Why the Term 'Starter Home' Should Bother You

Was the thought of my home being a "starter home" a reason to leave? I'm sitting here in my mid-thirties with four kids, I can afford something nicer and bigger, so surely I should upgrade from this starter home, right? After all, I'm not "starting" anymore. But the more I thought, the more that term bothered me -- in two different ways.
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We have 4 kids.

Our house is 1,850 square feet and was built in 1914.

There is only one full bathroom.

Yes, it can get a little crowded at times. And while we have made many improvements to our house (like a new front porch, new paint, a finished attic), we get the itch to move every once in a while. Not only that, we could afford to purchase a much bigger and newer house.

And last week, we were *this* close. We looked at several houses in our city, and fell in love with one. It was perfect -- an open floor plan with four bedrooms plus a large office right off the master bedroom.

This was it -- we were finally gonna move.

But we had a quick change of heart... for two reasons. I'll start with the first one.

Just a couple nights ago, we had the realtor come over to our home to give us a sense of what we could list it for. He loved our home and the improvements we had made, and thought we would have no problem selling it at around $125k - $130k. Not bad. He began talking about my neighborhood in a very positive way... and that definitely made me happy. My neighbors and I have tried hard to make our street one of the more desirable streets in the city.

And he referred to the homes on my street as "starter homes." I didn't really hit me right away. Of course I know what he meant... a home in this price range is very commonly referred to as a starter home -- it's inexpensive and very easy for a young person or couple to buy as their first home. But later that night, I couldn't stop thinking about that term...

Was the thought of my home being a "starter home" a reason to leave? I'm sitting here in my mid-thirties with four kids, I can afford something nicer and bigger, so surely I should upgrade from this starter home, right? After all, I'm not "starting" anymore.

But the more I thought, the more that term bothered me -- in two different ways:

1. What about all the families who will never be able to afford anything more than a "starter home"?

Imagine a family living in a small apartment for years... and finally they save up enough money to put a down payment on a 100-year-old, three bedroom house for $90,000. It's perfect for them -- truly their dream house, and it's the most they can afford. Oh... what a nice "starter home" they bought. Surely they will upgrade from this "starter home" later on -- to something nicer and more appropriate.

Or what about families around the world who will never be able to enjoy anything close to what we consider a starter home? The average size home in China is 600 square feet.

What about families born to abject poverty? What's a "starter home" to them? Ok -- I did't want this to become a post about how much America has vs. the rest of the world (even though it's true). But it wouldn't hurt to take a moment and think about your current living situation to a mom trying to care for her children in Kenya.

Here's how my starter home allows my family to live:
  • The temperature inside can be 68 degrees year round!

  • Only two of my kids have to share a bedroom (and those two little girls wouldn't have it any other way).
  • With a flick of the wrist, I can get water (even hot water!!!) in every room that I would need it.
  • I have a separate space for my office.
  • In addition to the bedrooms and office, I have one room devoted to just cooking, one room devoted just to eating, and another couple rooms that are just for hanging out.
  • My neighborhood is safe.
  • I have a spot to park my cars (actually two minivans -- yes we are "those" people)
  • 308 square feet or living space per person!
  • When you think of it like that, it's kind of amazing. But since it's merely a "starter home"...

    2. It assumes that I will upgrade later.

    Am I merely starting with this house? And later on I will upgrade a bigger, better, and more expensive home?

    Does the term insinuate that the house isn't quite good enough? There are better things to come, right?

    Apparently, I'm just getting "started." To be a "proper home," it also needs the following:
    • A private bathroom with a really big bathtub attached to a really large bedroom with a ceiling slightly higher than the other rooms on the second floor. And I will use this huge bathtub 4 or 5 times a year.

  • Each child needs their own bedroom.
  • A living room to be used twice a year is an absolute must.
  • More stuff to fill more rooms.
  • It needs to have been built in the past 10 years -- better yet, I should have it built brand new.
  • The houses next door need to be much further away.
  • If I had that house, will I have "arrived"?

    Search results didn't yield much when searching for the etymology of the term "starter home," but I have my suspicions. I'd be willing to bet that it was invented by the real estate industry. Every time a home changes hands, a 6-7% commission is earned on the transaction. The more often people sell their homes and buy another one, that's more commission to be paid*.

    Think about it -- if you just purchased what you consider to be a starter home, then you've already bought into the idea of upgrading later. The real estate industry can count on you for another $10,000+ a few years down the road.

    Here's a thought -- have you ever consider NOT moving?

    Just think -- what if the house you live in will be your last house? That's the way things were done in my grandparents' time.

    We are really considering making this our last house. We could have it paid off in 9 years, and be done with a mortgage for good.

    But who knows... we may still move a few years down the road. But it certainly won't be because our current house was just a "starter home." We will always love this house.

    For us, choosing what house to live in needs to start with contentment. If we are happy and content with what we already have, then the choice to move or not to move will be based on the right reasons. But don't we all struggle with contentment in our culture? It's this lack of contentment that has fueled our country's consumer debt crisis and the financial meltdown in 2008.

    None of us are immune to discontentment... not even a frugal living writer. Even if we get that "dream house," if we aren't content, we will get the itch to upgrade again. This time, I had my 10 year old son to bring me back to what matters.

    This was the real reason that we decided not to move -- our son. Our 10 year old son. He REALLY didn't want to leave this house and this neighborhood. He LOVES it here. He has friends here, and he gets to ride his bike around in the summer and go to the park whenever he wants. He's truly content here.

    To him, it's "our home," not a "starter home."

    So he prayed, and he truly believed that God spoke to him and told him that we shouldn't move. He wasn't sure if he actually heard from God, or if his mind was merely telling him what he wanted to hear. So he asked us to pray too.

    We did. It turns out that Andrew heard correctly.

    *I have no qualm with real estate agents and have gotten fantastic service from the agents I've used. I also think that the 6-7% commission structure is fair, given the service they provide and the value of the MLS listing.

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