Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The emotional ups and downs of expat home buying

Photo from Flickr courtesy of Limonada

So no progress I can report as of yet on the house situation. Offer is in and we're waiting.

Waiting in these types of situations opens the door to all kinds of thoughts: the good ones like "what type of bathtub should we install if we redo the bathroom" and bad ones like "oh my god I cannot believe I am contemplating spending this much money in one fell swoop."

It also gives a person time to self-reflect in quite a deep manner. Lately I have been rethinking my identity as an expat, what it means to buy property in another country and who I will be afterwards. The expat adventure is obviously alluring; just look at how many expat bloggers there are out there, people who dream of selling it all and moving clear across the world. It's a thrilling and illuminating, self-improving and horizon-expanding experience that I advocate to everyone. But at what point does it stop being an experience and begin to just be your life? Does buying property make you a local, or a resident, any more so than paying taxes? Does it make you less American? Or does it just make you a person who lives somewhere else? And what does that mean?

On a more personal level, buying a house changes priorities in a way that completely reframes the expat experience. At this stage, if our offer is accepted, there will be no more jetting off for city breaks, no more long weekends in Paris, no more extravagant meals in foreign lands, no more big holidays in the sun – at least for the first few years. Does that mean I'm going to miss out? Do I actually even want to buy a house? Or do I just want to travel more and live in a small flat to be able to afford that pleasure? And if I refocus my energies on building a home rather than exploring the world, will I realize that actually I don't want to live here anymore? What if I end up hating England?

And of course, there is then the big elephant in the room of me buying a property with The Irishman – I refuse to call him boyfriend, but he sure isn't my husband – and what that means for our relationship. We've already had a few corkers in terms of arguments, and, despite having a very equitable financial relationship, the idea of purchasing a property together is putting our relationship under a microscope. Everything he does I scrutinize, I'm sure he is evaluating everything I do, every penny we spend separately and together I analyze, and I'm feeling like at some point we'll either end up hating each other or self-implode. Or both! I blogged before about how buying a property together is the biggest commitment two people can make, and it's proving itself to be true on a daily basis. I've already demanded a declaration of trust so that neither of us can clean the other out if we split, but I'm also hoping that we can get through this period of doubt and tension so much stronger than we entered it. But if we do split up, and own a property, will I stay in England? Will it still be my home? Is my entire expat experience based on one man? Is that healthy? AM I HEALTHY? OH MY GOD WHAT AM I DOING?!

I guess what I'm trying to articulate is that while buying a property is emotional purchase regardless of where it takes place, as an expat it is even harder. It's surfacing all sorts of issues that I've either managed to bury or never knew I had, and in some ways they are harder to quantify than the figures on our mortgage spreadsheet. The only way to really deal with them is to just plow ahead, keep talking to The Irishman, and be honest with myself. Whatever will be will be and I will end up where I'm supposed to end up – whether it's London, New York, or somewhere inbetween.


  1. I can see buying property as being a frightening commitment, not just to the Irishman, but also to England! I'm sure that all the good of owning a lovely home in this lovely country will make you forget why you were so worried in the first place. And I think it could be much worse - surely having children together is the ultimate commitment! ;)

  2. Haha, good point Karen. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  3. I'd just point out that ending up "somewhere in between" London and NY would lead one to conclude that you might be considering purchasing a home somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That may prove to be a poor investment.

  4. Ah I knew that would be contentious! I did realize that, but also thought about how if you went the other way, west over Europe, there's a lot of the world before you get to NYC. So, yes, point taken and poetic license duly requested.

  5. I also wondered about your investments in the western Azores.

    Wait, "west over Europe"? Do you mean "east"?

  6. Shit.

    EAST! I meant EAST!

    Or maybe I should just pack it all in and retire to Bermuda.

  7. it is an incredible commitment - and you'd be foolish if it weren't raising questions! it's a good sign of how seriously you're taking this, I think, that you're considering all of this. but regardless of how frightening it might be to take this big step, you could look at it as an adventure! there are many exciting things to be experienced after buying a house that are just as much fun as a weekend in Paris. (hello, hours spent in Farrow&Ball... or is that just me? hehe.)

  8. Hahah thanks Betsy. It's true, I may already have a F&B swatch book, and may have already started mood boards...