House vs. Neighborhood: Which Is More Important?

When the Not Boyfriend and I decided that it is (almost) time to take our relationship further and that we’d like to move in together (eventually), the first thing we did is list out all the things we’d hope to find in a home for the three of us — the minimalist bachelor guy, the clutter magnet-shoe hoarder lady and my son, collector of buckets and buckets and bins of small plastic thingies. Because we want to stay together once we share an address, we decided space was most important. I added a yard, he hoped for a dining room big enough to hold a large table and many friends on Sunday nights.

Then I did something really radical when it comes to hunting for somewhat-reasonable, pretty spacious, earth-accessible real estate: I decided it needed to be close to my son’s school. Preferably, walkable.

That shrunk our hunt for a new home down to about six to eight city blocks. That inflated our monthly rent or mortgage budget by a thousand dollars. That has made our real estate agents nuts and Craigslist our nemesis. 

We’ve considered buying, but are now opting to rent, and in the process, have seen dozens and dozens of apartments, condos, duplex-down units, houses, places with “vintage charm” and those with high-end, super-new finishes. We’ve walked through homes that have not been worked on since the mid-60s and had to put our imaginations to work in units that were stripped down to the studs (but ready to rent tomorrow!). We’ve considered smaller places that would require us to rent a storage unit and larger places with full basements for stress-free storage. We’ve seen a house with a library, a penthouse with a private roof deck, and a middle-floor unit with an elevator that opened right into the living room, like something out of Silver Spoons.

We’ve also high-tailed it out of a home where doors were mysteriously locked and which housed a huge bucket of wild-bird seed blocked the front door. There have been places that were mehhh, a few that have been ohhh, and one that smelled a lot like R. Kelly’s sheets might smell like.

During this exhaustive search, we keep ending up standing in the middle of the perfect (PERFECT!) place for the three of us that stands in the center of a neighborhood that’s too far or too iffy, or holding applications for homes that are OK (just OK) exactly on the block where we want to be.

Forget the rent-or-buy back-and-forth. More than the yard or the office or the storage or the budget, we’ve debated: House vs. Neighborhood.

Here, the crowd-sourced responses to the age-old real-estate debate on where to move. Where do you stand on the right place vs. the right place?

  • Houses vs. Neighborhood 1 of 18
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    Which is more important to you? What advice guided you in the last home you bought or rented? Did you make the right choice? And what would you do all over again? The bossiest people I know didn't hold back when I asked whether the 'hood or the home is the priority.

  • You’ve heard it a thousand times. Hear it one more. 2 of 18
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    This is a great consideration if you're buying, but what if you're leasing a house or renting an apartment in a building for a few years? Would it make you sigh with relief or smile ear-to-ear to walk up to an adorable place in a neighborhood full of run-down houses or sad-looking complexes? And would you feel the same pride stepping into a simpler, smaller or less-McMansiony home on a block full of fancies? I bet Pema Chodron has an answer for this, and that it has nothing to do with the front door that won't shut and crap landscaping.

  • OK, just once more. 3 of 18
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    The idea of walking to restaurants, letting the kid whiz off a block ahead of me toward the park, running over to Trader Joe's, and (dare to dream) cutting out the car commute to school altogether lights me up. But is that worth a thousand dollars a month? After all, we've lived in a lovely neighborhood for five years that is close to a mediocre park but no restaurants and one sad little convenience store, and there are evenings I'd gladly hand over a grand in cash just duck into a local eatery for dinner and not have to drive to school and back one. more. time. Location, you're wearing on me. And my wallet.

  • We’ve got it. 4 of 18
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  • Like prison. But with better coffee and Calvin Klein sheets. 5 of 18
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    Isolation is a big old trigger for me, and I've lived in neighborhoods where I was too far away from the things I wanted to do, the people I wanted to see and the places I wanted to be. And I lived in those places without a car or access to reliable public transportation. I didn't realize how much that trapped feeling still lived in me until we saw a fabulous duplex-down apartment with an amazing secret garden-like backyard, oodles of space and the nicest-guy landlord -- just tucked into a pocket that's 12 long blocks north of anything I know. The Not Boyfriend was ready to throw all his books on Zen and Ayurveda and military history into a box and go, but I panicked. The lesson for me? A neighborhood doesn't have to be sketchy at all for me to feel like it's jail.

  • A vote for the house! 6 of 18
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    That fabulous duplex-down in the neighborhood that was too far north that induced a panic attack for me? I've reconsidered it many, many times even though the voice in my head says, "RUN! Run fast. Run far. Or at least the 12-15 blocks to a cute little boutique and a wine bar one neighborhood over." And the reason I've pushed past my caged-animal instincts is because I really could envision the three of us living there, and I really felt like we would love it. As soon as we stepped in the door. Plus, I felt like I had to give the place a fair chance because my love loved it. In the end, the 'hood was beyond the boundaries of "preferred location."

  • How not to worry about this question. 7 of 18
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    You've got me on this one. Now someone please tell the real estate agent. Oh, and maybe conference in the person in charge of sketchy Craigslist apartment postings that sneakily list every trendy neighborhood in the city even though the unit is located somewhere in Kansas (no offense to Craigslist Kansas). 

  • The real question is about commute. 8 of 18
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    To many people (ahem, those who do not usher children back and forth to academics and activities), 20 minutes seems like nothing. But if you're a work-at-home parent who drives a stretch to school, back home, then to school and back home PLUS any after-school commitments, meetings or instances of forgotten lunch or uniforms or sanity, adding even a half-hour can feel like hell. Hell in a car with Carly Rae Jepson on repeat. And if you'd like to discuss this further or argue your side of the commute debate, feel free to jump on in to the back-and-forth the Not Boyfriend and I have about this on a weekly basis.


  • Is the block a fixer-upper, too? 9 of 18
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    Fair point. When the Not Boyfriend and I were first looking at houses to buy, we fell madly, instantly in love with a recently gut-rehabbed, gorgeous bungalow. I stood in the room that would be E's and cried. He rushed through every bathroom, walk-in closet and bedroom at least three times. It was our house. But it was far away from our neighborhood. The dream starter home was blocks from a strip club, in the center of a flood zone, and cited for too many crimes and too much gang activity for us to move in with a boy who will, soon enough, be a teenager. We've compared every house and apartment we've seen to that near-perfect place as the gold standard of where we want to be and also where we don't want to be.

  • Take it slow. 10 of 18
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    I am willing to roll up my sleeves and do some work, as is the Not Boyfriend. But is it too much to ask of a blended family just moving in together? Is slow reno a bonding project or asking for disaster?

  • Is the house THAT nice? 11 of 18
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    In my 20s, when I took an apartment in a secretly Section 8 complex and ended up living next door to young man who was regularly staring in my front window when I opened the blinds in the morning and around the way from a vet with a lumberjack beard who rode a pink girls bike covered in severed doll heads -- now THAT was adventurous. Adventurous and $250 a month (I moved out when the rent was raised to $300 because...OHMAHGAW 300 @$%&* DOLLARS FOR AN APARTMENT?!). Now I am a mom who works who works from home and adventurous feels more like giving in to radiator heat rather than having central air. How far — in blocks and crazy neighbors — are you willing to go outside your comfort zone these days?

  • Remember that neighbors are mostly awful. 12 of 18
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    YEAH! NEIGHBORS! Come over one day and I will introduce you to my downstairs neighbors, Angry Kate and Snoring Stompy Greg. Then let's head over to the Not Boyfriend's place for a rousing game of not-sleeping at 5:30 a.m. while the little boy upstairs repeatedly bounces his ball in the bedroom and the parents later let him wail for an hour out in the hallway. I would really, really like to paint these neighbors out of the picture. Now if only there was some way to guarantee that even the residents of the neighborhoods I want to live in would be a$$hole-free. Who can help me find that apartment-renter app?

  • Serenity now. 13 of 18
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    This is some Buddhist business that's shoved in the same file as "you can change yourself, but you can't change anyone else," right? I'm going to put this in my DropBox and share it with my therapist and my real estate agent. Tomorrow. 

  • Consider a camp-tastrophe. 14 of 18
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    This advice by a friend who lives smack-dab on a block I'd like to reside on are the words that have resurfaced most often when I've been at a showing, contemplating the house versus the neighborhood. Would I want to camp out in this backyard/tiny balcony above a busy four-lane street/broken-but-usable concrete patio? Or am I investing thousands of dollars a month and countless prayers in the walls staying in tact so that won't ever be an option?

  • That gut-feeling when you walk in the door. 15 of 18
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    Real estate showings and apartment tours really are the first dates of moving. Sure, he might be wearing tube socks and Teva sandals, but a few minutes later, he might really, really impress you with the size and luxury of his (umm) kitchen. I've learned that if I am debating the pros and cons of a place for more than two minutes, it is not the home for me (or us). I've also learned to recognize the facial cues of the Not Boyfriend better. Finally, I've learned that I usually know right away (one room in, maybe two) if the house could be our home. Points to the friend with the comment on house chemistry — I think I've been around the block enough times to recognize it and to understand how intoxicating it is.

  • Once the door closes, where will you be? 16 of 18
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    Truth. But the path to my car isn't lined with alarms and unicorns. OK, I've never lived in a home with alarms and unicorns, either. But at some point, we will need to emerge for skinny vanilla lattes and organic baby carrots. I guess I could just run to the car. Or use my hands as blinders. Maybe lie to everyone and myself about our zip code? (In all seriousness, this is a valid point. Just saying that back.)

  • It’s not really about you anyway. 17 of 18
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    I suppose my needs and home desires should be secondary to those of all the people who never swing by for a Friday cocktail or to suffer through a Real Housewives reunion with me. I really do appreciate the good intention to visit, though. No, really.

  • Stop. Just stop. 18 of 18
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    Also a valid point. But I am really, really good at overthinking things. That keeps my therapist's cruise budget intact and means I rarely take spontaneous leaps into facial piercings and mystery sushi specials. To be fair, it should be simple. It should be a yes or no on a home, a "let's do this" or "oh, hell no." I am working really hard on eliminating the MAYBE, POSSIBLY ONE DAY WHEN THAT WEIRD LADY GETS OFF THE LAWN, and WHEN WE GET OPRAH MONEY categories completely.

Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass. Meet up on Twitter.  Ogle shoes together on Pinterest. Read on: 


Article Posted 3 years Ago

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