struggling to save for a down payment in a market that seems to get more competitive every day.

When we started renting, we expected it to be short term. We were going to watch the area and buy a house as soon as one that was a good fit for our family and our budget was available. Unfortunately, that hasn't really happened. Instead, we've been watching a housing market that seems more expensive than ever.

We thought that reentering the housing market would be just as easing as leaving it, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, we're watching our savings sit stagnant and seeing housing prices that demand a higher down payment than we can come up with right now.

This is a lesson we had to learn the hard way. While I am so grateful for the chance to change up our lifestyle to better match our desires for our family life, I wish it hadn't come with the cost of struggling to find a new, affordable place to call home.

We're facing a big decision

There is no doubt that owning a home can start to feel a little oppressive if your lifestyle doesn't come with a lot of extra time and money for maintaining the lawn or dealing with home repairs. And, if your home isn't near your work, friends, and activities, it is pretty tiring to spend a lot of your time on the road.

Since we've moved, we've loved the ease of calling up our landlord when something goes wrong, but we wish we'd better understood we'd be trading in some of our financial security for our simpler lifestyle.

Now we're facing a new kind of decision. Will we continue to bite the bullet and sacrifice our savings to keep paying rent? Or will we make the leap back into the housing market with a fixer-upper?

Whether we decide to purchase an affordable home that needs some work or keep saving slowly for something more expensive, we know one thing is certain - as a middle-income family with a lot of expenses, there is no perfect option for paying for a family home.

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