Buying a home as an exercise in responsible ownership
A few months ago, my 27 year-old daughter told me that she was tired of living in rented apartments with random roommates, and that she wanted to buy an apartment of her own. After the initial shock I embarked on a lecture about home ownership (like any other ownership) being a profession and that as such, it required knowledge and experience.
I told her that the main difference between owning and renting a home is in the ownership experience that comes with the purchase, and I asked her to think about whether she wanted to be an owner who is responsible for a property. “If you do”, I said, “there’s nothing like a ‘wet run’ to learn the meaning of ownership”. Some of you may say that these statements may be appropriate for big, well-known, family owned businesses, but what do we small homeowners have to do with practicing ownership?
Every family is a family owned business! Every family owns property, both physical and intellectual: a home, car, pet, money and objects. Being responsible for our bodies and our health is also part of being responsible for what is ours. On a more abstract level, every family also has intellectual/spiritual property: a family heritage, values, beliefs, myths, language, emotional bonds, objects of sentimental value, and dreams, ambitions and a vision for the future. Ownership means acknowledging the fact that all of the above belong to me, that I must choose whether and how to treat them, and that I am responsible for whatever is done to or with them.
And so, armed with the will and belief that this was the right thing to do, we set out. As is often the case, however, reality surpassed our plans, and thus, mother and daughter, underwent ownership training that was multifaceted in the aspects it covered:
- Values and priorities: The choice of where to buy and how much to invest requires clear answers to questions like, ‘What is important to me in a neighborhood?’ ‘How much can I spend?’ ‘What is more important to me: size or location?’ ‘What am I willing to give up and what is an absolute imperative?’
- Managing one’s personal capital: Shopping around doesn’t just apply to buying a pair of jeans; rather, and mainly, it applies to taking out a twenty-year mortgage. Our conversations were studded with terms that had not been included in our discussions until then: prime rate, exit fees, indexation, life insurance, et cetera, et cetera. My daughter learned how to talk to bank clerks, articulate what she wants/needs, argue over terms and conditions, and deliver reams of documents upon request. And what’s more, we learned how to consult each other, weigh alternatives, and find solutions even when things aren’t progressing smoothly.
- Buying an apartment is a journey: Anyone who has nurtured a relationship, raised a child, built a business, cared for a pet or owned financial capital knows that things don’t happen overnight. There are steep cliffs that have to be climbed, routes that are blocked, breathtaking views, times when progress is rapid and others when things seem to be hopelessly stuck. My daughter experienced all of this, while learning that even when things seem to be completely wrapped up, there may be surprises. “It ain’t over till it’s over” was an often voiced statement during that period, and it was a life lesson for us all.
I asked myself whether one can put a price tag on emotional considerations when buying a home: how much the peace of mind that comes with owning a home is worth, and how one calculates the price of the parents’ willingness to give their children money to buy an apartment, which would not be made available to them to meet other needs. Despite the inability to quote absolute financial values in terms of their cost, these considerations are certainly important. And I would like to add to them the opportunity to take a crash course in responsibility and ownership, as well as the shared mother/daughter journey, as factors which, although not quantifiable, have great value when making the decision to buy a home.
And although, in twenty years’ time, when my daughter has repaid her mortgage, she may indeed not have a sum of money in her bank account that has doubled itself in this period, she will, on the other hand, have twenty years of ownership behind her (responsible ownership, I believe) of a property she choose and worked hard to pay for. And after all, if she wouldn’t have invested her money this way, would it have been left in her bank account to double itself? I doubt it.