Do you share our opinion that buying a smaller house is like buying freedom to be able to engage in other activities more enjoyable than playing dust detective? Or does the prospect of buying a smaller house conjure up images of cramped spaces and the invasion of one’s private space – even if there isn’t an actual invasion of property happening?
North Americans have this love affair with space. The more space there is, the more grandeur one feels. Breathing room is ample and it does provide refuge for family members who need peace and quiet after a heated argument. For people used to space, there is nothing more annoying than running into each other in the common areas of a house: the staircase, kitchen, TV and study rooms and the garden. When you possess a dwelling that stretches out over 5,000 square feet of living space, it’s the equivalent of paradise. At least we’re not screaming every five minutes saying “get out of my hair” or “get off my back.”
Knowing that’s there’s some corner of the house we can run to and lock ourselves in after a screaming match reassures us. When we’re on a telephone call, living in a large house means we don’t have to lower our voices for fear of being overheard or running outside to avoid family quibbles, because we can just sneak quietly away to the basement – and hope that it’ll be hours before someone finds you. It also helps if we have a large bedroom so we can scatter our dirty clothes in inconspicuous corners so they don’t all fall into one dirty pile and trigger another argument with mum.
But buying a smaller house can prove to be a winning proposition in many respects. There are real advantages to be gained and we can actually simplify our life because there’s less chance of a tendency to hoard, thus avoiding becoming clutter beasts.
Advantages of Buying a Smaller House
Off the top of our head, we can think of at least a handful of advantages that we can benefit from by buying a smaller house:
- Cash proceeds from selling a bigger house to buy a smaller house can be used to fund other needs – let’s say you’ve paid off the mortgage on your first house (a six bedroom dwelling sitting on 5,000 square feet with a pool, triple car garage, a basement that can be converted into a two-bedroom apartment, sprawling gardens and winding driveway entrance) and you buy a smaller house (two bedrooms, one-car garage, 1,000 square feet of land, no basement). If the first house fetched a sale price of $485,000.00 and you buy a smaller piece of property for $185,000.00, you instantly have $300,000.00 to add to your retirement portfolio. That neat sum could augment your meager government pension and enable you to spend for medical and health care costs in the future, help an adult child obtain a university degree or take you on a much-deserved vacation around the world – and still have much left over.
- Reduced time spent on maintenance – when you’re a young, growing family, it’s okay to spend your weekends cutting weed and grass and tending to a beautiful rose garden. It’s the perfect time to bond when all members of the family can pitch in and do their share, but you do this weekend in and weekend out for 10 years and after awhile, the repetition of a cumbersome chore no longer is as exciting as it first was. Lawn and garden maintenance turns into drudgery and the grunt work generates a grudge that takes up space in your psyche. We’re not even talking about other maintenance work inside the house. A pool is a status symbol and it enhances the value of the house, but think of the hours you spend flexing your muscles as you scrub and vacuum the pool and deal with bacteria in the water and chlorination. A well-apportioned home with airy spaces can be an interior designer’s dream project, but when all the decorating is done, someone’s got to make sure the dust is never allowed to settle and the tiny particles on the floor have to be removed to keep the woodwork shiny and spic-and-span.
- Less utility payments – let’s take air conditioners as an example. When you walk up to an air conditioning salesman and ask him about how much BTU you’ll need, his first question logically would be, “how big is the living space you want to cool?” Or refrigerate. So a house requiring central air conditioning in the summer and heating for the winter is bound to eat up the lion’s share of your utility bills. A sprawling estate that has central air packs in more horsepower than a dollhouse, so when you can cut on your utility bills, you don’t drain your cash flow unnecessarily.
- Less money goes to the taxman – our father used to say “don’t complain about taxes. They’re good for the country.” Sure, but our father did not live in Canada, and if he did and had to pay taxes, he’d pack up his suitcase and head back home, of that we’re sure. In the US, the property tax situation perhaps is manageable and citizens can still swallow what the taxman grabs from their pockets, but in Canada, property taxes combined with income taxes can force you to think twice about buying a large house, especially when you’re looking in expensive locations known for their high tax assessments. The US allows taxpayers to deduct mortgage payments as a relief measure, but in Canada, and in certain provinces, you can only deduct mortgage payments from your tax liabilities if you fall within a particular income level.
- Less junk when buying a smaller house – and we don’t mean junk food because that all goes into the fridge or into the cupboards. We’re talking about bric-a-brac that has a way of building up into a tall heap of junk that you can’t even use as compost. In a smaller house, space is at a premium, so you’re usually more careful about hoarding stuff and dust collectors; in a bigger house, however, the urge to fill in every empty space nags at you forever so what do you do? Buy more of course! You buy so much that your storage space swells to unmanageable proportions. One day our aunt e-mailed us obviously frustrated at the prolonged clearing out of her house which was being put up for sale. She started in the basement to clear it but that alone took two weeks. She still had seven rooms to do. “Let this be a lesson to all”, she wrote, “one day your possessions – even the insignificant ones – make you their slave.”
- Can the alarm be dispensed with? – we’re not sure if people would actually be willing to go from a high security alarm house to a no-alarm house. When you’re buying a smaller house, however, the requirement to install an alarm system is not as pressing well…because there is less to protect. Some people in large homes even have cameras and other types of surveillance systems installed because of the huge expanse of land and building they own. They have to know if their property is being stalked by would-be thieves or being trespassed upon.
There’s a lot to be said for buying a smaller house. But do sit down and think about the implications first before going house-hunting. If you’re the type to host large gatherings during special occasions or entertain a lot and keep an open door policy for friends and family, or simply need your own private space, a smaller house can cramp your style.
Want to hear what British comedian and actor Alexei Sayle said about his neighborhood? “I come from a poor neighborhood. If anyone ever paid their rent, the police immediately come around to see where they got the money from.”