Sunday, February 25, 2018

Column: Too much house is too much of a headache

I wasn't a total sucker.

I didn't lock myself into a crazy mortgage or buy a bunch of spec homes I couldn't flip.

But it was the boom and my wife and I got caught up in it in our own way: We bought too much house.

Don't do it, I'd like to tell anyone who might be about to make the same mistake — and, amazingly, a lot of people are.

They — we, really — haven't learned that size has little to do with happiness.

We haven't learned this no matter what you might have read about the passing of the era of monster SUVs and McMansions.

As the Times' Drew Harwell wrote on Sunday, the average new home in the United States is bigger than ever — bigger than during the height of the boom and more than 50 percent bigger than in the 1970s.

There are some complicated reasons for this — tight credit, for example, has squeezed people out of the bottom end of the market — but very simple reasons, too.

People just want more space. They still think size equals luxury.

Maybe so. Maybe these buyers will convert spare rooms to offices and man-caves. Maybe extra elbow room will give them extra peace and privacy.

But here's one thing I've learned in the 11 years since we bought our own 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom house that the county says covers 2,700 square feet but that feels much bigger when you're working a carpet cleaner or a pressure washer:

Space is a burden.

I know. I shouldn't complain.

And I won't deny that in many ways I love our house — loved the ego boost when we bought it, love the history we've built as a family, love the wide open views from our big back deck.

But when I'm out there I can't help but remember that I once painted the cozy little front porch of our old house in Brooksville in an hour before heading to work.

Painting this deck fills a weekend so full that by Sunday I don't feel as though I've even had a weekend.

In Hernando and Pasco counties — unlike more urban regions — big houses often come with big properties, which means homeowners either have to spend too much time on a mower or too much money for someone else do it.

As well as spending time and money on other maintenance. When a Lowe's opened in Brooksville a few years ago, I wondered how in the world it could make it in such a small market. The answer comes every month, in my credit card statement.

And most of these added costs of owning large houses — especially heating and cooling them — fall not just on the homeowner but on the environment.

But make no mistake, prospective homeowners, those costs will fall on you, and need to be included if you are looking at your big house as an investment.

That was our thinking — everyone's thinking back in 2002 — that you couldn't go wrong putting as much money as possible into Florida real estate.

I probably don't have to tell you that it hasn't worked out, that our house is worth less, at least according to the county appraisers, than it was when we bought it.

Which was about the only upside to finding out that, against all evidence, people still think bigger is better:

When the time comes to sell, I should be able to find another sucker like me.

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