Our Little Bungalow: Starter Home Or Forever Home?

We all know the phenomenon: A young couple buys their first cozy little home, and for a time, it’s the perfect fit for their fledgling family. Just the right size. Just the right layout. Everything they could ever want or need, all under one roof.

But then, as years go by and children grow and plans to expand the family further loom in sight, suddenly that cozy little house starts to feel cramped. They weigh the costs and frustrations of expanding the home to meet their growing needs against the costs and frustrations of selling and moving, and eventually decide that moving is the way to go.

So for today’s post, I wanted to explore the question — Could that be happening to us in the foreseeable future? Is this our “starter home,” or our “forever home”?

Random collage of our house in all four seasons.

A random collage of our house in all four seasons.

When we bought this house in 2011, we certainly weren’t thinking in terms of living here for a few years and then moving on. At the time, that didn’t even seem like a very wise mindset to be in, what with the uncertainty in the housing market and all. A small two-bedroom Chicago bungalow was a perfect fit for a young couple with their first baby on the way — and with a full unfinished attic and basement to possibly expand into down the road, there seemed to be no reason the house couldn’t work for the long run as well.

And all of that is still true now… Except now it’s almost three years later, and we’re that much closer to expanding our family again, and those unfinished spaces are still just as unfinished as when we bought the house. But when it comes down to the question of whether we’re more open to the possibility of moving now than we were when we first moved in? That’s tough to even think about, because we love so many things about this place:

  • The Location. Being within the city of Chicago means we have the luxury of multiple commuter train lines and over a dozen bus stops within easy walking distance. Beyond that, we have a real bonafide grocery store at the end of the block, and Lily’s daycare just a few houses down, and an elementary school we can stroll to without crossing any busy streets. We’re a one-car family, yet it doesn’t feel like a strain at all when there’s so much available by foot or public transit.
  • The Neighborhood. It’s just so friendly and warm, with a small block party every year (which I’ve actually written about here on this blog three years in a row — check out 2013, 2012, and 2011). There are a ton of kids, including five or six within a year of Lillian’s age that I know of just within a block of us, and possibly more that we haven’t met yet.
  • The Character. It’s one of those subjective things, but it’s hard not to love the style and character of this classic 1920’s Chicago Bungalow. It’s withstood the test of time for the better part of a century, seeing multiple families call it home, and everything from the iconic peaked roof to the cozy fireplace in the living room has a certain indescribable charm.
  • The Memories. Even though it’s only been a few short years, we’ve been hard at work making memories in this place. It’s where we brought Lillian home from the hospital, and the only home we’ve ever known since becoming a family of three.
House Memories

Our house as the backdrop to various memories.

Overall, this house has a lot going for it. The only drawback is that one pesky little detail I alluded to in the beginning of this post:

  • The Size. Bedroom-wise there are just the two small ones, which are around ten by ten feet each. The single bathroom is about as tiny as a bathroom can be while still fitting in a sink, toilet, and tub. And the main level has exactly two closets, zero of which are in our master bedroom. (A floor plan can be found in this post.) In short, it can feel a little cramped, and in its current state it’s hard to imagine living here comfortably if or when we expand our family to include a younger sibling for Lillian.

Even though there’s definitely a lot more in the “pro” column than the “con” column when it comes to this house, the size issue is kind of a big one — and could even arguably carry more weight than the other points, which boil down to things like convenience, preference, and sentimentality.

One other important thing to note in all this is that we aren’t “stuck” here. We’re lucky not to be underwater with the mortgage, as was so widespread in the wake of the housing crisis — we bought at a good time, and negotiated aggressively on the price. We even have some equity, and if the property value estimates on Zillow.com are anywhere near accurate, more than I would have expected after just a few short years. If we wanted to sell now, there seems like a good chance we could, and we might even walk away with a little extra in our pockets.

But to where? Could we find another home with the additional space, in a neighborhood we’d love as much as this one, with as many amenities and transit options within walking distance, at a price that would make more financial sense than a home addition to expand the attic or basement? Maybe. But somehow it seems doubtful.

So! All of that was a very long-winded way of saying that, right now and for the foreseeable future, we have no plans for leaving this house. We may not be able to completely rule out the possibility of moving someday — you never know what the future holds, and all that — but right now we’re definitely looking at this place as more than just a “starter home.”

On that happy note, we’ve been seriously pursuing options for remodeling to make better use of some of our house’s currently unfinished space — more details to follow in an upcoming blog post!

In the meantime, I’m curious to hear if anyone else out there has gone or is going through a similar thought process on the whole starter home vs. forever home question. Do you plan to stay in your home for the long haul, or are you looking forward to upgrading to something different / bigger / better down the road? Feel free to share any thoughts or stories in the comments!

In Which My Two-Year-Old Teaches Me About The Alphabet

For this post, I wanted to share a random little story that happened shortly after Christmas. One of Lillian’s presents this year was an electronic toy, a Fisher-Price “Smart Tablet” — you can see the same one online here. (Even though it’s advertised as being for ages 3-6, and Lillian just turned two in October, we’d been telling people asking about Christmas gifts that 3-year-old toys were okay, since she seems to do fine with them.)

So she got this electronic tablet, and seemed to really enjoy it — it was noticeable right away that it held her attention longer than most of her other toys. I wonder if maybe in some ways, it seemed like having a “big person” computer of her very own?

Toddler Electronic Tablet Toy

I admittedly hadn’t looked too closely at this toy myself, but from seeing Lillian play with it, I knew that it lit up and played music said letters out loud and such. So when she brought it to me one day, clearly wanting me to play with it with her, I just started mashing keys in that random, half-paying-attention kind of way — which is just what I’ve grown used to with these battery-powered “press a button and a thing happens” kid’s toys.

But within seconds, Lillian got mad. “No, mama!” she scolded, then pointed at the M key. “M,” she said in a stern little voice. At this point I looked more closely at the toy and realized that the screen was displaying the letter M, and that I was supposed to actually press the corresponding key. …Whoops. All I can say is that this was a rather humbling parenting moment.

Lillian took over, and the game went on. I watched in fascination as one after another, letters would flash on the screen in a random order, and she would find them, saying the letter as she pressed the key. Once you complete the round with uppercase letters, it moves to lowercase letters, and I was amazed to see that she was able to get many of these as well. I could practically see the wheels turning in her brain as she worked to distinguish between “p” and “d” when one of those popped up, and when “q” came onto the screen, not only did she press the Q key, she said “queen” while doing it.

The episode left me feeling awe-struck and proud, but also a little bewildered. From what I can gather, Lillian’s Grandma (aka my mom) apparently showed her how this letter-matching game worked in the first place (it’s one of six game modes available on the toy), and from there she just ran with it.

As a footnote to this story, this isn’t the first time she’s tried to teach me less-stupid ways to play with her toys — long-time readers may recall that it’s been going on since she was 15 months old, when she helpfully showed me the more obvious and efficient way to get all the blocks back into that shape-sorting puzzle!