These articles were written for Arrivity’s monthly newsletter. Topics covered by the newsletter are designed to appeal to different age groups, from early career professionals to retirees.
Into house and home
One recent weekend I painted my bedroom walls a dark cobalt blue. Then I sent a photo to my cousin who said, “That’s going to be hard to paint over when you decide to sell your house.” I know. And I don’t care. The color makes me happy. My home is small and quirky and nearly 100 years old. It’s a reflection of my personality, but also my biggest investment.
There are lots of ways to think about home ownership. For some it’s an investment or a symbol of accomplishment, while for others it’s a place to set down roots and build a family. Many people see their home as an extension of their lifestyle. There’s no right way to feel about home ownership, but the more you understand what home means to you, the less likely it will make you feel trapped…or pinched.
Owning a home is both a joy and a responsibility. You can paint the rooms any shade you like, renovate and remodel, and choose fixtures that make you smile. Of course, you also have to repair leaky toilets, mow the lawn, and have the furnace inspected. I know, because I’ve done all those things. Not to mention sewing curtains, re-finishing doors, and installing shelving. But beyond being a place of your own, a home can also be a tangible financial asset. So you need to balance what you put into it with what you can get out of it.
The changing tide of home ownership
It used to be that home ownership was a rite of passage into adulthood. Things have changed in the last decade and a half. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, many people found themselves trapped in homes they couldn’t afford. They had been lured into mortgages beyond their means. When the housing bubble burst, some people ended up owing more on their homes than they were worth.
Now, some young adults are questioning the trade-off between home ownership and the freedom to travel, change jobs, or invest for the future. And with the pandemic, homes suddenly became workplaces, too. But remote work also meant that people didn’t have to live within commuting distance of the office. The little white house with a picket fence is no longer everyone’s dream – nor is it within everyone’s reach.
What kind of home to buy – and whether to buy a home at all – is a very personal decision. A home should fit your family’s needs, lifestyle, and budget. With home prices continuing to rise, it’s important to consider home ownership in the context of your overall financial situation.
Navigating your first home purchase
If you’ve never purchased a home before, there’s a lot to think about. Fortunately, there are resources available so you can study up before you take the plunge. Consider taking a homebuying class through a non-profit group or local credit union. There are also lots of resources online where you can learn the basics. And, of course, friends and family members often have great advice, too. Just remember that someone who has lived in the same place for decades may be blown away by the complexities of today’s homebuying process.
When you begin working with a mortgage loan officer and a real estate agent, keep in mind that they pocket a healthy sum of money when a home sale is finalized. So don’t be shy about asking a lot of questions and being honest about what you want. That’s what they’re there for.
Take your time – the home you buy should fit your needs as well as your financial situation. Be sure you understand all the components of the investment you’re planning to make: Balancing your down payment with monthly payments. How an amortization schedule works. The impact of insurance, taxes, and fees. And how to factor in expenses like maintenance, HOA dues, utilities – and paint for the walls.
Owning a home is a wonderful opportunity, but paying for it shouldn’t restrict you from doing other things in life that are important to you. Your financial advisor can help you factor home buying into your financial plan, whether you’re ready to buy now or you want to save for a down payment.
It’s time to talk to your parents about…money
When my dad was around 85 and dealing with health issues, I made some time for the two of us to have lunch together while Mom was off with friends. I told him I’d done some research that I wanted to share.
“Dad,” I said, “A while ago you told me you wanted your memorial to be a bench at the university with your name on it. Well, I called someone to find out if that’s a possibility and what the options are.”
I was a bit concerned that dad wouldn’t want to talk about his mortality, but it turns out he was grateful for the conversation. Later, I was even able to arrange for him to choose the exact spot where his bench would be installed.
Talking about the end of life is difficult, but I’m glad I did. Talking about money can be just as awkward. It’s easy to image an older parent feeling like you’re plotting their demise. That’s why these conversations need to happen with sensitivity. In fact, you might find that older parents have been thinking about this more than you realize. It’s important for you to understand your parents’ financial situation, for many reasons.
For starters, you’ll want to know if their money will last, or whether you may have to support them in the future. Also, depending on your parents’ assets there are things they can do while they’re still around to benefit children and grandchildren. But if you’re in the dark about your parent’s financial situation and their wishes, you’re just waiting to be surprised later.
Your parents are probably more ready than you think
If you haven’t had these discussions yet, it could be your own squeamishness that’s holding you back. It’s hard to face the fact that someday the people you love will no longer be with you. The reality is that once someone reaches their 70s and 80s, they’ve lost many friends already and they’re likely to be regular obituary readers. It tends to make them very clear eyed about the future.
Having tricky discussions with your aging parents may just be a matter of finding the right moment. Remember, it isn’t something you drop on them the day you arrive on a holiday visit. If you’ve never broached the topic before, take it slow. It’s important to respect how your parents feel, and that probably means a lot of listening at first.
If you tune into what your parents are thinking about, you may find the right opening for a the money conversation. For example, if they tell you about a friend’s passing you could bring up the importance of estate planning. Or discussions about a grandchild’s college plans may be a jumping-off point for broader financial topics. It’s likely that once you open the door you’ll all begin to feel more comfortable. But also be sure it doesn’t become the only thing you talking about.
The process of creating a financial plan can be a useful catalyst for money discussions with older parents. Tell your parents you’re working on your own financial plan, and imagine how proud they’ll feel – they raised you well. This also gives you an opportunity to talk about the assumptions you can build into your plan around gifts, inheritance, and even support for your kids’ college.
Your financial plan gives you tangible and objective information to share and discuss. You can also help your parents understand the importance of having a financial plan of their own, with everything spelled out so there’s no confusion or disagreements when the time comes for family members to carry out their wishes.
My dad’s bench has been installed exactly where he wanted it, on the campus where he spent 40 years of his working life. I went by there the other day and sat for a while, thinking about how Dad would be pleased that I’m helping Mom with her finances. How I’m making sure she has a plan for her lifetime and her legacy.