Homeownership and Happiness?

This weekend I read an interesting piece in the NYTimes – Homeownership, The Key To Happiness?  According to author Michelle Higgins,

“A growing body of research suggests that spending money on real estate doesn’t necessarily mean investing in contentment. Indeed, the conventional advice to cut back on vacations, restaurant meals and other extras in order to save money for a home may actually be detrimental to felicity. Experts in happiness — an increasingly popular field focused on the scientific understanding of emotional well-being — say that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material goods, whether it be a new car or a bigger apartment.”

But I think the conclusions that are being drawn from these “happiness experts” are a bit too general.


A Sample Size of Two

We’ve made no secret of the fact that we like owning real estate.  I say this even though (or perhaps because?) we spent a good chunk of this weekend inhaling noxious fumes and performing manual labor at our duplex (more on that later this week).  The rent checks from the duplex are pretty awesome, but we also really find that our home is a sanctuary for us and a place we really feel safe.

My best friend on the other hand is hating being a homeowner lately.  With her husband doing some extensive traveling for work these days, she’s at the house alone most of the time.  As a result, she’s resenting the amount of work she’s having to do around the house by herself (tasks she didn’t mind when she was working on them alongside her husband), and resenting the checks she’s having to shell out when there’s a project that’s too big for her to tackle on her own.  Right now, homeownership is the pits for her even though she feels that owning has still been a good financial decision for them.


So from my small sample size of two households, I’m going out on a limb and saying the amount of happiness that you derive from being a homeowner seems to be highly correlated with:


But that’s just my sample size of two speaking.  What do you think, readers?


Do you derive happiness (or unhappiness) from homeownership?  What are some of the reasons that you think you are happy or unhappy with your current state as a homeowner or renter?

68 comments to Homeownership and Happiness?

  • There is joy in checking some major financial milestones off the list in order to concentrate on other things that make you happy. RE can be tough in the beginning no doubt. But over time, it becomes an after thought as you have to live somewhere and rentals just become part of your net worth make up.

    If I didn’t have real estate, I think is be much less happier because I’d always have a little bit of insecurity about not having a place of my own when I’m old and unwilling to work.

    Financial Samurai recently posted..How Hot Is The Real Estate Market? Example Of A 30% OverbidMy Profile

  • Owning real estate makes me happy!

    Also, owning is much cheaper than renting in my area…so I would definitely be unhappy if I rented.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Cash Money: How I Made $883 This WeekendMy Profile

  • I get a lot of happiness out of completing a tough, labor intensive project, but im don’t think everyone does.
    I love that everyone is talking about real happiness research, because that’s what truly matters more than money.
    CashRebel recently posted..Would You Accept A Lower Salary In A Cheaper City?My Profile

  • I couldn’t imagine hating being a home owner. I’m so in love with it! It has afforded me opportunities to build hobbies like never before when renting. Sure, it’s challenging, but why do anything ever if not to be challenged?
    SuburbanFinance recently posted..New Wireless Company Code of Conduct for CanadiansMy Profile

  • I like owning my house. Luckily housing is cheap here though. I’m not sure how I would feel if my same exact house was 3 to 4 times the cost, like it would be in other areas of the country!
    Michelle recently posted..Bridal Shower and $3,645 in Extra IncomeMy Profile

  • I don’t own a home yet, but here are my two cents from watching many people buy homes:
    -Don’t buy more than you can afford! We are looking for a house with a max purchase value of $150,000. This will allows us to still go on vacation, invest in retirement, invest outside of retirement, and help my family.
    – Don’t buy if you are not planning to spend some time on the house.
    Both my hubby and I are excited to have our home. Being renters is cool and all, but having a house gives us more privacy. Allows us to build our net worth.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..Revenge is A Dish Best Served ColdMy Profile

    • I definitely agree. I never really understood the recommendation that people should “stretch” or be okay being “house poor”.

  • IMHO, many people make huge life decisions (buy a house, get married, have kids) simply because it’s the next thing to do, as if they were filling out some kind of pre-made life stages checklist. In other words, they aren’t really thinking about what they’re doing.

    Regarding home ownership they don’t really think through what the payments will be, because they’re “building equity” or “or getting a tax write off” or “buying their dream house.” I’ve done the math on the tax breaks and the equity building and they don’t make much sense for me. I can save a lot more money and keep a much more mobile lifestyle by renting my one bedroom apartment. If my housing needs change, I’ll have to do the numbers again.

    Onto manual labor. I hate manual labor. Long ago when my parents were homeowners, they were big DIYers. Predictably, I got impressed into service as well. Projects took forever since they could only be completed when my parents weren’t at work. And the projects were stressful, there was always arguing and yelling involved. I can’t imagine a worse way to spend your time together than painting, or cleaning gutters, or digging holes to patch up leaks near the foundation.

    Oh wait… I can. The Sisyphean task of yard work. Burn valuable weekend time cutting grass, so that it can grow back, and you can cut it again. Rake leaves, so they can fall again. Pull weeds, so they can grow back. Blow snow, so it can fall again. My god, what a waste of my existence.

    I’m not actually opposed to buying a house, but I think that most people aren’t aware of just how much owning a house can suck. If you’re aware and you make decisions around that (budgeting for maintenance, buying a condo, loving DIY stuff, whatever), then you’ll probably be happy. But my parents were cheap and so to save a buck, they got burdened with all the maintenance related stress and I certainly can’t say that home ownership made them happy and may have contributed to their eventual divorce.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Coca Cola (KO) Dividend Stock AnalysisMy Profile

    • I think you’re right that a number of people don’t think about tasks (or expenses if they want to avoid them!) when buying a house, though it’s sad if divorce ends up being the end result.

  • Debbie M

    I don’t like the work that goes into keeping everything in shape. I mean, I REALLY don’t like it. But I do like having the power to keep it in shape. When you’re renting, your landlord may or may not keep things in shape.

    I also like having the power to decide (within what’s financially possible) how to go about achieving the different goals. So, for example, I never have to take all my stuff out of my cabinets and move it into the living room and cover it with spare sheets so someone can come in and spray poison all over the kitchen. And I like making high-quality (long-term) repairs rather than quick band-aid type repairs that have to be re-done over and over.

    I don’t even want a place with condo fees or a homeowner’s association because I’d still have too little power. Nevertheless, I still have no power over real estate trends (and therefore how much my house is worth and therefore the amount of property tax I have to pay), but I think it’s still pretty good. It’s also hard for me to move, of course, but I’m living in my favorite city, so that’s okay, too.

    • I’m with you on staying away from Condo and Homeowner’s Associations. After the RE crash I’m just not sure I’m willing to cede that much power over my finances over to my neighbors!

      Do you have a homestead exemption for your property tax? We do, so we’ve actually locked in the amount that our assessment can increase by each year. It definitely helps the property tax/power issue.

      • Debbie M

        Yes, I do have a homestead exemption. So my taxes can go up by “only” 10% per year. You’re right, though, that if that ever kicks in, it could certainly be a great help.

        And once I turn 65, I qualify for another exemption to freeze one of the taxes (school taxes) forever. I just looked it up, and that’s currenlty half my taxes, so that’s pretty amazing.

        • Ugh! A 10% cap for homesteaders? That’s our cap for non-homesteader property; we get a 3% cap for our homestead. =).

          But the education cap is interesting… They figure old people don’t have an interest in seeing future generations “edumacated”?

  • I really like home ownership and it gives my wife and I more happiness for sure. That being said, it isn’t for everyone. It does require some work and for you to stay in place for a minimum of a few years. I’d much rather own a home vs. rent, but that’s just me.
    Jake @ Common Cents Wealth recently posted..I’m Joining the Yakezie Challenge!My Profile

    • You’re right that just staying put can be tough! I remember when we moved in we couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live in the same spot for more than a couple years as adults =)

  • Lara

    Nine years in to owning a home- I’m ready to sell it all, rent an apartment, and start taking more vacations. Unfortunately, my husband still likes the house and, fortunately, we still like each other so I guess we’ll be living with the house for a while. If he ever wavers for a moment, though, I’m going to stick a for sale sign up posthaste!

    Admittedly, my feelings about home-ownership may be somewhat influenced by the fact that we have had a lot of major home repairs the last couple of years. Its sucked up huge amounts of time, energy, and money. Also, it’s very disheartening to always have my house looking like the shambles as we slowly chip away at the seemingly never-ending projects. As “My Financial Independence Journey” commented above, it just feels like a colossal waste of my existence.

    • I won’t tell your husband if you add a real estate agent on your speed-dial and keep a “for sale” sign in your garage just in case!
      Have you ever seen The Money Pit? It can’t be that bad, can it?

  • While we own, I get the impression that renting might result in greater happiness because it can be a less stressful & less time consuming way to live in a space. Sometimes (often?) it’s also less expensive, but I’m painting with a broad brush.

    I do actually feel happy owning our home, and now that we’ve paid off the mortgage from a financial perspective it now feels a lot less stressful than I imagine renting would, in that regard. Still, the research I’ve seen doesn’t seem to point to homeowners being happier than renters, so it’s possible that while we’re happy, we might be missing out on some other, greater happiness as simple renters…
    Done by Forty recently posted..Why We…Take Navy ShowersMy Profile

  • Well, it’s an unholy amount of work that gets more and more unmanageable as you age.

    But I will say that if I hadn’t owned my home outright at the time I was laid off, I would have been homeless, since I couldn’t have afforded to pay rent or a mortgage and eat, too. I love my home — like its privacy, like having knowing who’s been in my pool and what they’ve done (or, more important, NOT done) in it, love the gardens and shade trees and space inside and out. It won’t last forever, though…sooner or later I’m going to have to move into a life-care community, where someone else handles most of the work and costs are consolidated into one or two bills a month.

    I hope whatever I can clear off the sale of the house will be enough to get me into a decent old-folkerie! 😉
    Funny about Money recently posted..Why Do You Want to Do That?My Profile

    • “Well, it’s an unholy amount of work that gets more and more unmanageable as you age.”

      I have mixed feelings about this… my grandparents moved into a 55+ condo association when I was in middle school and I’ve never seen someone waste away so quickly as my grandfather did when he no longer had a house and yard to putter all around in. (He was a putterer if there ever were one.) I blame a lot of that on the move, but who knows…

  • I do value experiences over things more, but also like having a home base to call our own. This being said, we don’t need it too big/extravagant or the best looking, but something that’s “just enough” so that we’re able travel and create experiences. We also don’t mind manual labor, though I can see how your friend could be resentful since I can’t imagine doing that kind of stuff all by myself.
    anna recently posted..Combining FinancesMy Profile

    • I think the “just enough” attitude is probably a really good balance. Stretching cost-wise would definitely seem to make it tougher to be happy with your purchase.

  • Ivy

    well, it’s definitely correlated with how willing and prepared you are to deal with work and expenses of home ownership, there is no discussion here

    it is also correlated with how valuable for you is the ability to make changes around the house without being accountable to anybody else.

    And how big a role real estate ownership has in your retirement plans (if you want to retire abroad or travel extensively, maybe renting is more flexible)

    And to some extent whether you have or want to have pets – negotiating with landlords about your pets is often a major hassle

    We own a home and enjoyed fixing it up ourselves (or we did BC – before children), but frankly we were just happy as renters before that.

    • We never felt particularly unhappy as renters, though for the most part we had good landlords which helped. But there’s something nice about being able to buy a new paint color if I wanted to and not have to get a pre-approval. It’s like the feeling when I first moved out of the dorms and went out and bought candles and halogen lamps just because I could!

  • I have been a homeowner since I was 23. I really enjoy it because it allows me to pursue my hobby of car building. I couldn’t do that in a rental, but there are also challenges with a home, but I think those are small. I don’t know if the home brings me happiness, but the stability.
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted..Money Multitasking – Concept and ExecutionMy Profile

  • I have a love hate relationship with real estate. I have had so many problems with my current house but it is finally generating a profit through renting so that makes it easier. I probably will feel a lot happier when its sold and gone.
    Debt and the Girl recently posted..Is Technology Helping You Save Money or Driving You Crazy?My Profile

  • V

    I find this a really interesting question as I save up for a *potential* down payment. See a few years ago I think buying would be antithesis for me. I am relatively non-committal and completely nomadic. Fast forward to now and the last few years of having no place of my own and stuff sitting in storage while I’m overseas and I’m a bit sick of not having my own place. Here’s the thing; with the career I’m in, housing never has to cost me anything. I could potentially never have to pay rent or a mortgage payment, so committing to something, and it’s a big financial commitment, is a bit like allowing some shackles on, even if they are comfy nice shackles that offer other mental and emotional benefits. I’m not sure what I’ll do, since there are a lot of other considerations, like if I stay in this career and how that will effect where I buy etc. I know I’m emotionally ready now, but I’m not convinced it makes enough financial sense at the moment. I certainly won’t be jumping into anything.

    • V – you sound so much like a friend of mine that works in the State Department! She rotates through different countries and just has her stuff in storage most of the time. In some ways she’s jealous of her sister with a big house in the suburbs, but in others she enjoys all the freedom of traveling the world (and having her expenses paid while doing it!)

      • V

        Essentially yes, only I work for an NGO in development. Generally speaking you are well taken care of and you get to see the world at the same time, there just isn’t usually a place that is always yours. I’m not sure it will always be what I want, but I am enjoying it for the moment and I can always consider a house if I change lifestyles.

        • Definitely sounds like a great way to see the world and save up a ton of money for later, that’s for sure. But it is a departure from the typical settled American lifestyle which from what my friend says comes with some major pros and cons.

  • I love the house I own but i would happy earning rentals from it next year as I move to some other country later on
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  • I look forward to eventually owning a home, but ya, I think I’d only be a happy homeowner if I knew I could afford anything of the projects that come along with it as well.
    Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted..Life as a Freelancer’s WifeMy Profile

  • I completely agree!

    I like the idea of having a rent check every month, but other than that, homeownership doesn’t really make me happy. Not a fan of manual labor, and I hate dealing with our HOA. If I were to get into real estate, I think I’d look into having a property manager do all of that for me. But then again, I’d have to pay him/her, too. AH we’ll just have to see I guess!
    Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans recently posted..The Importance of GivingMy Profile

    • I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “I love my HOA.” Why do we keep building communities with HOAs if no one likes them? =)

  • I think it’s probably very personal and really depends on the values of the individual. I think the general point of valuing experiences over material goods is a good one and doesn’t conflict with your point. What you and your husband seem to enjoy are the activities surrounding owning real estate, not having the real estate just for the sake of having it. For you guys, those activities are similar to what the NYT author is talking about with vacations and eating out.
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  • It’s hard to say… but I definitely would not want all the hassle of owning a home if it meant money was tight in other areas. Here it’s so cheap to own that we’d be spending the same amount renting, most likely.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Why I paid off my student loans earlyMy Profile

    • I agree that I don’t think we’d want to own if it meant scrimping everywhere else, but it felt like the NYT author took that as a basic premise. That owning meant having to scrimp elsewhere… Maybe that’s a consequence of living in NYC.

  • It’s tough for me to comare the two since I’ve never owned, but I agree with what you said you need to have to make it work. It would suck, in my opinion, to be house poor. I also do hate manual labor, but if I was married or living with someone who enjoyed it that would help. I hate with renting I do never feel quite “settled” but at the same time I also don’t necessarily feel “tied down.” Both have their good and bad points. I don’t like that I can’t really change anything (knock down walls, make any major improvements to upgrading the look), but also like that I don’t have to pay for repairs. I feel OK about renting in LA since it’s too expensive to buy, but if I could afford a place, I’d rather own. Maybe a condo so there is less maintenance. :)
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..How to Date on a BudgetMy Profile

  • I want to own real estate (specifically, single family home) so that I won’t be priced out of my area and/or get chased out of my house when I become elderly. Many landlords are hesitant to rent to very elderly folks – it’s not legal, but it’s done. Furthermore, a mortgage locks you into your monthly payment and if you are diligent, you will be free of major housing costs by the time you retire, whereas rent can always increase (and if you don’t have the discipline to save the money you would’ve otherwise spent on mortgage, you’ll be in bad shape!). I do not want to be 60 and worried about my next rent payment.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Leaning InMy Profile

  • CF

    I like having a small space that is my own sanctuary. And of course, Brian and I are big on the investment aspect of rental income. :) But having a bigger place or a hour would not make me happier. In fact, the more I run numbers, I am feeling very reluctant to upgrade my condo any time in the next few years.
    CF recently posted..I think my LG refridgerator broke?My Profile

  • We’re new to owning our own home. Honestly, I’m afraid of breaking my house and being stuck with a many thousand dollar bill for something critical but we’re getting more comfortable. Like you were saying about the “happiness experts”, I think it has more to do with the way people are assigning value to things in their life and less to do with scrimping to save for a house. If I need a $100 dinner every week to feel I’ve done something experiential, then I will definitely feel deprived. But there’s definitely more than one road to Rome and the “famine” approach to saving isn’t going to be the best fit for everyone.
    Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility recently posted..Ask Darwin: the answer to all your financial questionsMy Profile

    • Is your house brand new? My sister was the same way when she moved into brand spanking new homes. Too nervous to break anything or put a nail hole in the walls! =)

  • I think it’s true. If you are not prepared to handle what comes with home ownership especially the upkeep and maintenance as well as the $$ then owning might be a downer for someone. Some people start out happy and quickly sink down the tunnel because they did not prepare for times ahead. It all boils down to money and time in my opinion and a desire to recognize that my hard work is my castle and I must maintain it to be proud of it.
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  • trudy

    That You May Also Like slider at the bottom can’t be closed, at least in Firefox. The close thing in the upper right corner doesn’t seem to work.

    (Some day browsers will be able to stop these popup equivalents, I wait for the day.)

    • Thanks for the heads up, Trudy. Looks like that’s a “feature” of the latest update for that plug-in. FWIW, it works as expected in Chrome.

      Have you ever tried the Firefox No Script add-in? It blocks java scripts.

  • Owning my house makes me happier than owning most of the other things. I like feeling free and having no landlord. But it is not subject to its size or price.
    Pauline recently posted..Little house in Guatemala: A normal day at the councilMy Profile

    • And your definition of ownership is even more authentic than ours since you never had a mortgage on your little place in guatemala!

  • We don’t own. But I’d be much happier owning, I think. With what we pay for rent on an apartment that’s too small for our family we could have a REAL nice house out in a better school district. Just have to build up that pesky downpayment and a decent emergency fund for home repairs. More space+better education for my kids=happiness to me.
    femmefrugality recently posted..Reducing my Cell Phone BillMy Profile

    • More space+better education for my kids=happiness to me.

      =) sounds like a great equation for happiness! Good luck with the savings!

  • […] Mrs. POP (I still don’t know her real name!) from Planting Our Pennies wonders if there is a correlation between Homeownership and Happiness? […]