It’s been six years since I bought this house – this money pit, really. In those six years, we’ve added two kids and a dog to our family; we’ve also added a sun room, ceramic tile floors, and solid counter tops to our home. When we put our house on the market eight months ago, we knew we’d never see a return on those upgrades; when we pulled our house off the market six weeks ago, without having received a single offer, it was confirmation that the real estate market was still struggling to recover in our area.

And while you’d think that our decision to buy a house above market value, and subsequently make $20,000 in improvements to it, might qualify as my biggest real estate regret, you’d be wrong. My housing regrets go much deeper than that, all boiling down to one single factor: location.

Location, Location, Location

I don’t know who it was in the world of real estate that coined the idea of “location, location, location” being the prime factor in making one of life’s biggest purchases, but they were right on the money – literally.

Our journey to this house began in July 2006, when I got an unsolicited job offer from a TV station in this market. The offer – and the salary – were too good to pass up, and we found ourselves packing up our Macon, Georgia, apartment and heading north in a matter of weeks. When I accepted the offer, my husband and I decided we would immediately buy a house in our new city. We’d been saving up since our wedding, skipping a honeymoon to save for a down payment instead, and had enough to qualify for what were – at the time – relatively low interest rates.

I spent a week going over real estate listings online, before making a weekend trip to our new city to look at properties in person. By the time the weekend was over, we were under contract on a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home. We’d spent a total of 36 hours in town, and apart from knowing the distance from our new house to my new job, we knew absolutely nothing else of the area.

What We Should Have Done

In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t been so hasty buying a house. If I could go back in time and do it over, I wouldn’t have bought a house right away. Instead, I would have rented for at least six months to get the lay of the land. Had we done this, I can guarantee that we wouldn’t have purchased the home we did. We probably would have chosen a house on the opposite side of town, which was slightly farther away from the city center, but closer to a lot of recreational activities we’ve enjoyed over the years.

Doing things this way – renting first, buying a house later – would have definitely been more of a headache in the short term; after all, who wants to move in to an apartment or condo, knowing you plan to move out a few months later? But ultimately it would have saved us a lot of heart ache, for had we been more patient with our housing search, we likely wouldn’t be so desperate to get out of this home today.

Why We Wanted To Move

It’s a moot point, considering we pulled our house off the market nearly two months ago – when asking prices started dropping so far below appraised values in our neighborhood that we couldn’t afford to sell – but it’s still worth mentioning why we wanted to get out of this house so badly in the first place.

It boils down to my children and that ubiquitous real estate word, location.

My daughter turns five next year, which means she’ll be starting kindergarten. We live in a state that already has a less-than-stellar reputation for primary school education, and the district we call home is middling at best. But the school to which my daughter is assigned, based on our neighborhood, is a deal breaker. Not only does it rank in the bottom five percent of elementary schools statewide (based on end-of-grade test scores), but last year, the police responded to five – count ’em,five – incidences of gang-related violence on the grounds of that school (all but one were after school hours, but still…). Would you send your child to a school like that? I doubt any parent would, at least not if they had a choice in the matter.

I’m a big proponent of public school education, so sending my daughter to a private school – at a considerable cost to us – is simply out of the question, especially given the academic reputation of the private schools in our area (they’re not much better than the public ones). I would rather spend an additional $4,000 a year on a bigger house – and a better school district – than on private school tuition with dubious results.

So that’s my biggest regret – that I didn’t buy a house in a part of town where I felt comfortable sending my children to the public school system.

What’s yours?

Libby Balke
Libby Balke