Long Commute or an Expensive House? Which One Should We Choose?

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long commute or an expensive houseIs your job located in an expensive area? Are you faced with either a long commute or an expensive house near your work? I never thought I’d be faced with this decision since my wife and I live in a fairly low-cost area. BUT, now that we’re looking at homes with acreage, the options seem to be quite limited in our desired location near work. AND, for the few houses that ARE on the market, they’re typically in the $400,000 range…when our budget is more like $275,000-$300,000.

Just recently, we spotted a house that has 5 acres, a perfect set-up for horses, and plenty of room for our family!

The price tag? $275,000!

But…it’s located 25 minutes north of where we really want to be… What should we do??

Long Commute or an Expensive House?

So what are the true pros and cons of a decision like this? Will we jump on this house option and forever regret it because of the added drive-time to everything? Or, will we love the acreage and horses so much that we won’t mind being a little farther away?

I honestly have no idea…which is why I’m writing this article – to help weigh the pros and cons of this decision (and to of course get your opinion as well!).

Great Property, Long Commute – Pros and Cons

5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2,800 square feet, 5 acres with a pole barn that’s already set up for horses… $275,000.

Pros

  • We’d be completely debt free after the sale of our house
  • We wouldn’t be much farther away from my family, but much closer to my wife’s parents and sisters
  • The property is set up exactly how we’d like it
    • It’s lined with trees for privacy from the road
    • There’s a fenced-in pasture in the back
    • The pole barn already has four new stalls set up for horses
  • The house is a ranch style with the kitchen, dining, and living room all flowing together, and there’s a full basement for plenty of space for our family

long commute or an expensive house

Cons

  • 25 minutes from my work (vs. the 5 minute commute I have today)
  • 20 minutes from the school we’d like our kids to go to (vs. 5 minutes today) – our oldest daughter will start school in three years
  • 20 minutes from our church (vs. 10 minutes today)

Basically, this house is exactly what we want for a price that’s within our budget. BUT, it comes at the expense of approximately 4 hours of my life each week.

Related: Adding 20 Minutes to Your Commute Makes You as Miserable as a 19% Pay Cut

Expensive House, Short Commute – Pros and Cons

This “expensive but short commute” house is currently a unicorn. Over the last three months we’ve either found acreage within our price range that was ultimately unusable, or lovely properties that are so expensive we didn’t even waste our time looking at them.

Based on our experience with the local market, if something does become available, we can only assume it’d be $350,000 or more. So, if one actually did become available in the near future, what would the pros and cons be?

Pros

  • I’d be living 5-10 minutes from my work (roughly the same as today)
  • Have acreage in a fantastic area that’s rapidly increasing in value
  • We’d be only 10 minutes away from our kids’ future school
  • We’d continue living in the area that we know and love

Cons

  • The price tag would put us back into debt for another 2-3 years
  • We’d still be 45 minutes to an hour away from Liz’s family (vs. 20-30 minutes)

What Should We Choose? The Long Commute or an Expensive House?

If you’re in this situation like we are, you might be wondering how to sort between the pros and cons. What I’ve found useful is actually giving weights to each major pro and con, and then reviewing how the scales tilt.

Below are our major pros and cons of the current property that’s available. Alongside them is the importance level, ranging from 0-10 (0 being unimportant, 10 being incredibly important):

Pros

  • Complete debt freedom – 7
  • Closer proximity to my wife’s parents and sisters – 4
  • The perfection of the house and property – 7

Cons

  • Added commute to work – 8
  • Longer travel to school or possibly different school than we planned on – 6
  • Longer commute to church, or potentially look into a new church family – 3

The pros weigh out to 18, the cons total 17…so this is basically a tie. Ugh.

Additional Suggestions to Make the Decision

At this moment, my wife and I are pretty torn about this property, but here are a few of the different things I believe we should do before making our final decision. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you might want to take these actions as well.

  1. Make the drive, look at the house – We haven’t stepped foot on the property yet, so in the next few days, we’ll make the drive, time it, and then check out how perfect it really is. Maybe it won’t be at all what we expect.
  2. Ask the advice of our realtor and family – We only have a limited knowledge of what’s been available in the past and what might come in the future. We also might want to learn something about the area that this prospective house is in. Maybe we’ll love what it has to offer, or maybe it will help us walk away with confidence. Who knows?
  3. PrayΒ – If you’re religious like we are, you might want to take your difficult questions to God. We don’t often hear a definite response, but the answer typically comes our way if we listen (and observe) hard enough.

So now I’m throwing it out there to you readers. Would you sign up for the long commute or an expensive house?Β 

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26 comments to Long Commute or an Expensive House? Which One Should We Choose?

  • We moved two years ago. We were looking mostly at properties with 3 or more acres (the biggest was 16) and we were surprised at how hard it was to find a decent lot in our area. There are a lot of farms and open space, so we thought finding a lot to build on would be easy, but like you said, most of them were unusable or extremely weird shapes, or something else that made them not ideal. We looked at several existing houses on a few acres and ultimately bought a house that sits on just under an acre. It doesn’t have as much land as we wanted, but through the process we realized that we really wanted privacy more than land, and our current house has the privacy we wanted even without a lot of land.

    One thing I learned from our move is that sometimes the things I think I want ultimately are not that important. I don’t regret making the move because we thought about it for a long time and made a safe move, but if I were to go back in time I don’t know that I would do it again. It hasn’t really changed our life that much.

    For us the location was not as big of a deal because I work from home and my wife is a stay at home mom. The biggest factor in the location of our search was staying within 20 minutes or so of our church, which we did.

    It sounds like the property you found is exactly what you want. I would probably go with that rather than paying a lot more to be closer. A 20 minute commute to work isn’t bad, although it’s not as good as 5 minutes. The drive to school is a little long, but still reasonable.

  • Time IS MONEY. So I’d try to be as close to my job as possible. All the extra time can be used for a side-gig, which might prove pretty profitable in few months πŸ™‚

    • I’m trying to put my extra time into family. Who would have known two kids would be so much work??? πŸ˜‰ But I totally agree, time is valuable and has little value in my car…

  • Dani

    This is such a great example of how different it is when one’s job is in a major metropolitan downtown area. 25 minute commute? I’D LOVE THAT!!! Honestly, when you said the place is set up exactly like you guys want, that would have been a huge selling factor right there for me. Which is interesting, because when I read the first bits of this article, I was thinking to myself how quickly you’d have the extra paid off if you chose a closer, more expensive property; I was even thinking that you guys wouldn’t go “all in” with horses just yet, until it was paid off, then would have a “pony party” after and fill the barn with nickering sweeties.
    I grew up in The Sticks, and Civilization was 45 minutes away. It caused us to plan our outings more carefully, but it also helped to avoid those last-minute “hey I need this spice for this recipe that I want to try” trips that inevitably caused us to buy more than we otherwise would have, had we “made do” with a different recipe (or whatever it was that we “needed”).
    I say check out the property, and do a heart check. See if you would love having your family on the property. The job is not where you’ll spend the majority of your time, and if you do end up with a longer commute, there’s always Automobile University!

    • Great comment, Danielle. It’s true. If we had a mortgage even after selling our current home, we’d just bust it out as quickly as possible – hopefully in less than two years (any longer than that and I might involuntarily scream and spasm at times). Either way, the drive-time has to be less than 30 minutes for me – but yes, I LOVE your idea of automobile university. Time for books on CD and podcasts!! πŸ™‚

  • Paul

    I had the exact same decision to make years ago. I travel 13 miles on a single road just to get on a freeway. Then I have 10 miles from there. I would never even think of changing this. I live on 17 acres and it takes me 12 minutes to DRIVE to the two neighbors on my street. Correct, 3 houses on the entire street. The silence all day and night is deafening, it is so great. I have lived in a city or close neighbor hood all my life until this. 10 years later I am still staying it is the best life decision I ever made.

    Paul

    • The peace and quiet will definitely be nice! I can’t wait for that…and it’s probably worth at least 10 more minutes of drive-time. But more than that? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll have to test it out and see!

  • I have two kids that are 9 and 7. My commute is less than 10 minutes. I absolutely cherish the extra time that I get to spend with my kids each day that I would have to give up if I took a job with a longer commute time. That holds tremendous value for me. I think the cost of the time spent away from home has to be considered, but of course each person has to place their own ‘value’ on that.

    • Yup, that is awesome! I can’t imagine living more than 30 minutes away from work. I’d never see my kids or my wife! To me, paying more money for a closer location is totally worth it…even though I’m Mr. Finance… Shhhh, don’t tell anyone! πŸ˜‰

  • George Seay

    Derek, seems likely you will end up with a longer drive regardless of the house you select. So maybe target minimizing the commute? George

  • Emily

    I commute 120 miles round trip 4 days a week. Approximately 3 hours a day. I live in a town house. The exact. Same. House. 20 minutes. closer to work was $100,000 more. No exaggeration here. (Same new construction builder) so yea we chose to move further out. We happened to have bought the house when my job was a 40 minute commute. But after I returned to work after taking a week off to move, I was laid off. We have been here 4 years and just had our first kid. Your work location may change and there may not be much you can do about it. Employers are not forever, yet home can be. Home should be a place that brings a sigh of relief when you get there. I know if we had bought that other house in a much more crowded area, we would have hated it. I see stars at night, butterflies and lightening bugs. I can walk to Main Street to see a parade, get a meal or attend a festival in my small town.

    • Cool comment. Thanks for sharing! The 30 minute drive probably wouldn’t kill me…and yes, my job could always move.

    • Becky

      My husband was laid off from a job that we uprooted our family from all our friends and comforts for: We’ve decided never to move because of a job again. My husband’s new job is 1 hour drive! But the thought of moving again not knowing how long this job would last and the effect of another move on our family has kept us where we are. Job changes but family is forever. Family and relationships are more important than a job. Lesson learned.

      Derek, Do what’s best for you and your family. Keep building wonderful memories with them because that is what they will remebmer later; How you made them feel and your presence.

  • Cristina

    Long commute is 90 mins! I decided to commute and for me it turned out well. Will have payed the mortgage really soon. BUT I’m not married nor have children. If I had, spending time with them would have been a priority. I would have had to rent, though. Buying real estate close to downtown in my area is just out of range for me.

  • I was in the same shoes as you were eight years ago and I decided to buy the house because of the neighborhood and school system. It was 30-35 minutes drive to work or about 23 miles. Your 25 minute is nothing after a couple of weeks of driving. You will get used to it for sure. I’d say get the house if you and your wife love it.

    • Hi Bernz. Sounds like the exact same situation. This neighborhood and the school system is awesome. Pretty much the only downside is the drive…which you’re right, I’d just get used to it. Not that big of a deal.

  • Kathryn K.

    As the parent of a school age kid, the biggest negative that stood out to me of the cheaper property is that it would be 20 minutes from your children’s school. Even though my daughter is only in 2nd grade, there is still a lot of running back and forth for school and after school activities. We’re in the country and are under 15 min from my daughter’s school and any more would be a lot (it’s a lot sometimes as it is!). I choose to drive my daughter to and from school, which of course adds to it, but in the country kids can also wind up with very long school bus rides.

    • Good point, Kathryn. The distance to school would be a struggle in the long run – especially if our kids end up being in sport or other after-school activities. Thanks for the input!!

  • Great Insightful Article! Growing up in Houston I had to make this choice multiple times in my youth. I always decided to move wherever there was a short route to work…i.e., I was always going against traffic going to work or coming home. Now that option is not available as all traffic in Houston is congested. I think I would still opt for less time in the car, however, if I did have a long commute I could always listen to audible books to improve my work skills. There are several other options today while commuting that weren’t available years ago. In general, I think life is too short to spend the lion’s share of my limited time in a car.

  • Julie

    I agree with Kathryn’s comment. I think it would be prudent to live as close to your child’s school as possible. I’m sure your wife will want to join the PTA, volunteer at school, have lunch with your daughters at school, pick them up when they’re sick, etc. All of those things will be taxing to do with a 20 minute drive just to get to school. I know how much you hate debt and the thought of having a mortgage again must be agonizing, however, you will knock that sucker out in no time. Twenty years from now you’ll be glad you went with the more expensive home in an nice neighborhood with a short commute to work and school. You might live a little father away from your wife’s parents but that should be lower on the list due to not driving to see them everyday like you will be doing for work/school. Keep us updated on what you decide to do πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for the note, Julie. Always good to hear from you! Sooo…we may have found another option. It’s 10 minutes from the kids’ school, a 20-25 minute drive to work for me, and the land is quite nice. BUT, the house is a disaster…If we bought it, it would be for cheap, and then the renovations would begin! ….Do we really want to live the reno life again? We’re not sure yet… πŸ˜‰

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