The Real Costs of Owning a Big House

Are you thinking about upgrading to a bigger house? A big house is great for extra space and storage, separate bedrooms and bathrooms for the kids, but there are other factors you want to consider before buying big. If you have an endless source of cash, then go for it. But if you’re budgeting, here are some things you want to know about the real costs of owning a big house.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

I have what I consider to be a “big” house. Not a Hollywood mansion by any means but 2 levels, a finished basement, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms. Did I have a large family? No. I just got swept up in the bigger is better trend as our household income grew.

Most of us have heard the phrase “Keeping Up with the Joneses” which refers to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark to your social status or possession of material goods. The phrase originated back in 1913 from a comic strip – talk about a saying that is relevant over 100 years later! Although today it’s changed to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

The point is that media and the desire to have more, bigger and better lead many of us to make decisions that are more emotional than rational. When you’re 30 years old it’s easy to get caught up in the tide of buying more and difficult to see the long term picture. So that’s the first thing to think about. Is the decision to buy bigger because you really need the space? Or have the “Joneses” whispered in your ear?

Will a Big House Make you Happy?

Two adults, two children – that’s our family unit. We didn’t need a big house. Did getting a bigger house make me happy? Sure, well maybe. Temporarily.

The process of buying any house is exciting and getting a bigger house with more space can feel good. I liked that we all had some personal space and everyone had their own bathroom. There are some great things about having a big house. But a house does not equal happiness, no more than any possessions do. And down the road your big house may actually make you a little grouchy.

The Actual Extra Costs

Owning a big house is a trade-off. It is expensive in so many ways, now and in the future.

Let’s start with the obvious – larger mortgage payments. Having a larger payment means you may need to give up other things, like savings or travel. And remember that interest rates are incredibly low right now. It’s more than likely that your payments will increase over the life of your 25-year mortgage. But what about other costs that increase with a larger house? Property taxes will be higher, and so will your utility bills. More space equals more furniture required and more accessories. Every time you add a bedroom or bathroom, factor in the furniture, bedding, towels etc. that goes with that.

The renovations are where the costs can be really significant. What are all renovations costs based on? Square footage. Let’s say you need new shingles. Asphalt shingles for a 1000 sq. ft. house cost about $4000, a 2000 sq. ft. house is double, so $8,000. Same goes for flooring, painting, fencing, landscaping, replacing windows, blinds and everything else. We recently did bathroom renovations. One of the bathrooms was newer, but we still had 3 to fix up. It’s expensive to renovate 3 bathrooms!

All properties will need repair and upgrades. Just know that the larger the house, the more this is going to cost. You can put the repairs off for a while but at some point if you want your house to maintain it’s value, you will need to fix things up. And it will always be a trade-off. Take a trip or do the shingles? Or how about if your house is smaller, you can do both.

Intangible Costs

The state of the world today has shown us how quickly what that we saw as steady income can change. Is having a bigger house worth any financial stress that may occur? Even in a stable economy, your choice to purchase a big house may mean you need to work longer or retire on less income. How do you feel about that?

What about house cleaning? I really dislike house cleaning. If you have a big house you will be constantly cleaning it. Don’t like cleaning bathrooms? Try having 4. Just multiply everything you do in your small place by 2 or 3 times and that’s what you’ll be dealing with. The idea of having someone clean my house didn’t sit right with me, but I finally broke down because with 2 kids & a career housecleaning was driving me crazy. And what’s the first thing the cleaning service asks you? You guessed it – What’s the square footage of your house? Second question. How many bathrooms do you have? So again, more space, more spend. Hindsight is useless I know, but I can’t helping thinking, “What if instead I had invested that money?” Now that I’m semi-retired I have a lot more time to clean. But I still don’t like it anymore than I did before and there are so many other things I’d rather do with my time.

One last point – you can’t help but become a hoarder when you own a big house. Seriously, I’m not going to make it on a TV show for hoarding but when you have lots of space, you fill it. More cupboards, more closets, more rooms, more space, more stuff. You won’t even notice your doing it until you have some time on your hands and think “What on earth is all this crap?” My kids have moved out, yet every closet in my house is full. Every drawer, cabinet, storage bin, and shelf is also full. I think it must multiply because I have purged so many times and yet there is so much stuff in my house that it’s overwhelming. I now realize that a smaller, more organized space would suit me just fine.

Downsizing Later in Life

Okay, so we now know costs of owning a big house. I imagine if you’ve read this far you’re already thinking this – buy a big house now, downsize later when the kids move out. Easy, right?

As I mentioned earlier, before you move, you will likely need to do some repairs and upgrading. Any realtor will tell you the difference between selling a house in need of repair to a house with recent upgrades. You will also need to do a good purge and decisions on what to keep and what to get rid of aren’t always easy. If you have a partner, you may have some serious differences on what stays and what goes. But there’s more to it than that.

Since I first moved out of my parents home, I have moved 13 times. Each time, it gets a little harder. Years ago, moving meant I got a few friends together and we tossed some furniture over the balcony and loaded it in a truck. Moving now means a lot more than it did back then. For the first time, I feel like this is not just a house, it is my home. It’s where my kids grew up, it’s a wonderful neighborhood, I feel safe and comfortable. Emotions are now involved. So while the repairs and clean up are doable, the emotions are a little more difficult. Still, I know I can deal with that part, unfortunately, my spouse is not on the same page yet and clearly this is something we need to agree on.

Until that time, I’ll keep incurring the costs, cleaning, repairing & hoarding.

Do you own a big house? How do you feel about it?

2 thoughts on “The Real Costs of Owning a Big House”

  1. I am living in a studio flat at the moment and it suits me just fine. You are so right about the stuff – I definitely limit my purchases because I like my place neat and clutter-free, so I don’t want to add yet another item. ‘One in, one out’ is my current policy. Also, the cleaning really resonated with me as well. My mum has a 6 bed 3 bath house and she spends approximately 7 (!) hours every week cleaning it. If you add in the mid-week scrubbing/hoovering, that is one entire day of her life every three weeks, lost to the cleaning. Meanwhile, my place requires on average one hour per week.
    We do love that house – I am the third generation of our family that’s been raised there – but it definitely requires a big family to make it worth living in such a large space.

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