Eight Ownership Alternatives to the White Picket Fence

LSS Center for Financial Resources
Breck Miller, Community Relations Coordinator

June is National Home Ownership Month.  If you read deeper, however, I think it’s a pretty loaded phrase.  Look at just one of the words – ‘home’.  How would you define home?  Traditionally, it is the single-family home with a white picket fence.  Yeah, you know the kind.

I have to admit, that was my perception of the ultimate home for many years, even as I got my real estate license and started selling people homes.  But as I spent more time there and then moved into homebuyer education, my understanding has changed.

House Plans

There are a lot of people out there who are hesitant to buy a house.  They may well have that same traditional view of a home, but just don’t feel like it is quite right for them.  Are they better off not owning a home?  Is there something wrong with them?

In the last several years, the definition of home has broadened beyond the single-family home many still have in their minds.  I’m not saying any of these are right for you, but I believe it is vitally important to at least consider them.

Years ago I had a couple in our Homebuyer Express class.  They were ready for the typical single-family home but were determined they would NOT buy a split foyer style of home.  It was the worst of all horrors.  Later, I ran into them again and sure enough, they had bought a split foyer.  They hated them….. until they actually looked at one and loved it.  Down the road a bit further, we chatted again and they had sold the split foyer to move into a condo in the downtown area.  They realized they were downtown all the time anyway and had priorities other than the big yard and stand-alone home.

Now that’s not what I would choose in a home, but I’m not them either.  There is a wide variety of people and personalities out there, and a variety of home styles to match.  Let’s take a look at a few home styles that you may consider beyond the traditional single-family.

Apartment

Condominiums – Condos are usually in an apartment-style building, but may be in a side-by-side format as well.  You own your unit by yourself and share ownership of the common areas and grounds with other residents.  Typically built better than apartments, it is harder to notice immediate neighbors than you may think.  Don’t care for the maintenance home ownership often requires?  This could be for you.  You have to maintain the interior of your unit, but the condo association will take care of common areas and the exterior of the building.  There will be a regular Home Owners’ Association (HOA) fee to cover that and more, but that may be the lifestyle you are willing to pay for.

Town-Homes – Town-homes are always a side-by-side format because, while you have shared walls like a condo setting, you actually own the land your unit sits on in a townhouse.  There will probably still be an HOA to take care of some or all of the exterior maintenance, but you will have better, more direct access to your own yard and more freedom in what you do with it.  But being a smaller yard, it can also save you significant cost compared to a single-family home.

Twin Homes – Like a town-home, but now the structure only has two units, typically side-by-side.  With a common wall, you own the ground under your side.  These may or may not have a Home Owners’ Association, but you will still need to cooperate with your neighbor for exterior things like paint, siding, and roofing.  But you also often reduce cost through a smaller yard.

Villa Style Homes – OK, so these are still single-family homes.  But with the villa style, the home is typically smaller with nicer finishes on a very small lot.  An HOA takes care of yard work and snow removal, but you still have many of the responsibilities of a typical single-family owner.  This is a nice style for those that don’t need huge space but want a nicer finish.  These are usually recognizable in our area because the homes all sit perfectly parallel to each other and at an angle to the street.

Shared Homes – Now we start moving into more alternative housing types, and this one is definitely a different lifestyle.  We are seeing more cases where a person or couple buy a home, probably a larger one, but then have another couple or larger family move in with them.  It’s more of a communal style of living and can have its own issues of getting along, but it can really help to share expenses.  If this interests you, pay attention to the floor plan, or layout, of the house.  Some houses are built in a way that could still provide a certain amount of privacy for each family even in an officially single-family home.  Also, be aware of zoning issues where you are buying.  Some communities do limit the number of unrelated adults in a single unit.

Tiny Houses – We’ve all seen the shows and read the social media posts extolling the virtues of tiny homes.  As much as I am the stereotypical American who really likes all of my stuff, I can appreciate the simplicity that this style of a home requires.  Not necessarily cheap, but cheaper than the typical home, the more common issue with tiny homes is zoning and finding locations that allow them.  Officially a trailer home, you can’t usually just plop them down wherever you want.

Trailer Homes – Get over the stereotypes.  Yes, there are some bad trailer parks.  There are also some very nice ones with modern, well-kept trailers that are hard to identify as a trailer when you get in them.  Usually renting the lot you sit on, the trailer is cheaper than a traditional stick-built home.  This can allow you to meet other priorities in your life.  For example, retired friends of mine live in a trailer, and in the garage next to their trailer is a shiny new Corvette that is paid for.  They are debt free and have more freedom, due in no small part to their housing choices.

camper

Campers – I throw this one in only because it came up in conversation the other day.  Probably not really a long-term housing option for most of us.  But it does have certain aspects that are worthy of respect: flexibility, affordability, mobility, simplicity…. I could go on.  Probably more of a retiree’s lifestyle, maybe it is something that is in your long-range plan.  It’s a good example that pretty much every housing style has its benefits to consider.

That’s a good list with good options.  They may not be your stereotypical options, but worthy of consideration as you look at how your housing fits with the rest of your lifestyle choices.  If you would like to dig deeper into housing styles or other aspects of home ownership, the Center for Financial Resources offers free Homebuyer Express classes.  You can find the schedule on our calendar or call us at 605-330-2700 to sign up for a class.

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