10 Reasons I Regret My Big Dumb House

I bought my “doctor house” in October 2013.  In five years we have packed this house full of memories.  Two of my three children have never known anywhere else as home.  We’ve thrown at least 40 birthday parties here.  We’ve had bridal showers, bachelorette parties, baby showers and even once hosted a wedding with 100 guests.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter have all been good excuses to make feasts for friends and family year after year.  These walls have witnessed some of the happiest moments of my life.

There’s just one problem – I really regret buying this big dumb house.

Humble Beginnings

I grew up in a 2 bedroom 1000 square foot house built in the 1940s.  There was no air conditioning.  The only form of heat was old-fashioned radiators.  The back yard was 20′ x 20′ and could be mowed in about 5 minutes flat.  I’m not complaining.  I grew up fed, clothed and loved.  All my needs were met and everyone I knew lived in similar houses.

My wife grew up in a single-wide trailer.  When she was growing up, her definition of being “rich” was having a double-wide trailer.  She too grew up fed, clothed and loved.  Everyone she knew lived in similar trailers.

Our First Rental

I became an attending in 2011.  We were new to the area and were broke.  Actually, we aspired to be broke – we were worth negative $250,000.  We rented a 3 bedroom beach-front townhouse that faced the water.  I could walk off the back deck down to the sand. There was a fishing pier, a pool and total privacy 9 months of the year.  I could watch sailboats going by the window as I drank my coffee on the porch listening to the seagulls.    The house was small.  It was drafty.  There was zero storage space.  The toilet leaked.  It was paradise.

Our “Forever” Home

In 2013 we bought a 5 bedroom, 4 bathroom 5500 square foot house on a 0.75 acre perimeter lot that backs up to wooded state park land. Half the doctors at the hospital live in my neighborhood. My next door neighbor is an influential state senator. There are beautiful hardwood floors, walk in closets, granite countertops and a 2 car garage.  It’s a 5 minute drive to the beach.  We thought this was the “forever” home.

Be careful what you wish for.

Here are the top ten reasons I regret buying my big dumb house:

Big down payment

I’m pretty conservative when it comes to money, so I wouldn’t buy a house until I had saved at least 20% to put down.  With lots of hard work and hustling I saved $135,000 to reach that goal.  That 135k involved lots of shifts including moonlighting like I described in Have Stethoscope, Will Travel.

$135,000 is not chump change.  It could have done a lot of things.  One thing it could have done is grow.  If I invested that $135,000 in the Vanguard Total Stock Market index fund in October 2013, it would now be worth $233,550.  Doh!

Furniture you don’t use for rooms you don’t enter

5 bedrooms means 5 beds.  It also means lots of TVs, dressers, nightstands, carpets and lights.  A big living room means new couches, chairs and rugs.  A formal dining room means a fancy table and chairs.  A screened porch means new patio furniture.  5500 square feet means a lot of walls that need paint.  None of these things were cheap.

Less money to invest

Aside from the fact that my down payment could have grown 75% in the past 5 years, my mortgage payment is twice what I used to pay in rent.  Some of that is tax-deductible, but even after deducting mortgage interest I have less free cash as a homeowner.  I would have had at least an extra thousand dollars a month to invest every month for the past 5 years if I continued renting.

Larger House = Larger Property Tax

Paying more taxes doesn’t get my kids more free public school or make the roads any more plowed when it snows.  Paying more taxes just means having less money.

Cleaning

At any given time there are 4 toilets and 3 showers that need scrubbing.  These beautiful hardwood floors need to be vacuumed and mopped.  Those vast granite countertops need to be wiped down after removing the constant mountain of junk that ends up there every day.  We hired a cleaning service several years ago but we found ourselves spending so much time picking up kids’ clutter so the maids could clean that it defeated the purpose.  After a year we got rid of them because it wasn’t saving us any time.  It is a never-ending job keeping this place clean.

Utilities

It turns out it costs a lot to heat and air condition a 5500 square foot house.  Having 5 TVs means a higher cable bill.  Those nifty automated lawn sprinklers sound like money being drizzled on the grass.

Living next to the Joneses

The Joneses have nice cars and fancy vacations – I can ignore that.  But the Joneses also have beautifully manicured lawns, never-ending blooms in their flower beds, flawless power-washed houses and driveways that never seem to fade or crack.

Suddenly I found myself caring about dandelions in the lawn and mildew on the siding.  Who the hell have I become and what happened to the barefoot beach bum?

Landscaping

That 3/4 acre lot has a lot of grass and a lot of flower beds.  When we moved in I bought a $2500 riding mower to get the work done faster.  I spend another $3,500 a year for landscapers to weed and mulch the flower beds and trim the trees.  I spend another $200 a year for lawn fertilizer and weed killer.  None of these expenses existed when I was renting a house with a sand back yard.

 

Room to store crap

When you have 5 bedrooms, an attic bigger than your first apartment, a 2 car garage and a shed you can hoard crap faster than you ever imagined.  People take up as much space as they have.  I think if you had a 100 bedroom house you would eventually fill every room with stuff you don’t want or need.

Location location location

We miss the beach!  I miss watching the boats sail by while I do the dishes.  I miss waking up to the sound of seagulls.  I miss walking off the back deck down to the sand with my daughter.  The beach is only a 5 minute drive from my current house, but it’s not the same as having the ocean as the constant backdrop of your home.

The Tide is Turning

We dream of a smaller, simpler house closer to the sand.  Less bathrooms to scrub.  Fewer closets to stuff.  Less counters to clean.  Sometimes the things we own end up owning us.

Self Maintaining Yard

I cherish all the memories we’ve made in this house.  I look forward to making new memories with the sound of waves breaking in the backyard.  I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I do know I will find my way back to the sea.

What do you think?  Did you regret buying your big dumb house?  Is the McMansion everything it’s cracked up to be?  Share your thoughts and comments below.

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37 thoughts on “10 Reasons I Regret My Big Dumb House

  1. Great post. We bought our “forever house” about a year after you did. Since then I have certainly learned a lot about the never ending time and expense that is required to keep up a place like that. We love our home, but there is always something that needs to be repaired, or cleaned or both.

    And I totally agree with you about storage space. The more you have, the more crap you accumulate!
    -Ray

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  2. It looks like a wonderful house to me. How has the appreciation of the house done? And where is the house located?

    I’ve been thinking about buying a larger house for the past year or so, but it does feel good to fully utilize our 1,920 square-foot house. And it does feel nice to have more liquid money to be able to buy a beach house in Hawaii when we want to move.

    Sam

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    1. The house has appreciated well. It actually appreciated by about the same amount my down payment would have appreciated if I invested it in a total stock market index fund.

      The problem with buying more house than you need is it wastes time and resources. I would love to move my family into a 1,920 square foot house if for no other reason then to spend less time cleaning and doing yard work.

      Thanks for stopping by! Your blog has been entertaining and educating me for a long time and I appreciate everything you’ve done for your readers.

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  3. Great points on the extra costs that one does not often think about when buying a larger home. You are absolutely correct that we are like water in that we will fill whatever container we are placed in.

    I bought my forever home in 2005. 3150 Sq feet but only 3 bed and 2.5 baths. I have a large property (7.62 acres) and keep about 1.5 acres maintained (I do it myself using a professional walk behind mower (another expense). But I am happy here and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    If you look at opportunities cost for everything you will end up not buying a thing. At one point money has to be spent or you will be the richest man in the graveyard and it will be wasted away anyway by the 3rd generation (which I actually had a link to a post in my grand rounds that described this very phenomena)

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    1. Very true about not getting caught up in opportunity cost. For me the thing I resent about the house isn’t the mortgage (it’s 1 year’s salary). It’s all the time and effort that goes into maintaining it. I miss my small cramped drafty yardless beach house. I want more time with kids on the sand and less time scrubbing showers and maintaining a yard. This was definitely a lesson that could only be learned the hard way.

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  4. I built something rather large myself, although not quite that extravagant. We had 4 br, 4br, and 4,000 square feet on the water. When I penned the Top 5 things I’d tell my younger self, #1 was you don’t need a 4,000 square foot house. We lost about a quarter million dollars when we sold.

    Never again.

    Best,
    -PoF

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  5. We see this a lot with our real estate company. We see new graduates coming out with $350k+ medical school debt and buying over $500k homes. Most don’t realize how long it will take them to get out of debt. They also don’t realize the extra expenses with a big house.

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    1. Nothing solves drowning in debt like being anchored with a 0% down payment “doctor loan” on a 500k house with a dozen hidden expenses.

      Med school teaches you many things – biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology. Unfortunately they neglect simple arithmetic.

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      1. I’m soooo thankful that we used the 2X salary rule on our “old” salary (me in academics at the time and my wife in residency) knowing that we would stay in the house when she finished. Now that I’m in private and she finished, we’re able to throw that money at loans pretty quickly. The temptation to buy a large house is real but at least right now its tempered by the transaction costs in moving and the joy of watching our loan burden dwindle.

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  6. Great post. I think we have all done this. My house is too big. 3200 sq ft. It is hard to move after you acquire stuff. My now ex husband had an 1500 sq ft lake house with a gorgeous view. Really enough space for 2. I like many older posters wishes I knew then what I know now. You fill the space and the attic and garage. Now I have lots of stuff from my old office. I feel like a hoarder.

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    1. These big doctor houses we buy ourselves as a reward end up being a punishment. A recently retired pediatrician friend of mine just sold her house and most of her worldly possessions and moved into a 2 bedroom pre-fabricated house with less than 1000 square feet sitting waterfront on a big beautiful bay. She doesn’t have 4 showers to clean or 6 bedrooms to air condition. She does enjoy coffee on her dock in the morning and an occasional scotch at sunset. She‘s got the right idea.

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  7. Having been down this road (8000sf dripping with luxury, marble, mahogany; and every amenity you can think of), I completely agree. I just hope not too many people get wise to the downside of supersizing before I can unload this white elephant. It is probably the single worst decision I’ve ever made. I can’t emphasize how awful it is, how tiresome and heavy it feels living here.

    I know, I know, first world problems, poor old me. And I am grateful I have a place to live, a nice place, but it really is too much. Next time you drive by those grand mansions and wonder what it’s like to live there…think of me being miserable in this overblown monstrosity, longing for a simple life. Maybe you won’t feel so bad for not living here. It’s vastly overrated.

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    1. It’s funny you use the term “monstrosity” – that’s what my wife and I refer to our house as. I can’t wait to unload this thing and buy something half the size closer to the water. Fingers crossed 2019 will be our year to escape this albatross.

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