What should I consider in deciding on housing?
June 12, 2016 4:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I choose where to live for the next year? What should I listen to among the competing desires, interests and needs?

Put your snowpants on because there are lotsa snowflakes.

I'm considering how to set up my housing for the next year. I am interested in your practical ideas for how to figure out the route, how to make the decision, and also your feedback on my process.

tl;dr at the bottom.

A contributor to my uncertainty is the fact that over the past year, my two housemates and I have seen our relationship get increasingly worse. Their way of expressing themselves conflicts with deeply held (and intentionally-chosen) parts of my values and identity and the difference has left me feeling shaky.

(For context: One told me that, because of her dysfunctional family upbringing, she interprets offers of help as insults to her competence. She does not feel comfortable saying, "Thanks for the offer, but no thanks." I love to help and be helped, and I'm also a direct communicator. The other housemate sent me an email full of cruel and personal attacks, on behalf of both of them--along with some requests that I'm accommodating--and I'm unable to continue a friendship with someone who expresses herself the way she has. I would love to work things out but her email included a note that she's not open to more discussion.

Things have come to a head and the house is now silent and uncomfortable to me. I'm working hard to give them space but find it stressful to be here. I've always had wonderful housemates who found me wonderful too. My current housemates share a similar belief system to me but we have turned out to be wildly different in our applications of that system; that also has been really hard for me. I'm in a heavy period of re-examining my beliefs and this has been part of that.)

I am doubting my ability to choose housemates or know what I want. I observe myself acting in a reactive and emotional way, and am not sure that what I desire in this moment is what I will actually want after a few months away from my housemates. I wish I could make these decisions without the experience of the past year playing a part, but I struggle to separate them.

Here are my options. Assume that at this point they're equally valid:

1. Continue to live in a lovely house that I've been renting, with new housemates. Many great things about it, one small downside (no pets), low rent.
2. Rent another multi-bedroom home with (new) housemates; would allow pets; otherwise, a mix of better and worse than my current place.
3. Rent in someone else's home, i.e., get a room, with people I don't know yet. It would give me some independence as we would not have an expectation of being close friends.
4. Get a 1-bedroom or studio on my own. This would cost me about $2000-3000 more per year. Not sure I want a tiny place but I'm curious to try it. And what if I get married next year and miss my chance? I'm single now, but hopeful, I guess?
5. Buy a house. I would probably get roommates or rent it out to short-term stayers. I'd enjoy having a place to invest my time in. And I could kick people out if things went south. (Right? I kind of think this is a quite emotional option to consider, but interest rates are so good right now...)
6. Live with a family/couple. I know a few who might appreciate the income and who I'd enjoy living with. I could benefit from an established relationship and re-set after the dysfunction of the past year.

Roommate options:
1. Person I have lived with before, who I love and get along with (and vice versa) but is busy and can't spend a ton of time hanging out
2. Other friends who I know reasonably well and enjoy spending time with
3. Strangers (but likely people from my network)
4. Aforementioned families

Competing interests:
1. Budget - I'm frugal. I saved up a safety cushion but just feel uncomfortable spending a lot of money on housing when I think of what else I could use it for.
2. Community: In the past, I've loved living with affirming, caring people who are invested in me and vice versa. We don't have to spend a lot of time together, but I enjoy knowing the people around me are a kind and uplifting presence. I've always thought I would like this better than being alone; I assumed if I lived alone I'd become curmudgeonly. However, right now, the idea of intentional community feels smothering. I do want to be friends/friendly with my housemates. If that's not going to happen, I'd like to understand that from the start so I can decide what to do.
3. People: I need to be somewhere tidy, with people who are quite communicative and intentional. I can be high-touch; I'm always working to be open and flexible, which is one reason I've appreciated living with people. I think it makes me a better person.
4. Mood: Right now, in this moment, because of the issues with my current housemates, I feel like I'd like to be by myself--no people, no silence, no dishes around the living room. I have never lived by myself although I have had pretty independent housemates for most of my life. I enjoy my own company and I have loved visiting tiny 1-room cabins for a day or two of contemplative vacations. I feel strongly that this year is a time for me to rejuvenate myself, explore my purpose and motivations, and get to know my vision for the next stages. I like the idea of having a neutral space to do that. (But for that extra $3000/year, maybe I could just rent a little office for myself while living with housemates?)
5. Other people: One of my current housemates wanted to stay in the house as of a month ago. I could check in with her but she had said discussion was out of the question. My best attempt to honor that is to... not discuss it. But I feel a bit bad thinking that she could be able to stay if I would leave. I would be sad to leave but I would survive. I do still struggle with entanglement--trying to honor her and support her as a person while not getting up in her business or thinking I have more responsibility for her life than I do. Should I completely disregard her preference?
6. Context: I struggle to prioritize between things like money and relationships when I can't slot them into a framework of my future plans. But I don't think I can figure out those goals in time to make some of these decisions. Some things I'm thinking about are: continuing at my job, getting a new job that pays more, adding some grad school (likely in a new city), moving to a new city because maybe I want to (but I need to travel a bit first), buying a house and getting a stream of income as a landlord while traveling the world in my telework job, marriage, etc.

I should decide soon.

I realized today that I can set a bar for minimum-good-decision. That bar might look like: Not paying more than x amount, living solo or with kind people who I like, + the other things I look for in a residence. Any other thoughts along those lines, to help me calm down and accept the uncertainty, would be helpful.

Ugh. Thanks.

tl;dr: After a year of housemate conflict, I can live with NEW housemates (in my current or a new place) or live on my own (and pay more, and maybe realize my desire for alone time is really just a temporary response to the current conflict). What should I do?
posted by ramenopres to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a big believer in living alone if you can afford it. It's a valuable experience and the window to try it isn't always large. This seems like a natural time to give it a whirl. It helped me be more intentional about my social life and also ended up showing me that alone doesn't mean lonely.
posted by quince at 4:37 PM on June 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

How about semi-alone? For example, do they have basement apartments where you live? I lived in several of these. I had my own entrance, my own space etc. But I also generally had nice people around. The last one I lived in, I tutored the landlady's son in echange for a break on the rent, and sometimes she would give me a ride to the grocery store or something.
posted by JoannaC at 4:38 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would definitely take this chance to live alone for a year. I am married now but I lived in small studios for 7 years. It sounds like you could use the time for reflection and to recover from your stressful housemate situation. Find a small cozy studio apartment--unless you really really want the space, I wouldn't waste the money on a separate bedroom. I had extra throw pillows to use my bed as extra seating for parties, and a small couch and coffee table. You do need to work a little harder to socialize, but it was worth it to me to be able to do anything I wanted in my own space--and it was definitely worth the money.
posted by impishoptimist at 5:47 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Live alone! Seize the opportunity while you have it. It sounds like you can afford it and would like to try it. You could always go back to housemates after a year if you prefer it. I have never had my own place (went from housemates to getting married) and I wish I had.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:03 PM on June 12, 2016

When you dramatically change circumstances, it is very challenging to estimate what the new costs will be. You keep harping on the extra rent. But I am skeptical that you really know what your expenses would be like if you chose to live alone.

Some hidden expenses you may be paying now without realizing:

Shared bills. If they use more electricity than you but the bill is divided up evenly, you may be supplementing their electricity use.

OTC meds. If you are less stressed living alone or exposed to fewer colds, your use of OTC meds may go down.

EscapIsm. If you leave the house in a funk and grab a coffee just to get away from the stress, this expense might go away if you live alone.

It is also possible expenses would go up in ways you cannot predict. The only thing I am saying is that living with roommates versus living alone is really an apples to oranges comparison. If you can afford the extra rent expense, perhaps you should go it alone to see what the differences actually are.

You think you know, but you don't. Rent is not the only thing that will change.
posted by Michele in California at 6:19 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Between housing options 1 & 2 - with 1, you know the place and landlord, rent is low, and you could have roommates who are allergic to pets. But not roommates who have pets. You wouldn't have to stress over finding a place. With 2, you could have roommates with pets. (Remember though that some pets have more presence than others, and some people are better owners than others. Some pets cause collateral damage (clawing, pawing at furniture, other issues with pets with issues :/). If I were you, I wouldn't get a pet if travel, grad school, or a move are on the horizon. I call 1, if you're going to have roommates.

Between housing options 1, 3, and 6 - 1 again, no question. That way, you get to choose who lives there, and the tone of how things will at least start (lifestyle, etc). You might luck into a good situation with strangers, might really not. Sounds like you need to be friends with your roommates; staying strangers doesn't sound like it would work for you.

Families - again, unknown variable. I haven't done that (and probably wouldn't) so can't comment, other than I think it would be easy enough for the family's priorities to overwhelm yours, if there were ever conflict. Are you single, do you like to have people over, would those kinds of lifestyle issues pop up? Kids are great; the thing with them is they make noise, as a necessary corollary to their development. Which is fine when you know and love them, also fine when you like them and house acoustics favour silence, but there is potential for less ideal situations.

Buying a house if you think you might make changes soon (see issues around getting a pet), or if you're in need of a bigger income - no. Interest rates being low at this moment is not a good enough reason alone to buy. (Unless there are other relevant factors you haven't mentioned, e.g. help from third parties, and a real possibility that this could be an investment property, & there's someone around to deal with it while you're (potentially) in grad school or Australia or wherever.)

1 vs. 4 - 1, again. Keeping fixed costs low, if you want to plan for things like grad school, is a great idea. (The best idea.) If you want to spend time on your own, use some of that theoretical 3k on weekend retreats. If you're a high-contact, communication-intensive person who's comforted by regular interaction with kind, supportive people, being alone will make you unhappy. It just will. Yes, try it if you really feel you "should", but a whole bunch of the world has never had that experience (or needs or wants it), and I at least think that is fine. Go on a retreat now for a little bit, if you want.

If you can do 1 with the person you lived with before, that would be great, imo. You'd have a friend at home, you know each others' ways and patterns. You'd have space, too; if you need to fill it, have people over more often. If it's not enough, you can take a weekend away.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:52 PM on June 12, 2016

I can't recommend buying until seeing a post full of numbers or budget analysis. (Not to say "I don't believe you that it's possible" but to say "I wouldn't buy if you aren't focused primarily on the financial pros and cons.")

Living alone would have the benefit of knowing you're in a no-drama housing situation. And it sounds like something you'd really like to have done.

Option 1 would save you the hassle of moving, and save you a few thousand every year. If it were me, I'd choose this option, but I think you really need a break from drama, so I think you should live alone if you can find a good place. If you do stay in your current place, maybe not try to be close friends with your new housemates (unless it clicks really easily) so that you can get a little bit of distance from this past year's experience.
posted by salvia at 7:11 PM on June 12, 2016

Hell is other people. Live by yourself. More expensive, but worth it.
posted by Rob Rockets at 9:01 PM on June 12, 2016

If your first option is to get new housemates, I am assuming you are the master tenant (or equivalent). If this is the case, and your roommates are giving you grief, boot them and find some nice new people to live with. Cheap rent and good landlords are nothing to sneeze at.

I live in the Bay Area, where master tenants are somewhat akin to gods and no one dares displease them, lest they be outed from a rent-controlled room and cast into the outer darkness of moving to Portland. YMMV on this, but if you have the ability to change up who your roomies are, do it! There are nice people out there, who you can be friends with and live with (it happened to me! We met through Craigslist.) I don't necessarily suggest moving in with your existing friends...this can be fraught with drama in areas you least suspect it.

If you are not, in fact, able to boot the roomies, I am going to toss a coin into the 'live by yourself' hat. It's really super fun once you get used to the quiet, and if you're not accustomed to socializing with your housemates, I doubt it will even take you more than a week to acclimatize. Plus then you can get a pet and your house will be way less lonely. I adopted a German Shepherd when I moved back to Oakland because I am an idiot and obviously want to be unable to find housing if I ever have to move. It's the best thing I ever did, even if we are both going to have to live in a tent in Golden Gate Park if our landlord sells this house.
posted by ananci at 12:32 AM on June 13, 2016

It sounds like you're attracted to the ideal of living with close friends (especially from your bit about community) but you're now realizing that this kind of arrangement can fall apart just as spectacularly as with strangers. Owning your own place is not the solution to this - your roommate situation can still go south and sure you'd have more control but kicking people out is not as easy as you think (both legally and personally) and then you'd still need to find a new roommate in order to keep paying for the place.

Honestly, I'd suggest living by yourself. Give yourself some space and time to heal from the disappointment you are feeling. 2-3k/year is nothing compared to the repairs/maintenance/etc you would be making on a house and it sounds like your main issue is wanting peace + control, so living alone is your best bet.

I had a really disappointing roommate experience a few years ago and decided to live alone afterwards and it was so nice that I never want to live with people ever again. It does get lonely and it sounds like you want a pet, so do try to find somewhere that's pet friendly. You can always find roommates again after a year if you feel like it's not worth it for you.
posted by buteo at 7:19 AM on June 13, 2016

In terms of budget, you should be spending no more than 30% of your post tax salary on rent, and an additional 20% for all your other committed bills (gas, electricity, car or transportation). (If you, like me, do not like commuting and prefer to pay more to live closer to work, you can shuffle some of your transportation budget to your housing, and vice versa).

In short, if you are spending more than 50% of your post-tax salary on housing and necessary bills, than it's not really sustainable in the long term. This is your minimum bar for spending.

I lived by myself before, and I'm an introvert. But after a while it gets lonely, not to have anyone to chat to while making dinner, or watching tv. I don't need quality people time, I just need someone to speak to me before I go crazy in the maze that is my mind.
posted by moiraine at 7:53 AM on June 13, 2016

It sounds to me like you generally prefer to live with people. You say you've got a financial safety cushion, but it doesn't sound like it's huge. Given this, I would say continue with shared houses. Go with whatever option works out to be feasible. If you have a lot of furniture, stay where you are. If not, some of the other options may be more attractive.

Longer term, I find the idea of buying and renting out rooms to be attractive (at least in part because it is totally not an option financially where I live). But buying property takes most people a long time, and you want to make sure you're pretty financially secure before taking on a huge mortgage.
posted by kjs4 at 8:41 PM on June 13, 2016

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