Battling real estate FOMO
April 16, 2022 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I am a late-millenial who grew up in Vancouver BC, recognized around the world for unaffordable housing even when I was a child. I've worked really hard and made a lot of sacrifices to my short-term happiness to try and accumulate enough money to buy a place of my own, but it might just not be enough and might never be. How can I gain some perspective and snap out of my FOMO despair?

I'm not exactly chasing after a mansion (or a house, or a townhouse) here - I just want to have a small place to live that is mine. It just feels like, if only I can get there, I can breathe a little more and not have to worry about rent increasing, or resent that I'm paying my landlord's mortgage while the value of their property skyrockets.

I've moved away temporarily to a place I don't really like, but salaries are higher here and COL is lower so I can save up more money. I've passed up more interesting/potentially fulfilling jobs because the one I have pays more. On the outside, I've become someone whose decisions revolve around money instead of making the world a better place, which I hate but justify to myself because I'm just trying to get to some point of "security".

Folks in my circles (late-20s early-30s, lower-middle class) are opting to move away in droves, or are getting family help for a down payment which isn't an option for me. I love my hometown, my family is there, it's where I want to be. I'm even considering giving up a really wonderful relationship because I want a fucking condo and I feel like a ridiculous, petulant child. How do I accept my situation as it is, and remain thankful for what I do have?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I hope this isn’t profoundly unhelpful, but many folks are able to buy a home because they’re in a longer term relationship and buy with a partner who also has an income. It’s hard to afford a place on your own. Have you thought about buying with a friend?
posted by bluedaisy at 12:41 PM on April 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Trust yourself that this is what you want. Some people really want a place that's theirs.

Logistically, I'd look into "house hacking" and see if that is enough to get you there -- renting out rooms to others for awhile. I worked two jobs for a year and then bought the cheapest property I found (though it led to a bit of a nightmare fixer upper situation so I don't entirely recommend it, and I was helped by a downturn). If it's your dream, keep at it. Learn everything you can about real estate investing, because investors find ways to buy below market value. Good luck!
posted by slidell at 12:49 PM on April 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

Maybe consider that there's many many people in the same situation. So much so, that I imagine markets will have to correct somehow. And, that probably means a lot of people buying the last year or so will be underwater on their mortgages. I would also recommend if you haven't looked yet to check out r/REbubble. It was recommended to me after my first offer was out bid by a ridiculous amount and a cash buyer and following that subreddit calmed down similar feelings for me because I was exposed to so many people explaining why buying right now is such a terrible idea.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:10 PM on April 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’m from Vancouver, although I don’t currently live there, and I feel similar to you in that despite making a well above average income I know I probably won’t ever be able to afford to live in the place I grew up.

While I wouldn't discount what people are saying above I try to minimize real estate talk because I find Vancouver has a pretty lousy culture around it and remind myself that I’m not the only one in this situation. I also try to focus on the fact that owning a home comes with risk and expense as well as upside. Plus our financial situations are deeply tied into things we can’t control and I think it’s important to not forgot how much help some people get and others don’t and that it isn’t completely in your control. Such as if you don’t have a well earning spouse or family who help you.

Try to focus on the things in your life you enjoy and if that means continuing to save and looking into making your real estate dream come true so be it but don’t let it define you or consider it a failing.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 1:17 PM on April 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

As someone in a similar place in Vancouver, yep, it's terrible and frustrating and despite all the talk of bubbles, I really don't think it's going to improve enough within a reasonable time for me or probably you to benefit. The fact that I know multiple couples with double (high!) incomes who are still planning to move out of the city because they aren't afford (or could afford it only by increasing financial insecurity instead of decreasingit) it is a flashing neon sign that I will not be able to buy. I'm looking at what I like about here and identifying things I really want in the place I live versus things I like but would be okay without. I'm also looking at things that I like that are better outside of Vancouver.

It sounds like owning a place of your own and being close to your family are really important to you. It's hard to let yourself get attached to a different location when you are thinking of it as temporary (and possibly tolerating living there by planning on it being temporary). I'm not saying you should settle down in the low COL/high salary area you're in now (because my first few guesses for those area are not places I want to live either) but what if you looked at areas outside (possibly quite far outside) of Vancouver that are reasonably affordable for you and seem less bad than other places that are similar distances. Or a much cheaper area farther away but close to a local airport with flights to Vancouver and budgeting those savings towards a flight to family every month.

My strong impression is that property prices are rising everywhere even vaguely close to Vancouver and just generally around BC. Owning property might help you eventually move closer to Vancouver, but on its own, will also just give that sense of security and stability. It will give you a chance to find things you like about a place that Vancouver can't offer (which could be stuff like even closer to the outdoors that is specific to a place or intangible stuff like having friends and community that are specific to that location.) It also sounds like you moved fairly far from your family. Maybe you can't get all of the feelings and benefits of living very close to family but you might get enough living closer than you are now, even if it's still farther than you want.
posted by raeka at 1:38 PM on April 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

On the outside, I've become someone whose decisions revolve around money instead of making the world a better place, which I hate but justify to myself because I'm just trying to get to some point of "security".

Wait, you make decisions you might not want to, only to make more money, only to maybe buy a house?

A house does NOT equal security. Anything can go wrong with a house at any time. The horror stories of my friends and family will keep me from EVER owning a house. Apartment living is not a waste. It gives you options, and options mean FREEDOM. And FINANCIAL FREEDOM as well.

Talk to people about their house problems. You'd be amazed at what you can avoid.
posted by tiny frying pan at 2:03 PM on April 16, 2022 [5 favorites]

Per the OP, it sounds like they are not talking about buying a house but rather something like a condo unit. OP, I have nothing else to add except that I absolutely sympathize with your frustration, as someone also from the area who loves it but just haven’t been able to make it work either. It’s not just you, it’s basically everyone who hasn’t had an incredible stroke of luck (either by being born/marrying rich, managing to get into the market earlier, snagging an incredible deal the instant it comes up, or all of the above).
posted by btfreek at 2:35 PM on April 16, 2022

Doesn’t matter if it’s a house or a condo, everything tiny frying pan said about houses is true of condo units too. I own a condo and can attest that it is a constant money pit. You are trying to avoid the uncertainty of a landlord raising rent but you’d be trading that for the uncertainty of what will break / how much repairs will cost this year, how much property taxes and condo/HOA fees will go up, or my new personal favorite, which natural disaster / weather event will strike your home (yes, even your condo!) and how long you’ll have to spend fighting with your insurance company over who will pay for the damages. No matter whether you own or rent, housing costs are inherently full of uncertainty.
posted by sunflower16 at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2022 [7 favorites]

You might want to look at building up volunteer experience and then applying to housing co-ops. This is a form of home ownership. You could then look at investing in a summer home that you rent out and eventually use the equity to get something closer. I think you can’t own when you get into a co-op but you can buy a rec property or something after. It isn’t ideal but it’s one option. Another thing is to look for a condo where you can frame in a dining room to create a 2BR and rent one room out (or both if you are still away). Vancouver is super expensive, though, and even this may be impossible.
posted by shockpoppet at 3:55 PM on April 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Most of the world's population never ever owns property. My mom will die not having owned property. I'm hitting middle age never having lived somewhere I or a family member owned. Most of us do get along without it.

Why is owning a condo so very important to you that you're sacrificing relationships for it? It sounds to me like you think owning a house means, more than anything else, that you will have established financial security. The simple fact is that you can be ruined financially quite easily with a house. You can also end up house rich and cash poor, which is a miserable way to live. This one weird trick to feel like an adult can often be a trap.

Now, even when I've earned more money than I'm earning now, I've never earned enough to buy anywhere I'd want to live long-term in Manhattan. The money that would be a down payment (or vaporized in closing costs) has sat in the U.S. stock market instead. You know, it's doing pretty well. It's not the Manhattan real estate lottery ticket. But a 10% return over the years isn't too shabby. If your primary goal is financial security, but you don't have the "entrance fee" for Vancouver real estate, then you need to focus on how to achieve that as much as you can without buying real estate. (And stop comparing yourself to other people, for goodness' sake.)
posted by praemunire at 9:58 PM on April 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is hard because, as some people in this thread are bending over backwards to point out, the desire to "own" property isn't exactly logical. But that doesn't mean it's not reasonable. I sort of felt the same way when I struggled to get pregnant for many years. Sure, there are lots of reasons NOT to have kids, but hearing people remind me of this, or complaining about the children they do have, sure didn't make me feel better at the time!!! Fact is, "owning a house" was sort of a normalized expectation for many people in North America for decades, and even though millions of people around the world never own their property and are just fine, it's still hard to come to terms with the fact that the mode of life you grew up thinking was possible is not, in fact, possible. It's an emotional adjustment as much as it is a financial one. Especially when it's wrapped up in family and life plans.

All of which is to say, OP, I get it! I feel for you. I live outside Toronto and, while not as bad as Vancouver, it's NUTS. I nearly choked when my neighbour revealed the price he is listing his house at. I have no practical advice, but to your point about feeling like you are siphoning all of your energy into this dream that may or may not come to fruition, I can say from experience that it helps to come up with a positive, tangible"plan B." Meaning, right now, the thought of never owning a condo or, heaven forfend, a house, is this huge source of anger and disappointment. And the fear of not owning is driving you to live in a place you don't like, work a job you don't like, only so you can avoid that fate. BUT. Can you imagine an alternate life to living in your own property in Vancouver? Do you want to travel? Move around the world? Take up blacksmithing or whatever? Because if you can reorient your brain to say, "I might not get a condo ever. But if I don't get one by X, then I'm going to do Y and it will be a different kind of life and I'm good with that." Spend a few days sketching out in your mind the best version of your life in which you never own property. Pretend you would prefer that version of your life! I'm not saying give up on your dream, but to make the alternative to the dream something good, and not a resignation to defeat. It might just help soften the more painful moments and give you something else to put your energy into. I dunno.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 5:22 AM on April 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I saved for a decade to buy a house in Oakland California. But in the last 5 years, the average home went from $350k to $1.2mil, effectively pricing me permanently out of the market at my income level. So I get where you're coming from here.

I decided I was going to use the money for real estate investing if I couldn't use it to buy a place where I wanted to live. So two months ago I bought a house in Michigan with 4 apartments and I'm renting out 3 of them. It pays the mortgage and then some. I'm planning to do the same thing again next year, in a different state, and the year after that, until I have enough income and equity to buy where I actually want to live. It's not ideal, but at least it feels like a viable plan with a realistic goal.
posted by ananci at 6:30 AM on April 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Nothing wrong with owning a condo, or wanting to, but it is not the solution to life’s uncertainty. And that you would consider breaking up a relationship because you’d rather own a place sounds kind of sad.

Some things to consider:
-Assuming you were able to find a place you could afford; it would probably be small and less than ideal in terms of location or other factors. I don’t know your city, but I’m sure there are areas that are very inconvenient, and unsafe, or both. Your attachment to “must live in Vancouver” seems to overlook this.

- As others have mentioned, owning property has its own headaches, risks, and drawbacks. For a condo, the fees go up, sometimes every year. Many of the disadvantages of renting remain--limited parking, no outdoor space, no laundry, etc.. There are rules about what you can and cannot do, neighbors you don’t like, and so on.

--You are not a sucker for renting, it is a valid choice. While owning has financial advantages, you have flexibility and freedom.

--If you don’t like the place you are living, and you are just there to pursue this living in Vancouver goal, I’d think about moving or otherwise changing your life so it is more enjoyable. Keep saving, but spend a bit more on rent or whatever to make your present life enjoyable.

--Things change. At one point, most of my family was in the same state/region. As people got older, some of us have moved. I was pretty much priced out of the area and moved to another state where the cost of living is much more manageable. There are things I love about it, and things I don't. Never thought I'd end up where I am but it has worked out so far.

So my advice is loosen up on this goal and focus on your current life. It is trite but, practice an attitude of gratitude: you have a good relationship, a place to live that you can afford, your health, and so on. Apparently, you have good relations with your family. Stop focusing on what you cannot have and open up your mind to other possibilities.

Good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 6:43 AM on April 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I get it. I’m in Toronto, similar situation here. Single parent on one income—a good income, but still. People told me the same things about owning being a money pit, be happy with what I have etc. I wanted to have something I could pass down to my baby. And people would say ok, but is that worth an extra $1000 a month to you?

Nearly six months later, and unpopular opinion maybe, but I still feel like the answer is yes. I had to pay $700 the week after I moved to fix a leaking laundry pipe. But still, yes. It took many painful months of phone calls and maneuvering to get my modest kitchen renovation approved by my incompetent condo board. But still yes. The feeling of walking through the front door every evening and knowing I did it, I found a home for us, even by myself, and now my kid will someday have a place to inherit where the industry is, where the schools and the jobs are, is just…I can’t describe it. It was worth it for me, even though it costs me money.

So, how did I do it? I bought in an older building with solid bones and realistic layouts. The neighborhood is in a functional and perfectly fine but not glamorous suburb. It’s an overlooked little pocket of the city where people might not be beating down the door to go. But we have a park and rec centre and grocery store. We are on two bus routes which access two different subway lines. And I compensated for my lower income with a bigger downpayment.

There are ways, OP. Maybe not ways with a central waterfront view. But there are ways.
posted by ficbot at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I wanted to have something I could pass down to my baby.

A nice appreciated portfolio is also a lovely thing to leave to your child. With any luck, I'm not going to be inheriting anything from my mom (I want her to spend her last dollar on her last day buying something she enjoys), but if I had to choose between inheriting a house in the Midwestern suburb where she lives and the equivalent less even 20% in liquid assets, I would choose the latter.

There are absolutely emotional reasons to want to own your own home (e.g., freedom to alter the space largely as you like). I'm definitely not saying they're not valid. But OP gives the impression of financial security being their overriding goal, and that they think owning a house is the best/only way to achieve that goal. That's not accurate, and that's media-driven bullshit. If OP wants to reframe, I think they should start there.
posted by praemunire at 10:00 AM on April 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I understand how you feel because I experience it a lot too where I live. On paper I earn a great salary but in reality it won’t pay for even the tiniest single family home. I will likely never have the privilege of having a partner to pool my income with. (Quite frankly, I am ok with that because so many people do but then break up and that seems like a harder adjustment to me!)

I remind myself that home ownership is a privilege, not a right or the sign of success we were brainwashed to believe as North Americans. The Financial Diet Instagram has a bunch of great posts on the realities of home ownership and how it’s often overrated: seeing those gives me a reality check, not schadenfreude, and I appreciate that. I do a lot of the reframing people mention above by focusing on all the good ones my life: I love my career! I have lots of time for hobbies! I can have a beautiful balcony garden! I have flexibility if I want to change neighborhoods! I also wish I could have my own home in a cool neighborhood but in reality, my life is already as great and sometimes even better right now.
posted by smorgasbord at 12:31 PM on April 17, 2022

Also to build on what praemunire said, you can save money and invest at your current financial status. I am slowly saving for my future and it feels really good to see those numbers grow and feel increasingly more financially stable as I do! A house is not the only way to do this. I try to think of it from a more European approach, in terms of the mix of long-term renting and slow savings as a happy reality and goal.
posted by smorgasbord at 12:35 PM on April 17, 2022

I decided I was going to use the money for real estate investing if I couldn't use it to buy a place where I wanted to live. So two months ago I bought a house in Michigan with 4 apartments and I'm renting out 3 of them. It pays the mortgage and then some. I'm planning to do the same thing again next year, in a different state, and the year after that, until I have enough income and equity to buy where I actually want to live.

Oh wow. You get that you're achieving your dream by putting people in those places in the situation you're in now, right? Living spaces as investment = the problem.
posted by less-of-course at 8:39 AM on April 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Right now, real estate is being hoovered up by investment trusts who jack rents and maximize profits. It's very difficult to compete. I bought a 2 family house in 1988, leveraging every cent we had, and at 9.7%. The market tanked hard not long after and took years to recover. Refi'ed when we divorced at 7-ish%, again at 5-ish%, sold in the Big recession at a good but not sensational profit. The real estate market for my parents was extremely stable. It seems like Boomers had it easy, but it was really hard to get a mortgage and afford a house, though in the long term, I'm now retired with a paid off small house.

It will change. Stuff will happen. Ideally, there will be government action to build a lot of medium-sized (~1500 sf) houses and make sure they stay owner-occupied. Where I live, new homes seem to be 2,200 sf, on big lots. Low interest makes it possible for middle and upper-middle class people to buy them, I guess. I don't know how things will change, but things will change.

If you can get a loan and buy a 2 or 3 family, it's a fair bit of work, some risk, and a good way to build equity. As far as becoming the rental property owner, I kept the rest as fair as possible, and did my best to be a decent neighbor and landlord. In return, I mostly had good tenants.
posted by theora55 at 6:06 AM on April 26, 2022

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