Love it or List it: Should We Buy a Different House?

Living our best bi-level life.

We are starting to wonder if we should buy a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood. I know, I know, it’s very not-pretending-to-be-poor. It’s true! But I’m coming to you with our real-life question, and I’d love your honest advice: should we love it or list it? True to the premise of the HGTV show, one of us is more inclined to love it than the other, though thankfully it’s not a point of real contention.

First, what could make us love it?

Better use of space: Our house is definitely feeling smaller now that we have a third kid. Our house was listed at 1268 square feet, but it is somewhat bigger than that. It’s a bi-level and the upstairs is about 1000 sq. ft. Half of the basement is fully finished and the other half is partially finished.

Bi-levels have some functional perks, but our entryway is tiny and bracketed by stairs. We can’t all come in the door and take our shoes off at the same time. Seeing guests out the door is awkward. We can’t keep our coats by the door because there is no room to get ready down there, let alone with a baby and stairs every which way. And if we each have one or two pairs of shoes down they take up half the space.

The other drawback to bi-levels is that when you have stairs in the middle of the house, it really chops up the rooms. So while we do have quite a bit of space, we don’t have any large spaces. And half that space is in the basement, which doesn’t help with the baby stuff that is taking over our living room.

I don’t want to have an unrealistic expectation of what our living space needs to be. I know many people live in much smaller spaces with many more people. Neil’s grandparents raised five kids in a small bungalow, living in that house for 70 years and never “upgrading.” It’s helpful to remember that it’s totally doable, but it’s hard to directly compare to a different era. We just want to keep things in perspective as we decide what makes sense for our family, in our time and place.

Neighborhood: We don’t live in a bad neighborhood, but just a couple houses past us in one direction the neighborhood transitions into rentals. While we are all about renting when it makes sense, there are several factors that make it more difficult to build community in this mostly-rental neighborhood. Additionally, many of our beloved neighbors have moved/are moving, especially ones with kids and grandkids around the same ages as our kids. There are still nice people and kids around, including one of our son’s best friends, but most of our friends and our kids’ friends live in a different neighborhood nearby.

So, the reasons we would considering moving are: more space/different layout, and wanting to be able to build more community, especially for our kids.

What could we/are we doing to love it?

Open concept: Before we moved in, Neil renovated the kitchen and dining room, taking down several walls that partitioned it and opening it up to the living room. We are working on giving away some larger furniture, which is opening it up about as much as possible. We also got new carpet in the living room, hallway, and stairs as the old stuff was very worn. The new carpet is not only cleaner and looks more updated, it’s so much softer. I swear the baby started crawling on her knees more as soon as we got it!

Kitchen remodel. Never been this clean again.

While I abhor the entry way and it’s really one of the worst parts of the house, it would be hard to change. Expanding the entry way would require bumping out the entire front of the house, which would be expensive, involved, and in my opinion, ugly.

We continue to try to figure out better ways to use our basement space, which is partitioned into four rooms–a family room with a fireplace, a possible bedroom/office, the under-heated office/hobby room, and semi-finished mud room which leads to the laundry room. But honestly I’m drawing a blank on how to improve the downstairs beyond getting rid of stuff we’re storing down there that we don’t use.

We can’t change our neighborhood, but we can be grateful for the neighbors we do know. We are also only a mile from the nearby neighborhood where so many friends live. So seeing people requires a little more planning and a short car trip, as we have to cross a busy road without traffic lights. We continue to try to make friends by taking cookies to new neighbors and trying to make play dates with kids from the bus stop.

Our wish list for a newer house would include a larger entryway, larger living room, a fourth bedroom, and the kids being able to walk to more of their friends’ houses.

After profits from the sale of our house, buying the size/condition/layout of house we’d consider in this neighborhood would cost around $800 more per month than we’re currently paying for a 15 year mortgage. While we can afford this, it’s a big “Would You Rather?” between that and other options like retiring earlier. And of course, moving is expensive. So if furnishing and maintaining a larger house.

Is it really worth $800 a month for a little bigger living area, when we just opened up ours? And for a better neighborhood and closer proximity to more friends, when we already live so close? I can’t decide! I’ve experience how amazing it is to have the spontaneous play of lots of friends up and down the street, and I really miss that. Scheduling play dates is more time consuming and it just happens less often. Lastly, our home will appreciate more in the fancier neighborhood. So what we put into it, we will likely get out of it one day when we downsize. But that’s a long way off, not 100% guaranteed, and not our primary consideration right now.

So what do you think? Should we love it or list it? Any brainstorms for loving it?

33 Responses to “Love it or List it: Should We Buy a Different House?”

  1. Katrina Yoerger says :

    Living in a bi-level I understand the dilemma. Having only 2 boys, we had enough bedrooms. As they grew older, many of their friends hung out here and to tell you the truth, there was always plenty of room for them when spending the night. But, it was great that they were able to walk down the street and hang out with really good friends. It was also great that we lived near the high school and many times their friends would come home with them to hang out. One thing I know for sure now that I’m an empty nester, having my smaller house is great, because it’s less to clean! Not sure this was helpful, but prayers to figuring it out!

    • Neil Brooks says :

      That’s great you don’t have to deal with downsizing now that your kids are out of the house. I do wish our living room was bigger like yours, though. But with less furniture it is feeling much bigger!

  2. Joanna Bixler says :

    IDK…$800/month and moving expenses is a lot to pay for a sort of nebulous “some friends live in that neighborhood” and a bad entryway. Without a solid math problem where the money works out better in the fancier neighborhood, Im in the Love It camp. But I’m interested to know where you fall.

    • Neil Brooks says :

      Space is feeling tight in 1000 sq ft upstairs with living room, dining room, kitchen, and everyone’s bedroom up there. And we know at least 10 families there. But I agree that it seems like a lot of money and that’s why we really want to think it through!

  3. Cave Man says :

    That’s a tough decision. We have 3 kiddos in a ~1200sqft single story house. It is tight sometimes and it is hard to have large parties. We don’t have options nearby, though. If we sold our house we would likely have to move cities because of how much everything around us has increased in value.
    We’ve become more involved in the PTA at our kids school and we definitely understand some of the effects of renting vs owning because there is so much transition on the PTA board and pool of volunteers. It’s also sad to see friends move away and tempting to think that is the right option.
    I’m not sure if there is a right answer (love it or list it) but we’ve decided to love it and stay focused on longer term goals of financial flexibility/freedom. A lot of that flexibility would be lost if we decided to move.
    We love your reminiscing about spontaneous play with lots of friends up and down the street. During a neighborhood watch party we got to see our kids experience one of those spontaneous play moments. We would love if that happened all the time, but each family and each kiddo has such individual schedules with after-school programs, sports, tutoring, karate, or church activities. It’s not very common that we see many other kiddos out and about.

  4. Adam Esterle says :

    Seems like you guys definitely have more and better reasons to move. Kinda skimmed the last part of the article, but I didn’t read any reason to stay lol.

    Having a meeting spot for home church and classes would be cool.

    Is it really $800/mo more? With literally not researching at all, I feel like you could meet your goals with $400-$500 more.

    • Neil Brooks says :

      Possibly could cost less, yes. But based on what we’ve seen, in the type of neighbhorhood and house we’d move for, that is our best guess.

  5. Emily says :

    I love community too but I definitely consider my friends who live 1 mile away my neighbors. We can still be spontaneous and meet at the park or borrow something on a whim, workout in each other’s basements, trade free babysitting, or drop off a coffee for each other 😉 Personally I don’t think it’s worth the cost difference. And just from a ministry standpoint, I think continuing to reach out to your neighbors on this side of the street might have a bigger impact than moving to the “good” neighborhood where you already know people. No judgement either way, just food for thought. Keep up the great work!

    • Neil Brooks says :

      We just really miss sending our kids down the street on their own with no planning or car seats involved! (We do still have some of that, though.) But at the same time I agree–we are so close, why go through the trouble and cost of moving?

  6. Indre Howell says :

    Just a reminder, your kids and their friends will be as big if not bigger than you, before you can blink an eye. If you want space for all of them, buying a bigger house is wise.

    • Indre Howell says :

      Oh and you don’t necessarily have to get one that’s a ton more expensive, or in a fancier neighborhood. I bet there are homes with better layouts and might offer an extra bedroom for not much more than what you are selling for.

    • Neil Brooks says :

      Yes, I think we are feeling that coming on as they get bigger. Then I wonder, do we do it now or wait till it’s actually happening? I agree it doesn’t have to be a fancier neighborhood, but if we are going to the trouble, I’d love walkability to more friends.

  7. Kureen says :

    We have 4 kids in 2156 sq ft with 4 bedrooms. We have a girls room and a boys room (2 kids in each). The other bedroom is an office/guest room. We don’t have a basement. We homeschool so the kids and many friends are always here. We have thought about a bigger house with more space as the kids grew and we realized it was not where we wanted to spend our money. Higher mortgage, maintence, etc. and they grow up so fast. We know for sure we don’t want the bigger house when they leave. We have friends a mile away and it is no problem to visit them. I also think a smaller house makes for more connections and problem solving-haha. 4 kids share 1 bathroom and I am surprised how many of their friends are shocked by that. I would really think hard about spending that much money to move 1 mile away! Just my thoughts!

    • Neil Brooks says :

      The short distance is definitely part of why this is such a dilemma for us–it would have to take a lot for it to be worth it. At the same time, we are a bit concerned about the type of neighborhood we are literally a couple houses away from. It’s not been a problem yet but not sure what that will look like when we want to give our friends a little more freedom. Anyway, thanks for chiming in from the perspective of a large family! Sounds like you are making it work well and I agree that it’s great to learn to live in close quarters with other people.

  8. Karen S Shade says :

    We bought our home when we just had 1 child but then added 2 others. We always wanted to be in a better neighborhood with a larger living area but never could convince ourselves to go further into debt. However I wish we had upgraded when they were younger. So my recommendation is to upgrade now. You can always downsize when they are grown but I think it will make life a lot easier until then.

  9. Linda Sand says :

    We upgraded to get into a better school district. The neighbors’ kids encouraged ours to become more materialistic. That was not a good trade for us.

  10. Jay says :

    Well you could move house, then find that your new place has things about it that you don’t like, that you’d want to fix, and so on… (sometimes the beater car you know, is better than the nicer looking used car you traded up to: you’re not familiar with it, there are surprise repairs to be done – ask me how I know)

    I say LOVE the place you’re in! Life isn’t about perfect. Sometimes, little things irritate you and you need to learn to be content with your life, even when you’re inconvenienced by having to wait 20 seconds to get in your front door 🙂

    Financially, stick with the home you’ve got, and if you can afford to, then extent your entryway (who cares if it looks ‘ugly’). You do you. Your home is for you, and any guests fortunate enough to experience your hospitality are not talking about your front entry behind your back!
    (Perhaps a refresher about hedonic adaptation will put things in perspective)

    • Jay says :

      Argh, I meant extend, not extent.

      Also, we’re in 1010sf 3bed 1bath home, with 3 children and one on the way! We’ll make it work, at least for now.

      *Another thought – you just spent all that money and effort on your kitchen and carpet, why not enjoy it?

    • Neil Brooks says :

      We are truly happy either way. Wow you are making it work in close quarters for sure. We have enjoyed the kitchen for 9.5 years already, but the carpet is new and we are loving it!

  11. Dawn Jenkins says :

    I think you should move and rent out your house.

  12. Ali says :

    I’m going to jump into this conversation as one who has move too many times. All of the moving issues your readers have touched on we have experienced:
    unanticipated problems in new house, moving and transaction fees, higher mortgage cost,etc. There are a few reasons I would consider staying where you are. Your remodeled kitchen is beautiful; why not enjoy the fruits of your labor? And new carpeting? Those are investments. But the biggest reason for staying is $800 a month X’s 12 months X’s 10 years invested would earn you well over $100,000! That’s something to consider if you are looking toward early retirement. The front entry, the nearby rentals, and driving a mile to friends’ houses seem to me to be” first- world problems”! If you would like another perspective on this, read Mad Money Monster’s blog on “right-sized house” I wish you the best.

    • Neil Brooks says :

      Oh, this is all absolutely first world problems–we are very grateful for our home. The whole premise of this question is that we have two great options before us. We have calculated the cost to be about 2 additional years of work before early retirement which is not too crazy, but certainly something to consider. Thanks for the article recommendation!

  13. Morgan says :

    I lean towards moving but then I’ve always loathed split levels. I feel like they represent the worst of almost every house style rolled into one. Small, poorly designed rooms, awkward layout, etc.

    Having said that, I’d worry that you would move to be near these friends… and they’d move again. I mean this is the nicest way but they didn’t stay to be near you, so following to be near them doesn’t make a lot of sense. If your type of neighborhood has changed, then I can see moving to a new neighborhood to get that same vibe or opportunity to meet people again but I’d be really leery of spending a lot of emotional investment on any specific group who wasn’t equally invested in you (such as a sibling or childhood best friend) Funny story, my mother has a friend who keeps moving to live near her adult children… who then move away. My mother is mystified by this but I’m not. I’ve spoken with the children! Lol.

    • Neil Brooks says :

      Bi-levels are even worse than split-levels!

      Yes, I do see your point and it’s a good one. We wouldn’t be moving toward one or two particular families; we know at least 10 families in that neighborhood. And a consideration is the somewhat rougher neighborhood nearby us. It’s always been like that, but we didn’t think much about it till we had kids. That said, it hasn’t really been a problem yet, and we are so close to the other neighborhood that it probably isn’t worth moving.

      That’s too funny about your mom’s friend!

  14. David says :

    $800/month to get 1 mile closer to friends sounds steep! Even if you get a better house out of it.

    However, it’s hard to put a price on the classic Americana ideal of running outside to play with friends spontaneously. I never had that as a kid growing up because of the neighborhood my parents lived in.

    You may want to consider whether your kids will be able to really do spontaneous play though. Depending on the mindset of their friends’ parents they may have too many activities scheduled to ever do spontaneous play, even if your own kids aren’t overscheduled.

    Getting a better layout of the house is huge, though, because that’s about the only thing that you can’t change cheaply.

    • Neil Brooks says :

      You’ve summarized our pros and cons well.
      It’s true, I can’t say exactly how available their friends are, although we have some friends in that ‘hood with similar lifestyle–not too many extracurriculars, one parent home with the kids, etc. But with the new friends we’re meeting, it’s a mix.

  15. Julie says :

    Another long term consideration is grandchildren and having room for all of them. As we are soon becoming empty nesters and want to downsize, we still need a little room for all the grandkids.

    • Kalie says :

      That feels like such a long way off right now! But yes, I am watching friends enter that phase and want living areas that can accommodate a growing family as their kids get married and have kids. We are not going to make a decision based on something that’s 20ish years off, as we can always move again in that type of time frame.

  16. Leah says :

    Just throwing out my 2 cents 🙂 I think you should move. We lucked into a great cul de sac – and my youngest is always out playing after school and weekends. They roam through front and back yards and play for hours. There are kids her age and kids younger and she loves being the big kid that the littles look up to. We don’t do any activities as both my girls want to decompress after school. My oldest is 13 and does more quiet time but my 9 year old loves going out to play. We have been considering a move, but have severe reservations about leaving the neighborhood and taking our daughter from such a rare free range(ish) play childhood. We’ve looked but are thinking of delaying the move by 2-3 years to keep what I think you are looking for. Unless I find a house with a pool then all bets are off and I’m moving….

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