Monday, January 5, 2009

choosing a house

I once heard of a missionary who was asked how he accepted his low standard of living. He explained that everyone knows Americans are richer than the vast majority of the world's population, but he liked to remind himself that--even at his missionary wages--he was richer than 90% of Americans were in 1950.

Not too long ago, my family moved from a 1,500 sq ft 3/2 house on one acre of land to a 1,371 sq ft 3/2.5 townhouse. After factoring in the space lost to our new staircase, we were losing more than 200 sq ft (~14% of our living area); we also lost a 2-car garage for storage.

We felt like we were moving into a shed, but we also understood we were moving into a home our grandparents' generation would have considered luxury.

The average American home built in 1950 was less than 1,000 sq ft. But, by 1990, the average new home was larger than 2,000 sq ft. The average number of bathrooms increased from 1 to 2.5 during those years (National Association of Home Builders). In addition, the percentage of homes with two car garages increased from 48% to 75% from 1968 t0 1992 (McKeever & Phelps).

The amount we spend on our homes has also grown much faster than inflation. The average new home cost $11,000 in 1950 , which adjusted to year-2000 dollars would have been $78,597. By comparison, the average new home in 2000 cost $206,400--and that was before the housing bubble (NAHB; AIER).

In fact, researchers Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi have claimed today's Americans spend less on food and clothing (thanks Wal-Mart) and cars (thanks Japan) than Americans spent in the 1970s. But they found we spend much, much more on housing.

Warren and Tyagi claim two-income families are spending more on homes in order to get into neighborhoods zoned for the best schools. But, that wouldn't explain why most new homes also happen to be built in deed-restricted neighborhoods. I wonder if people are more driven by finding neighborhoods with decent neighbors. But, whatever the cause, we're spending a lot of money on houses.

So, here's my question:
How do wartime Christians decide how much to spend and what to look for in a house?

McKeever & Phelps.

National Assn of Home Builders (NAHB).
American Institute for Economic Research.
Warren & Tyagi:

Random discolures: My first house, purchased in 2000, was a 1206 sq ft 3/2 that cost $76,500. My second house, puchased in 2003, was a 1500 sq ft 3/2 that cost $125,000. My current house, puchased in 2008, is a 1371 sq ft 3/2.5 towhouse that cost $114,900.


  1. I like your blog. We recently moved 3 miles out of the inner city from an 1800 sf Victorian to less than 1000 sf bungalow, with a 2 car garage that was converted to a workshop that won't hold cars, but it does hold bikes and junk. We have 3 bedrooms and 3 kids and a dog. A small house is not so bad. It's easier to heat and clean, but a little noisier. You might enjoy the Tiny House blog when you feel your house is too small.
    God is good

  2. We bought our less than 1000 sq ft home about 11 years ago thinking it would be our "starter home"...we're still in it today and have added 2 children to the mix. At times I have wished for a larger house - a house of "my dreams" - but right now I'm glad that we have a house that is totally paid for. If my dh were to lose his job (definitely a possibility with our economy) we won't have to worry about how we'll make the payments. Living in a small paid for house and living below our means has allowed us to save $ for an unknown future...enabling us to be used by God how and when He desires...perhaps missions or a ministry where we won't have to receive a salary...

  3. I wish we had been so wise with our home purchases. A move for a job several years ago put us in a larger house that ended up being more than we needed for 2 people. We thought we'd raise our family there, but another move put us back into a smaller ~1260 sf home which is where we will raise our growing family now.


We intend this blog to be a discussion about wartime living, so we always welcome your thoughts.