I'd never thought about it before, but while we were living in Italy there was a discussion about renting versus buying. To be honest, we never considered renting, and although in hindsight it might have been better, at least from a financial point of view, I've just always been an owner, not a renter. Others pointed out to me that this was because I'm a nester, and I guess it's true. As we prepare for yet another move - a move that took both of us completely by surprise - I've thought about what being a nester means, and how it's not exactly what I expected.
I always loved our house in New Albany, Indiana. I lived there from the first grade through the seventh grade, and for years I dreamed of buying that house. When my kids were little we bought a house in Crescent Hill, in Louisville, and I thought that would be my forever house, the one my kids would bring their kids back to for Christmas and Easter, but that didn't work out quite as I had planned. Once Art and I got married he was really the one to push for a house, and of course if it made him happy it made me happy, so we bought the cutest little house, and I thought we'd live there
forever. And then we went to a new home show, and decided to build. Although I poured a lot of myself into that home I don't think either of us thought we'd be there forever - the lot was large, and hilly, so eventually the maintenance would be an issue, but we just enjoyed the house until it was time to move....
When we did move, it was into a patio home - one we loved, one we thought was perfect, and one we thought we'd live in forever. And then we went to Italy. As we'd said so many times before, we didn't choose to move to Italy; it was really beyond our control - it was just what we were supposed to do, and sometimes you just have to follow the path life sets out before you. We hadn't expected our path to turn towards Italy, but when it did we embraced it completely, sold everything and took the plunge without ever considering whether or not this would be our forever home. At that point we realized that life would take us where we were supposed to be, when we were supposed to be there, and that all we had to do was pay attention. I also realized that it really didn't matter where we lived as long as we were together, so the 'where' was much less important.
Eventually the decline and continued weakness of the dollar forced us to re-evalute. We'd moved to Italy as much to enjoy Italy as to travel throughout Europe, and our travel funds were being eaten by the disastrous exchange rate. Once the house in Italy sold we talked about where we'd move to in the United States. We eventually decided to move back to Louisville for several reasons. Cost of living was a big factor, as was the climate. Further norther would mean more severe winters, further south would mean hotter, more humid summers. We didn't want to go west of the Mississippi because we didn't want our transatlantic flights to be any longer that they already were, and although I would love to live on the East Coast it just wasn't financially practical. The fact that we had family and friends in Louisville, as well as the fact that we knew our way around made Louisville feel like a comfortable fit, like we were really coming 'home'. We bought a patio home and both of us said we were never moving again. Although it wasn't my dream home, it suited us in many ways and I didn't mind the compromises.
Maybe I watch too much HGTV, but last fall, for reasons unknown, I announced to Art that I thought I had one more home renovation in me. He got excited, and was ready to start house-hunting - he'd always wanted a single-family home with a yard, and thought the time was finally right. But I really didn't want the hassle of packing and moving, I just wanted a project - but not enough to go through the pain of moving. In the end Art really didn't want to leave our neighborhood - mostly because of our proximity to Tom Sawyer Park - and the idea just sort of faded away.
And then a friend called from Florida and invited us to visit her in her new digs - a 55+ retirement community in central Florida, where she'd bought an adorable 3 bedroom, 2 bath manufactured home for $55,000. Something clicked in my brain. I'd never liked the idea that we had equity in our house that wasn't serving us. Sure we had an equity line, but you have to pay yourself back every month, and what I wanted was fewer monthly obligations, not more. It seemed to me that if we could buy something for $55,000 free and clear we'd have extra cash in hand PLUS we'd have more cash available every month for fun things like travel.
Of course things are never as simple as they first appear. We discovered that although we loved our friend's house, and even her subdivision, living in the middle of the state was not
where we wanted to be. We knew that proximity to a large airport was important to us: we want to travel as much as we can for as long as we can. Eventually we won't want to endure those long transatlantic flights, so being somewhere with lots to do would be important, both for the short term and the long term. We'd always been attracted to the area around Tampa, so we began to search the internet.
As you might imagine, living in or near a large metropolitan area is more costly than living in a smaller, more remote community. I was afraid that we might not be able to afford what we wanted in the Tampa area, and I worried about the lot rental fees. Our friend pays $700 per month, with an expected 3% increase every year, and most of the communities we looked at were about the same. If we had to pay more for the house itself, plus $700 in fees, our monthly savings would be minimal. Even if we were in Florida avoiding the snow and ice, we might end up like we were in Italy - loving our home and our community, but unable to travel, so only half our wish list would be fulfilled.
Knowing the questions to ask is always the biggest challenge. Initially we had no idea that moving to another state could be as complicated as moving to another country. We discovered that there are different types of 55+ communities: in some communities you own the home but rent the lot, while in others you lease the lot. Lot fees vary, as do the Home Owner Association fees, based on location, amenities, and who knows what other factors. In some communities you lease the lot and have the option of owning a share of the community, which gives you voting rights.
Eventually we discovered that there are resident owned
communities - basically condominium associations where you own a percentage of the entire community, much like our current home. This dramatically reduces the chance that the subdivision will be sold and razed to make way for another Super WalMart. Anyway, the point is we're learning a lot, trying to educate ourselves and trying not to move too fast. We're hoping this home will be our last home purchase, and realize we've said that many times before. This time we're trying to consider what we need to make this home for a long, long, time. As always we'll try to learn as much as possible so that we can make the best decision for now and for later - and hope for the best, since life always has a way of changing the best laid plans. Yes, I'm still a nester. I still want to own a home rather than rent, but where we nest isn't nearly as important as who I share the nest with, so as long as I have Art I know wherever we settle will be home.