My husband wants to build a house. I don't. Help.
March 27, 2015 4:54 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are at an impasse and I need help either figuring out how to make my case more clearly or ideas how to get myself on board.

This is going to be long, but I really need help working through my thoughts.

First, my perspective:

I'm not anti-building a house. I'm anti-building a house right now.

We have a one year old. And my teenage stepson lives five minutes away from the house we live in now. I've got a good daycare that I feel safe with and trust, right down the street.

My husband has a work contract that ends in four years. It could result in a large windfall for us or it could end with us owing several hundreds of thousands of dollars. We won't know for a couple years which it is. We also won't know until his contract ends whether or not we are going to stay in this city or move to a completely different state.

The new house would be across town, twenty minutes away from my stepson and would require finding a new daycare for the baby (which, of course, would be my responsibility).

We both also work insane hours, my husband especially as he tries to get the company to a growth point where we'll come out in the black when his contract ends. I am still figuring out how to balance the baby and the job and, frankly, dealing with picking out floors and shit feels like a huge added burden on my already non-existent free time.

Building this house is in our budget, but just barely. We'll go from a comfortable surplus to a breaking even every month. It won't eat into our long-term savings, but the down payment will take a large chunk out of our cash reserves, giving us a four-month emergency fund instead of a 12-month emergency fund. And breaking even each month means we won't be able to build the money back up without shifting contributions away from our retirement savings.

My perspective is: let's build a house in four years. The baby will be transitioning to kindergarten. Our stepson will be on his way to college. We can use the next four years to save for the down payment. We'll know better what our financial situation really is. And we'll have a better idea of whether or not we're going to stay here.

My husband's perspective:

He's feeling stressed and trapped at work, staring down the barrel of four more years trying to build the company with tons of financial pressure. He said, "I need to change my physical environment." He doesn't have any hobbies or any friends. He feels like this house will give him something to do, a project to get excited about.

He says four years is too long to wait because, if he stays here, he won't sign another contract, so we'll actually never know if we're staying in this area for longer than we do right now. If we move, it's likely to be to a larger, more expensive market, where building a house isn't a possibility.

He says that building a house is his life-long dream and he feels like, if he doesn't do it now, he never will.

He's excited about the thought of spending his free time making decisions about house stuff. He thinks it will be a fun project that will give us something to do together.

I don't want to keep him from living his dreams, but at the same time, I'm really struggling to get on board. I've tried to go along with it and I've been ignoring the little voice in the back of my head, because I do want him to be happy.

In fact, we are actually under contract on a house (we'll be tearing it down to the studs and rebuilding it/adding a huge addition). But there are lots of issues with the house (foundation, septic system, etc). He's excited because that means knocking down the price. I just want to walk away.

Our due diligence period ends next week and we are still arguing about whether or not to do it.

I feel like one of us is going to end up unhappy. I feel stuck and resentful and so does he.

He thinks I'm being overly anxious and too risk-averse. I think he's trying to solve his unhappiness with a house and putting us at financial risk.

I just need some perspective around the whole thing, as this weekend is really when we have to decide if we're going to do this or walk away.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think this question is really about the house. He sounds overworked and under a lot of stress, and you sound just plain stressed (plus the kids, etc). Neither of the options you are presenting are going to alleviate that stress, whether you buy the fixer-upper or build a new house.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:00 PM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

What a terrible place you're in. It's a horrible feeling to disagree with your spouse on such a big issue.

I think all the points you made are very valid.

Hopefully someone else has some suggestions for approaching the conversation with your husband.

If he wants a project planning an awesome vacation might be something he could research and plan for the family. Anything from a cross country drive to see some national parks to a Disney trip could involve a lot of decisions and planning and might give him an outlet .
posted by MadMadam at 5:10 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you buried the lede which is that you're under contract to buy a house now. Which means that the period for hammering this stuff out really truly should have happened before this point. Which, to me, points out that the two of you have some talking to do and maybe you haven't been doing the best talking. Which is a problem a house will not fix. And lack of a house will also not fix.

I concur with you that it sounds like he's pinning his "I am under stress and need an outlet" dreams on this house project. I do think that you seem to be sort of creating issues at this late point. The time to be working out the money stuff was a while ago. Stepson 15 more minutes away does not sound like a huge deal, unless there is something that makes it a huge deal. New daycare likewise, unless there is a thing that makes this a big deal. You saying it's going to be your problem does sound like, again, a relationship issue that is just being highlighted by this disagreement that you are having.

So if it were me, I'd be working out how to make this house building thing not go sideways. Make some hard and fast agreements with your spouse about how things are going to be and then work on sticking to them, maybe with the help of some couples counseling. It's not your fault he has no hobbies or friends. It's not his fault that you think a four month emergency fund is not enough. Neither of you are wrong, but you are poorly communicating.
posted by jessamyn at 5:11 PM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

Y'all need a mediator because "what we have here is a failure to communicate." One of the outcomes of that work should be helping you and your husband unpack the meaning of home and identify ways you both can be happy without sacrificing either person's short term happiness or jeopardizing your family's future flexibility and financial security. This work is complicated and will take time... but it's a legitimate reason to walk away from this house contract until you have an agreed-upon set of goals, criteria and non-negotiables.
posted by carmicha at 5:19 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lifetime dream is a lifetime dream. Do you want to get between your husband and a real, actual lifetime dream?

But he should at the very least recognize and attempt to accommodate your concerns.
posted by quincunx at 5:28 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is there anything else on this earth that could possibly make your husband happy or happier BESIDES building a house right this second?

Because I'm with you on all of your points being along the lines of MORE stress than happiness for everyone and it'd be better to wait, but he sounds like he thinks this is his only hope of happiness for the next four years. If you can change his thinking on this, you might have a shot?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:31 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you should walk away from this house, using the inspection findings. If it was the right house, you wouldn't be questioning it at this point.

It sounds like you are not ready for this change and it may not be the right change.

I think you should walk away and tell your husband that the two of you need to get into couples therapy and figure out how to bring more balance and joy to your relationship.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:36 PM on March 27, 2015 [19 favorites]

Building or even remodelling a house has never reduced stress in anyone I've ever known to do it. Also, he wants to build his dream home and then pretty much immediately leave it? The stressful, expensive, annoying bit of home-building is the part he wants to sign up for?

It doesn't seem at all reasonable to me, but I'm not your husband. Not sure what we can tell you, other than he probably needs counselling (and/or a non-stressful activity, maybe a vacation) and agree, maybe both of you do. (Oh and of course don't do it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2015 [31 favorites]

Is the house you're under contract for the same one your husband is talking about building? Because if it's not, you're actually talking about one huge building project PLUS one huge remodeling project!

It sounds like your husband feels like his contract is a bigger burden than it is an opportunity. Four years IS a long time to have to remain in a job you hate, especially if you think things aren't going swimmingly well.

It also sounds like your husband is wanting to make changes in his life that would give him some degree of control over his life that he doesn't feel he has right now. The problem is that adding a big remodel or construction job will only relieve his stress temporarily - soon it will be just one more (big) thing piled on his already mile-high mountain of stress. It's not the right answer to this problem.

How about a compromise? Agree to complete the remodel on the house you're under contract for as quickly as possible with an eye to making it a good resale, not a forever home. While you're working on it, take a vacation or two for the purpose of collecting house ideas you can put to use later when you build from scratch. When the remodel is completely finished, THEN you can start talking about when and where to build.

Having a one-year-old can be pretty stressful for a mom, especially when combined with a career. Teenagers are inherently stressful for parents, as well. So your goal should be to minimize (not eliminate) your own stress while acknowledging your husband's discomfort and being willing to work something out to make finishing his contract bearable or helping him get out of it early.
posted by summerstorm at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

In fact, we are actually under contract on a house (we'll be tearing it down to the studs and rebuilding it/adding a huge addition). But there are lots of issues with the house (foundation, septic system, etc). He's excited because that means knocking down the price. I just want to walk away.

I'm sorry, I'm confused. Is this purchase where you build the new house or is that a totally separate thing? If it's a totally separate thing how could anyone find the energy?

I think you did a really good job of laying out your two perspectives in good faith. I agree with the comment above that some of things you pointed too as being barriers aren't really insurmountable barriers. It sounds to me like you're just too tired, ultimately, to deal with this right now and it's not because of 'facts', it's because of having a one-year-old. I had a one-year-old. I could barely pull it together to buy shoes.

You both have needs, short term and long term. His dream of building a house isn't negated if you don't do it right this second. He sounds like he's feeling trapped in his job and likely trapped by the one-year-old. Those bastards trap you. You may more or may not find it liberating to share that experience. I think you both need to take a step back and stop thinking about this month and start thinking ten year plans.

As you have outlined here, everyone's needs should be able to get met in time and with acknowledgement that they're serious, real, and deserve to be met. You did a nice job of trying to describe his perspective which makes me think between the two of you you can drink a bottle of wine and figure out a rough strategy.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "we built/remodeled and came in under budget!" So building/remodeling on a "just barely" budget would completely freak me out, too.

If your current budget just barely covers the remodel or build, what is the plan to repay "several hundreds of thousands of dollars" on top of that?

He says four years is too long to wait because, if he stays here, he won't sign another contract, so we'll actually never know if we're staying in this area for longer than we do right now.

I don't really understand this part about not signing a contract. If he stays at his current job? Or if you all stay in the geographic area? Then he won't sign a contract? So what will he do? Work at new job? Or he wants to build now and then do just up sticks and move to a new job and city?

I'm wondering if the building a new house lifelong dream is about the satisfaction of designing a house from the ground up? Or is it more about living the rest of his life in an awesome custom home?

If it's just the designing part that he wants, what about buying a smaller fixer upper and flipping it? Then if he finds he has a knack for it, he can make that his second career? (Ignore this if I'm off base.)

It does sound like a third party who is unbiased might be called for here. What about a financial advisor and/or mediator? This is such an emotional situation for both of you, I think it would be hard to find middle ground. Are you both amenable to that?

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 5:53 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Update from the anonymous OP:
There's only one house in question. We are under contract for a house that is essentially just the foundation upon which the new house would be built.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:16 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think y'all need a mediator to help discuss this. It's not a question that an Internet crowd can answer. We don't have enough context or perspective.

You may want to look into couples counseling to help work through the aftermath of whatever decision you make.
posted by sockermom at 6:36 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, find someone who can talk this through with you both. From your description I feel stressed out just thinking about it, but you should have a mediator who can hear both of you.

Also, your post doesn't say how much previous experience your husband has with remodeling and construction. If he's done something similar before or works in a related field, or you have enough money to hire an architect and contractors/construction workers, that's one thing; if his plan is to build a house from scratch, by himself, without ever having done anything like that before, I'd be a lot more concerned.
posted by shattersock at 6:42 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

My husband has a work contract that ends in four years. It could result in a large windfall for us or it could end with us owing several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Is there no way to get out of this or to mitigate or insure against the swinginess of this. Because, frankly, this sounds like a nightmare situation to be making any sort of decisions under, let alone huge financial ones. I feel like very few relationships would survive four years under this hammer with a young child, house argument or no.

I really think his work situation is the number one problem you are facing. And frankly, I would rather be unemployed, even with an infant, than working a job that could potentially result in me owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
posted by 256 at 7:13 PM on March 27, 2015 [41 favorites]

I see your side of this and it does sound he wants this house because of a "the grass will be greener" sort of thing. I don't know how to talk him out of it and it sounds like you need to make a decision more quickly than these feelings will pass for him.

Is there a compromise to be had? Could he maybe build an income property of some sort, like a unit on your current house's property or hell, even a tiny house? Of course, then you get to be landlords, but at least it could potentially be something that pays for itself over the next four years. It would also cost less up front. Maybe this could be a project that is just his so you don't need to be roped into it as well. It sounds like neither of you really need the time sink, but a new house would probably require your attention as well whereas something smaller could just be his thing.

It sounds like he needs a project, but it also sounds like you guys aren't sure if you'll want to stay there. If you build a new house, it seems pretty clear you will absolutely be staying there -- will he want to build a new house and then leave it a couple years later? I doubt it. You should really think about whether or not you're willing to stay in your current city.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:41 PM on March 27, 2015

I think you are right to be extremely leery of your husband's idea to demolish and build a house across town; but to convince him to walk away from it I think you need to hear the underlying request which is: "I feel trapped and bored and stressed at work, and I need a creative outlet, something that takes me mentally away from work and the daily grind and gives me something to concentrate on, and leads to a concrete goal that will make me proud and create a tangible achievement."

Maybe if you address it in this way you can figure out an alternate plan that isn't a disaster, which the house plan kind of sounds like it will be. The good news is that it sounds like you have some money. Think of ways to use that money to answer his underlying request.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:03 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think when it comes to any housing decision either spouse has absolute veto power. If you're both not 100% on board, especially for something as big as buying or building a house, for any reason, it's a terrible idea. Plus all your reasons sound really good to me. His big mind-occupying project and #1 priority should be his kids. I think you should do couples therapy but don't agree to anything house related that you think is a bad idea.
posted by bleep at 8:05 PM on March 27, 2015 [20 favorites]

I wish it were him asking advice. I did this, basically -- we kept the floorplan and studs, and had everything else redone. What I'd tell myself-of-2010 is that building IS fun, but only when you aren't in over your head. Building is fun when you can do it right. It is very fun to plan something and watch it be created. It is not fun to have to buy the cheapest laminate flooring you can find because that's all you can afford. A mile-long to do list is not fun. Asking for permit extensions and having your neighbors call the city on you for "blight" because the project went on hold while you save up for the next push are not fun. Working with skilled contractors is fun. Working with the lowest bidder is not fun.

Buy a place and add a deck! Renovate the bathroom -- heck, do the tiling yourself. Finish the basement. Build a treehouse. Do projects that you can start and stop as you wish. Do projects well within your financial means. We had a 15% contingency -- but if you're as new to this as I was, have a 100% contingency; it could cost twice what you expect. (We have not taken a vacation in five years.)

But since I'm not talking to him, I can just say, your concerns are well-founded. And, it's good of you to try to figure out how to help him fulfill this dream. Given whatever he is searching for with this project, I think it's asking a lot to ask him to wait 4 years. For me, the whole awful situation is all worth it and deeply meaningful. It helped with my own work-related anomie, too. But, returning to my point above, had I taken on less, I might well have learned more, sacrificed less (I'm cool with sacrifice, but not at the "lose touch with 80% of my friends" level), and gotten to produce something I'm even more proud of.
posted by slidell at 8:35 PM on March 27, 2015 [15 favorites]

To add to what I was saying above - I suggest thinking about other ways to use your money to give him the kind of project he wants. For example: could he design and build an over-the-top playhouse for your kid - something that will take a long time to build, be ready when your kid is two, be tangible and awesome and physical and absorbing, but not the kind of liability that the house plan is? Or... I don't know... learn to sail or woodwork, something like that?
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:41 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow. I feel overwhelmed for you. Have you both renovated before? I think that makes a big difference.

My husband and I reno'd our first house together by hand and it was hard, and that was pre-kids. It was every day off, every weekend, one million trips to Home Depot. He has a relative who built a house from scratch with multiple young kids while building a business. From personal experience, I could not have been the family in the second situation. I would rather have a 1980s kitchen and be able to sit together and play. But the second family is happy. I think they must have both committed. You'd've had to commit me.

My needs count too in our marriage.

It sounds like you will be hiring out more of the work but there are a lot of decisions and it's still a fair amount of time. I think I would try to talk about that. What makes him feel like he has hours of free time to fill? Is he willing to commit some of his hobby-time to chores and laundry and decisions and all that stuff? Is he planning to do the finishing work, etc.? What's his image of where you, your child, your stepchild will be during all this? Running around with tools? Off to the side?

It is really hard to say to someone, your dream for the future is not my dream for the present. But part of being married and a parent and a grown up is deferring some gratification. I would suggest starting smaller with some kind of other project and agree that if things go okay, the next house is the one you build together.

Also a 5 year old is a lot easier to have on a construction site than a toddler.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:57 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have had a house built. It was when we had a 3-year-old and an infant. Enjoyed it to a degree, but I personally have no desire to do it again. Differences:

My wife was a work pressure.

I had a stable job AND we were planning on living here for at least 20-25 YEARS minimum.

We had the money, thus the ability to carry a construction loan, the mortgage on the "old" house, and the ability to put that house on sale when the house was done.


When we were done with house, wife had a but of a let down in the excitement from the process and even said she'd consider doing it again and flipping what we just built. Not me. This relates to you in the form of the "rush" that your hubby wants to get out of this; it may never end.

I worry about the $$ too. We paid about 10% more than we expected in the end, and that was considered reasonable.

I think you need to put your foot down and say NO. If, and only if, your life situation involved plans to stay in one place for a long time (not four freakin' years) AND you had no money issues, then I'd say go for it. It's certainly no more work that having two kids in the house (and probably less work than having a third!)

But in the end, I agree with the upstream statement that one party has 100% veto power in one of these types of decisions.
posted by teg4rvn at 9:42 PM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm currently 3x over my initially planned spending on a remodel of an '80s home. This is partly because I chose to spend more on certain things as I progressed ("damn, that granite looks better than laminate. Forget the initial plan!"). It was also because I neglected to realize how much the little things add up- new light switches, screws, contractors in my area being just a little more expensive than I would have suspected for certain things, etc etc etc.

I'm doing most of the work myself. This only works because I have a predictable job with predictable hours. It is still sacrifice, even with lots of help from family members who have done this and bigger projects. It's still hard to get laundry done, feed myself, get work for my job done AND paint the wall I need to paint/lay flooring in any given day. If I had a one year old, I'd lose it.

The last time I was in a relationship with a person who was very insistent upon committing to a giant risky project even in the face of greater risks and seemingly lacking in a willingness to examine potentially very bad outcomes to a decision.... It wound up turning out to be a sympton of impending serious mental illness on his part. His "all or nothing" thinking combined with a serious failure to assess risks could have taken me and us in a bad direction. I'm glad I stuck to my guns on that one, and realized the issues weren't the ones we were fighting about but instead were more serious ones that my then-partner needed professional help for.
posted by slateyness at 11:18 PM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

His concerns are all about his own mood. Your concerns are about the family, the finances, and the needs of BOTH of you. I think he's being incredibly selfish. He needs to know that making a decision like this unilaterally is not a choice when he has a family. He needs to find a way to take YOUR needs into account.
posted by 3491again at 11:43 PM on March 27, 2015 [16 favorites]

If we move, it's likely to be to a larger, more expensive market, where building a house isn't a possibility.

He says that building a house is his life-long dream and he feels like, if he doesn't do it now, he never will.

Then he needs to choose: life-long dream or move to more expensive market.

You aren't saying "no", you aren't even leading him along by saying "maybe" but really meaning no (right?), you are saying "yes, in 4 years everything will be perfect for building a house, lets do it then". That's reasonable and accommodating -- the same thing he needs to do for you now.

For now, he should pick up woodworking or build you a shed in the backyard.
posted by flimflam at 12:37 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds like what I went through a few years ago. My husband was very stressed, I was stressed. We had a one year old. My husband decided we neeeeeeeded to move and reconstruct a house Right Now. I proposed we wait 8 months. He insisted we start right away. In the end, I followed him and we now live in a very nice house in a lovely village that was possibly the 'one-in-a-million' chance that he thought it was.

It took us 6 months of pure hell and one year of recovery to get to where we are now - happy and comfortable in a nice house. This is what the first year and a half looked like: my husband working late, every spare minute on the phone with contractors or figuring out new plans. Me: lonely, working late, running after our child, exhausted and unable to get hardly any time with my husband besides basic conversations invariably interrupted by a phone call. My husband ended up in the hospital for a week, technically due to an infection, but almost certainly exacerbated by the stress. I ended up with mild depression and needed some time with a therapist due to the stress and it took me about a year to get back to feeling normal. Our relationship took a hit and there was a time when I was trying to figure out if I could afford to move out on my own. We survived, our relationship survived (and is back to being very good now), we are happy in our house. But, bloody hell, it was hard.

Your circumstances are probably different (and some of our issues were due to the fact that we moved to my husband's home country on top of all of that - presumably you will still have your support network?), but this is a very risky course of action. If you do go along with your husband's plan, please, please make sure you take care of yourself. My mental health would have been much worse if we hadn't had a pre-booked month-long trip in the middle of all of the chaos. If I were to ever do something like this again (very, very unlikely!), I would demand much more support, more time off, more money spent on keeping myself healthy and ok. Even if it meant the house was delayed or we had to buy cheaper tile.

Equally, though, as a result of the move, my husband found a new job and has blossomed. He is much more relaxed and it's made me realise that his insistence that we had to move NOW was probably something of a mini-breakdown. His previous job was very stressful with an unhealthy work culture and I hadn't realised how much it had been negatively affecting him until after we moved. Is it possible your husband should/could change jobs instead of houses?
posted by brambory at 2:18 AM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

My husband has a work contract that ends in four years. It could result in a large windfall for us or it could end with us owing several hundreds of thousands of dollars. We won't know for a couple years which it is.

This alone makes building a house right now a damned stupid idea. As someone said above, your husband needs to grow up and accept that being a husband and a father means having to delay your own wants sometimes.

To be honest, it sounds like he's having a mid-life crisis. He isn't happy with his life (his job), but he can't change the thing(s) he's unhappy with, so he's trying to fix his unhappiness by changing something else.

Can you maybe instead plan a really great vacation every year until the contract is over? For instance, go overseas and become really immersed in a different culture for 2-4 weeks each year?

Also, I agree (from experience) that any kind of home remodeling project is going to add tons more stress. Maybe you could have him read some blog accounts of home remodels that go into this aspect of it?
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:28 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

I think you should just re-iterate that it's not a bargain, even if he thinks it is, because you may just be leaving it in four years time, and that would really suck, and what would he do then? Leaving his dream house behind? That's kinda worse than not building one at all-- being forced to immediately leave it.

Right now I feel like he's got tunnel vision not about this house concept, but about this particular property. Once you said you already had a place, it all clicked for me. I feel like he's looking at it from the view that this place was a good deal, it was a once in a life-time chance and too good to pass up, and that's where he's getting excited from. I dunno, I get the feeling he has one-itis about this particular property, and that's why he's so gung ho about it.

So I'd sit there and I'd say, 'honey, I want to own our own home too. I want it to be special, I want something to pass down to bubs jr one day-- something we built together and created together, that we don't have to leave behind in four years. I want to live there and make memories in the house you and I built. I don't want to build this house in this tenous of a circumstance. Once we're grounded and established-- we will build a house together, as a family, and it will be our house and it will be awesome.'

I think the basic thing is to point out two things: 1. There will be other land/house/foundation bargains, even better ones potentially. (Look for housing examples in the city you may be moving to for perspective, that might help), and 2. You absolutely do want to do this with him, and not doing it right NOW, doesn't mean not doing it at all. That essentially, you have the rest of your lives to achieve his dream, and you are absolutely on board with doing it. That not doing it now is absolutely not the last time he'll get to do this.

If he still is insistent on this one place after that, then you don't have much choice but to get a mediator. I don't think you're being unreasonable, I think you're being really wise and it would be a huge folly to go ahead with this at this point in time.

In the meantime, I'd get him to keep his mind occupied planning a vacation or something like that, because as others have said, he's looking at this external thing as something to alleviate his problems-- almost like grass is greener syndrome-- (things will be better when I'm in the new house!) but this project is a stopgap. He'll be just as stressed in a different environment, because the real problem is his stress and circumstances at work and how he deals with that.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 2:40 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the notion that his urgency is related to stuff going on underneath the surface is spot on. One thing that I think hasn't been explicitly addressed yet is that houses represent security--that providing a home for your family is really a primal thing, deeply rooted in caretaking. (That's one of the reasons real estate transactions are ALWAYS really fraught.)

It sounds like your husband is the main breadwinner and is in a really risky situation right now, growing a business with some likelihood of failure. I wonder if the house thing is so intense for him right now because he feels the need to get to the end of this four year walk through the fire with something literally to show for it, a material manifestation thatHe Is Providing For His Family. If he's an entrepreneur he's got that risk-tolerant, do-it-yourself inclination--it may be that taking on this kind of project to produce something as tangible as a home somehow validates his decision to undertake the risky creative proposition about the family's income, validates his risk-taking inclination.

It's a thought.
posted by Sublimity at 4:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

//No. No, no, no. In fact, no. By the way, no. And did I mention, no? Let's say it again: NO.

Picture lemmings heading for the cliff. That's you.

Your husband wants to invest a significant amount of time, something which is already in short supply, and a big chunk of your money to a huge project. You have lots of misgivings. And yet, in spite of this, your husband has pressed onward, and you are now under contract on a property.

The fact that your husband is dismissing your concerns and forging ahead on this project is a gigantic red flag. In short, your husband has no idea how to behave as an adult in a loving relationship. This is not what a good person would do. This is not what a responsible adult would do. I'm sorry to say this, but you married a big kid.

Look, your husband is in a tough place. He's working hard and very unhappy, with the prospect of financial ruin 4 years away. He also has a wife and baby who need his time and attention. Instead of dealing with these major adult commitments, he wants to put his time and energy into something that would be more fun. Well, we are all tempted to run away from our responsibilities, but part of being an adult is doing what you have to do.

Say no to the house. The two of you have more important projects ahead of you: your child, your marriage, your future. Spend your money on the best therapist/marriage counselor you can find. Spend whatever time you have, and your husband has, with your child.

This is a crisis.
posted by islandeady at 5:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

My husband has a work contract that ends in four years. It could result in a large windfall for us or it could end with us owing several hundreds of thousands of dollars. We won't know for a couple years which it is.

Can you jump back in and explain this a little more because I don't understand this. You'll go to a bare bones standard of living for years while your husband plays Mr. Blandings and it's possible that you're going to end up OWING hundreds of thousands of dollars (and that's not including overages on the house) and relocating?

If your family has that much to lose, building a house is the stupidest idea ever. Seems like the first priority is your husband getting out of this job.
posted by kinetic at 6:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [12 favorites]

Has he met with an architect yet? If not, then you have a saving grace. It can take years of working with an architect to get the design just right. You shouldn't be paying for a property until you know what you will be building on it, unless it is family land. Ask him to walk away from the property but set him up with an architect. I have a friend that has a rendering company ( He takes the architect's drawings and digitally creates the plans so that you can walk through a virtual house. That process could add several more months to the planning process. Once the dream house is designed, more time should be spent looking for the property. All of this could take longer than 4 years and could end up in another state. If you haven't already, open another account that is just for building the house. Put money in from both of your paychecks so that he can see progress towards his dream. And do spend time with him looking at building materials. Go to open houses on Sundays. Looking at many options and throwing your opinion in on everything will slow down the process.
posted by myselfasme at 6:23 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have some questions for you:

- Did you want to buy a house?

- Did you set out looking for a fixer-upper? Or has your husband envisioned this "building a house" scenario after the inspection of this particular house?

- Have you considered any other houses? Would he consider other houses? Why this ONE house?

- Is there any amount of home-improvement you would be willing to take on? A different house, one that's maybe got a dated kitchen and bath rather than major structural issues? A condo that needs updating?

- Would you be willing to assume the financial risk you'd be taking on in purchasing this house and renovating it if you didn't have to make any of the practical decisions about the renovations? Put another way, would you agree to it if you didn't have the burden of making choices about the constructions/interior design elements? Would you be willing to hand all of that over to your husband?

If you aren't willing to make any of these - or other - compromises, then you can't buy this house in good conscience and you have to say no to your husband.

We want to see our loved one's dreams fulfilled but if we cannot square those dreams with our personal values then we get to say, "I love you and want the best for you but I'm sorry, I can't do this."

To me, it seems like long-term financial security is high on your values list. It seems to me like you've already made some sizable compromises in this area for the sake of your husband's entrepreneurism. That is enough. It makes no sense to me to take on a project like the gut renovation of a house in an area where you do not plan on living out your lives at a time when you may or not end up owing hundreds of thousands dollars as a result of your husband's contract.

It's reasonable to not want to have your private time -as the the parent of a one year-old - taken up with the minutiae of a gut renovation. It's perfectly reasonable to not want to vet another daycare for your child. It's perfectly reasonable to wish to work toward less chaos, less risk, less debt, less inconvenience, fewer obstacles and more fun, more relaxation, less worry about financial matters.

It's just a house. There will be other houses. I would say no, present alternatives I would be willing to agree to, and if my husband still resented me for it, I'd suggest couples counseling.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:52 AM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Okay, so, I come from a long line of construction workers. My paternal grandfather was owner-foreman of a company that built everything from houses to apartment buildings to big stores (hey by the way if you're in Eugene, Oregon and go to REI, he built that and most of the buildings in that area). My maternal grandfather poured concrete (Autzen Stadium, among other things). Uncles all in construction as well. My parents were drafter-designers, mainly on civil engineering projects but they also loved to work on residential when they could. I worked on an Oregon state residential building code book along with my mother. The family would all band together to build all the family houses. I had no idea what it was to live in a place my family had not built until moving into a dorm at university.

You have real, genuine concerns surrounding the financial and emotional budget. Your house is supposed to be built on a foundation; that foundation needs to be solid.

It's kind of difficult to get around how metaphorically significant it is that the two most important foundational elements of your planned home – the foundation and septic system – have issues. Those are neither easy nor inexpensive to fix.

Have the foundation and septic issues been fully investigated and budgeted in? Because it really doesn't sound like it, and if you go ahead and build on a shaky foundation, well, the metaphor's used for a real reason. It won't work. Not only that, it has a high potential to be dangerous.

Get hubby to build a shed, as others have suggested. My grandfathers, father, and uncles all had sheds and their hobby projects did indeed help keep them sane. Plus hubby will get a better idea of all that goes into handiwork.
posted by fraula at 7:15 AM on March 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm also seeing some hints of gender imbalance with the kiddo. You're doing all of the emotional management of the kid, and my guess is, much of the day-to-day tasks too. If your husband is choosing this additional hobby / time-sink because he needs a new project, and you're already trying to figure out how to balance the 'project' of a toddler, self-care, household management and a job, I can imagine that the resentment will grow. And quickly.

Building a house is stressful. It stresses the relationship. It stresses the finances. It stresses the available time that both of you have. It sounds like terrible timing, and I'd 10000% put my foot down and say: no way. Not now. Use your veto power, but you need to communicate clearly and put steps in place to get things to a better place between the two of you.
posted by barnone at 12:59 PM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

This may have been mentioned above... A reno is completely different than building new. Go watch the money pit with Tom Hanks that movie is much more realistic than one may expect. A total reno will be much more stressful than building new.
posted by jmsta at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yea, home renovations can put a relationship at risk, which seems like a big risk to put you through with a new baby. It really isn't true that this is his only chance to realize his dream. There will be other opportunities at times when there isn't such a big chance that things will go disastrously wrong. It is very kind of you to not want to come between him and his dreams, but I bet that you also have a lifelong dream of raising your child together - if he is building a house, he will not have any time to share parenting duties with you. Your need for his help is happening right now, and cannot be put off for a few years.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:02 PM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm with you on this one. I don't see how investing so much time and money into such a big project is a good idea when your financial future is so uncertain.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:58 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since it came late in the thread, jmsta's comment hasn't accumulated the dozens of favorites that it deserves, but it's very true; a renovation is much more tricky than building new.
posted by slidell at 11:17 PM on April 4, 2015

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