Life is unpredictable, no matter how carefully you plan. And yet, when you buy a house, you are essentially committing to live in the same place for a certain period of time. The number of bedrooms, the layout, the school district, the yard size, the commute—you’re pretty much locking yourself into all of these factors.
But your stage in life can reveal a lot about where you are in your home-buying journey. Before you put down roots, it’s important to look at least five years into the future.
“I work with a lot of buyers, and my personal philosophy is that we are buying on a five-year plan,” says Susan Little, a real estate agent in Brooklyn, NY.
In real estate, the general rule of thumb is that you should live in your home (i.e., make mortgage payments on that house) for at least five years to make it worthwhile. You want to be able to live in the home long enough for it to increase in value and provide a return when the time comes to sell it.
You also want to make sure the house will suit your family and living situation. Are you getting ready to start a family? Is your youngest kid going off to college in a year? Assessing your life plans in the next handful of years is a crucial step in the home-buying process.
Let’s look at some of the most common significant life stages with insight on when it’s the right time to buy or sell your home, or just stay put.
The couple thinking about having kids
“If you’re thinking about starting a family in the next one to three years, go ahead and buy in a good school district and start establishing equity,” says Dillar Schwartz, a Realtor® in Austin, TX.
If it’s in your budget to buy big enough for your future family, then do it, especially since trying to do the sell-buy-move shuffle isn’t much fun if you’re pregnant or caring for a newborn.
If your baby plans are further off in the future, “don’t buy a bunch of space you’re not going to use in the next three years.”
The (almost) empty nesters
Sorry to say it, Mom and Dad, but you should hold off on downsizing. Even if your kids are college-bound in the next year or two, you’ll need a place to put them when they’re home on winter or summer break.
Furthermore, according to Pew research, college grads aged 18 to 34 are more likely to be living with their parents than a partner or roommates. Sure, selling the family home is a good way to discourage boomerang kids, but do you really want to risk sharing your hip little condo with an unemployed 20-something roommate?
The job seekers
If you live in an area where traffic is an issue and long commutes are common, living near your job is going to be a major plus. A study from Canada’s University of Waterloo found a direct correlation between commute time and happiness.
If there’s any way you can job hunt then house hunt, you have a better chance of scoring an awesome commute. Otherwise, you might be left making the choice between your dream job and your dream commute, at least until you’re ready to move again.
The person with aging parents
Nobody wants to think about their parents getting old, but not thinking about it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. A record number of Americans are living in multigenerational households.
If living with an elderly parent is a potential situation, “go ahead and buy the two-story with the master downstairs, in case Mom and Dad ever come to live with you,” says Schwartz.
Obviously, location and budget are major factors—not many New Yorkers could afford an extra master suite just in case—but if you’re already looking at buying a house with a guest room, it makes sense to get something that could easily be reconfigured for aging parents.
The seniors aging in place
This is one time it makes definite sense to buy for the future. It’s impossible to know when you will lose your ability or desire to do things like climb stairs or use the combination tub-shower. A sudden disability or health problem will make it very difficult to house hunt and move, and you might feel pressure from family to transfer to a senior living facility.
If you’re retired and looking for a home to age in, shop for something with no stairs and accessible features.