Why I Decided Not To Buy A House

closing costs

Since I live in an expensive part of the country, I never gave a thought to buying a home. Everyone I knew, even successful people in their mid-thirties, rented. Then I started reading personal finance books, all of which said that I needed to quit renting yesterday. At first I just dismissed this advice because there was simply no way I could afford either the down payment or the monthly mortgage payments. Then, slowly, I started making a little more money, my household gained a second income, and I began looking at properties in a less glamorous part of town that I previously wouldn’t have considered. Suddenly, owning a home seemed like not just a possibility, but a near-future possibility.

I started going to open houses and found that almost all of the properties I looked at, regardless of how expensive they were, just weren’t the kind of home I envisioned having for the amount of money and effort that would be required to own them. I figured I would just keep looking and eventually I would find something, but then I lost my interest in looking. Here’s why.

Though thousands of people from all walks of life buy homes every year and aren’t necessarily well-educated about the process, for me, buying a home without knowing the ins and outs of every line on every piece of paper I’d have to sign wouldn’t be an option. So the first major piece of work in buying a home would be to research every aspect of it by reading lots of books full of information I had zero prior knowledge of. Then there would be the hassles of finding a tolerable and trustworthy real estate agent and mortgage lender, actually finding properties I both liked and could afford, making offers (and dealing with the heartbreak of losing out on great places to other buyers), and the major stress and chaos of actually closing the deal and moving. And that would only be the beginning–after that, there would be ongoing monthly homeowner’s association fees (I was looking at condos), potential extra homeowner’s fees in times when major repairs were needed, private mortgage insurance (since I would have a down payment below 20%), property taxes, and home maintenance and improvement expenses (which can come in the form of an untimely $2000 bill for a new air conditioner in August).

It’s true that by not buying, I’ll be missing out on benefits like pride of ownership and being able to modify my living space however I please, along with the stability of not having anyone raise my rent drastically or turn my apartment building into condos. I might also miss out on making a massive amount of money if my neighborhood keeps gentrifying the way it has been. On the other hand, I also might miss out on losing a ton of money by buying at the peak of a market that so many people think is about to crash (or already in the process of crashing, or at least leveling out).

Most personal finance books will tell you to buy a home because it will make you more comfortable financially in the long run. They say that the only reason you should rent is if you’re planning to move in the near future (since this might force you to sell at a loss and because of the high costs of buying and selling a home). People also like to mention that you can deduct your mortgage interest, but this really isn’t the fantastic deal it’s made out to be unless you’re already itemizing (if you have high ongoing medical expenses, for example).

Since I can’t predict the market, I have decided to base my home ownership decision on the things I actually have some degree of control over. I want to keep my options open. I want to have the ability to explore paths like starting my own business, working part-time, working in a low-paying field doing something I’m passionate about, taking a couple of months off from working to travel, or picking up and moving to another city. If I were locked into the high expenses of home ownership, I would give up all of these possibilities (or make them much more difficult), and for me that just isn’t worth it.

For me, the main purpose of having money is to have options, and to lock myself into a rather expensive thirty year mortgage plus expenses would take away a lot of that freedom. It would require me to maintain a full-time, well-paying job for the next 23-30 years (which is fine for many people, but not for someone with as many divergent interests as I have). Even though I calculated that buying a home might save me $200,000 over 30 years with modest increases in home values and rental rates (which, of course, I can’t really predict, and may well be overestimating), if I continue my current savings habits (very likely because I’m a saver by nature) I will probably be comfortable enough in 30 years anyway that the extra potential $200,000 will not have a major impact on my lifestyle or my freedom.

Whether it’s deciding whether to rent or own or making any other financial decision in your life, don’t just assume that because a personal finance book tells you something is the best choice that it’s the right choice for your situation. Think about your own values and goals in life, and structure your finances in a way that will allow you to live by those values and achieve those goals as painlessly as possible.

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34 Responses to Why I Decided Not To Buy A House

  1. Tyler says:

    Buying a home is not for everyone. I bought my first home at 23 (I’m 24 now) and could not be happier! The joys of home ownership outweigh the financial things IMO. I also own a rental house in another state that’s pulling in $500 after mortgage, expenses, repairs, etc… The great thing is that I do not view homes at a financial burden. They CAN become one if I didn’t approach with intelligence and thought, as well as clearly defined stipulations. But they are not for everyone. It also helps that I have a clear plan to succeed in my finances – clearly laid out budget, investment goals, and no debt! All this on an average salary.

  2. Amy Fontinelle says:

    If I lived in a part of the country where housing costs were more reasonable (say, $150,000+ for a house instead of $600,000+ for a house), I would probably see things a lot differently.

  3. Jeff says:

    Sorry, but this is just does not seem like good PF advice.

    -Owning a home does not mean being locked in to anything for 30 years. Miss renting? Sell.

    -You have to keep a job regardless of owning, unless you move in with mom & dad

    -Your downpayment is your entire investment. Everything after that is essentially ‘rent’ which you pay to yourself (and which you would be paying someone else anyway). You could buy a $200,000 home for about $15,000 + financing. That home WILL appreciate. In 10 years it will likely be worth $300,000-$350,000
    $15,000 becomes a TAX FREE return of $150,000…not buying is like leaving money on the table.

    Owning a home will earn you more money than almost any other investment you could possibly find. It’s been proven time and again.

  4. Joey says:

    Bought first home at 21, 13 years ago, for $110k and it was right after the Northridge Earthquake. It had some damage but nothing I couldnt fix myself. Fast forward 6 years, the house was now paid off in full. Fast forward another three years and it sold for $650k. Luckily I was married when it sold. Bought home number two and it was a townhouse. Prices of homes here in San Fernando Valley were sky rocketing so we settled for the townhouse in Woodland Hills. Bought for $299k all cash. Its now worth $675k three years later. We are selling soon to buy property and build our next house. I would NEVER ever tell someone NOT to buy a home. I am not the only person who fared this well. If I rented, I would feel like a gigantic loser. Missing out on everything I have. Im not saying renting doesnt have its place. Im sure it does. But with an extra $900k sitting in my bank account for two homes, one in a not so great area, and one a townhouse, I think buying was definitely the right choice. You cant do that renting no matter how you do it.

  5. samerwriter says:

    “ou could buy a $200,000 home for about $15,000 + financing. That home WILL appreciate. In 10 years it will likely be worth $300,000-$350,000 $15,000 becomes a TAX FREE return of $150,000…”

    That sounds like bubble-speak. There is no guarantee that a $200K home will be worth $300K-$350K in 10 years. That’s a ludicrous assumption.

  6. Teri says:

    I totally see your point. The mantra that housing will make you rich and renting will make you poor depends on MANY factors. Like you, we refused to pay $500k+ for a house. But it was a time when the market was skyrocketing up 25%+ per year (couldn’t save fast enough for a down payment) and rents were more expensive than a mortgage. So we compromised by buying a condo, and then moved 2 hours away to buy our dream home.

    But it was a very different time and market. Today the market seems to be on a downward trend. I know too many people who bought at the peak who really couldn’t afford it. So I respect your point of view, and frankly if you live in such a pricey area, is probably smart. I don’t think owning a $600k+ home is worth the mortgage.

    Of course the ironic thing is in our case we locked in a really low mortgage by jumping in when we did, which buys us tremendous freedom. But in your shoes, I can see making your choice instead. I really would only recommend buying a home right now if you plan to settle for well over a decade (or 2). Basing a decision to buy off of insane amounts of equity (which I have the pleasure of having made myself) is not smart, frankly. Obvious those gains can not be supported in the long haul. If you are ready for home ownership you may reap the rewards, but if not you might just fall splat on your face. I’d ride out the wave myself, and frankly I am not sure I could be more pro home-ownership. I have never been pro-homewonership “at all costs” I guess, that’s the thing.

    Just had to say I think it is good advice to think things through carefully for your own individual situation.

  7. SV says:

    I agree with the comment that I would NEVER advise against home ownership, and you should be pursuing it from the minute you have an extra dime. Getting your foot in the door of the real estate market as early as possible is VERY important. My husband and I live in the San Francisco Bay area, where the mantra is “you will never own a home”. (What a crock. Who owns them then? the state?) We have been essentially unemployed (no real job, just working as a freelancers) for the past decade. During that time we have purchased and sold two homes, and are now in our third, our dream home. My advice – buy cosmetic fixers or foreclosures (the market should be ripe with those very soon), in low supply, high demand areas. Do your research, know your market, and when it comes time to sell – spend $500 on a real estate lawyer, and sell it yourself. We put our first house on the market the day after the 9-11 tragedy. Not exactly the best time to sell, and this home was a full hour north of SF, not a super hot location – and we still cleared $50K after expenses. The next stop – San Fran, where our home value nearly doubled in 2.5 years. Sold that home recently, and were able to put nearly 35% down on the next one. Get the picture? Don’t be a chicken – don’t believe the hype that you can’t own – be smart and don’t let the real estate folks intimidate you. The longer you wait to get that foot in the door, the harder it will be. Life will NOT be getting less expensive or less complicated as you get older.

  8. Joey says:

    Amen sister. To be perfectly honest, and maybe its just where I live, but I personally don’t know a single person who has complained about losing their shirt by buying a home. I helped my brother buy a condo to help his credit. He was in and out in two years to the day. He bought in a miserable part of the valley, Sylmar. Completely gang infested. But he made all his payments on time, enjoyed the right offs, enjoyed clearing up his credit, we spent a total of $9k to remodel it s touch to update it and by the time everything was said and done we split $80k of profit. Now my sister has refused to buy because she buys into the scare. She is worried about being buried in dept by purchasing a home. So she didn’t. Instead she rents. In Reseda. Another hell hole. Her two bedroom rent went up to $1650 from $1410/mo. and she will have ZERO to look forward to when she decides to move. And she doesnt get to enjoy the benefits of mortgage deductions. Now she is seriously considering a home. But she doesn’t have enough to even put down on a cheap place. It all went to rent. So guess its big brother to the rescue again. I love saying, “I told you so”.

  9. rob says:

    There are a lot of added costs to having a house. Property taxes, upkeep, repairs, bigger place often means more furniture, yard tools and maintenance just to name a few. I’m not saying that buying a house is bad, but when people say they have these huge gains, they never mention any of this stuff.

  10. Jeff says:

    Samerwriter – “That’s a ludicrous assumption.”

    No – actually, it was a conservative guess. Here’s 2 actual experiences:

    I purchased an average 2 bedroom condo in 2002 for 60,000.

    I put 4000 down and since then I’ve paid less per month than I would have paid for rent (I know because I was renting it before I bought it)

    It’s now worth $150,000. That’s 90,000 from an investment of 4000 only 5 years ago. My mortgage, property taxes + condo fees are all still cheaper than renting!

    The year before (2001) a friend purchased a home for $150,000. It’s a large older home. If she sold it today it would be worth over $300,00.

    So I guess you are right about a ludicrous assumption samerwriter: 200,000 would be worth closer to $400,000 by now.

    In New York, 500,000 condos are going for over a million.

    I’ve never ever met anyone who regrets buying a home, and I think it’s just plain wrong to discuss homeownership as if it’s just one of many choices. It is, in fact, a major component of financial security.

    The Personal Finance books got it right.

  11. blake says:

    “I’ve never ever met anyone who regrets buying a home”

    That is a terrible argument. Just because you have never met anyone doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I have never met anyone killed by a gun, but that doesn’t mean people don’t get killed with guns. I’m sure there are more than a few people with houses in foreclosure that regret their purchase.

  12. michelle says:

    I personally think that purchasing a house is a good investment, but there are a lot of variables that need to be considered. Giving an example or two does little good since anyone can give an example with the opposite results as well. For example, there are people who win the lottery, but that doesn’t make the lottery a good investment plan.

    I don’t understand why you people argued that one way is the only way when it comes to personal finances. There are just so many variables to each individual that making blanket statements just doesn’t hold water.

    For me, it made financial sense to purchase a house and I have been very happy with that purchase. I think that everybody should condsider purchasing a house, but a house is not always right financial move to make.

  13. Kit says:

    Contrary to popular opinion owning a home is not a requirement for financial success. If you are smart and disciplined you can become wealthy while renting. The market for housing is not going to be red hot forever, just as the stock market in 1999 was not going to go up forever. A smart investor thinks about what their personal priorities are as well. I applaud your willingness to go against conventional wisdom, it will serve you well.

    I wrote on the value of renting in my blog back in August.


    — Kit

  14. Jeff says:

    Blake. Do you meet other kinds of dead people (other than shooting victims)? Check the stats: Foreclosures are incredibly rare.

    You are more likely to get hit by a car than experience a home foreclosure. I don’t mean to be a troll in this thread, I just think that this ‘Owning a home ain’t for everyone’ argument is really bad advice and the arguments in the comments are so easy to shoot down (pardon the pun Blake).

    Kit: Your stock market example is not that good. Hardly a cautionary tale anyway; It’s higher now than it ever was in 1999, as is the housing market.

    All I’m trying to say is: Don’t read this post and pat yourself on the back if you are still renting. You are giving someone else money when you could be keeping it for yourself! Even if the market does nothing but lie flat, you still come out ahead.

  15. danny says:


    You make one huge assumption that you say is true for you, but isn’t true for many areas in the US: that your mortgage payment + taxes + fees is less (or the same) as a rental payment.

    My personal opinion is that a house that you live in is like forced saving. You own house isn’t a great investment when you look at the history of housing values (real estate can be a quality investment if it is an investment property and not your own house because you have someone else making the payments), but most people don’t have the discipline to place the difference between the cost of renting and buying into investments – they spend it. Having a mortgage forces you to save and that seems to be the only way that Americans can save.

  16. Kit says:

    I fail to see how owning a home is keeping money that you would have given someone else in a flat housing market.

    1) Too many homeowners are buying house with 5% or less down. In a flat housing market that will kill you as transaction costs to sell a house can run that much or more.

    2) On a 30 year mortgage 95% of the payment is going to service the loan not to payback principle. You are not keeping that anymore than your rent payment.

    A huge percentage of your costs to own the home are gone the instant you write the checks. Interest, taxes, insurance, maintenance all are costs you incur as an owner that are just spent. The same as a renter’s monthly payment.

    IF you are in an appreciating market leverage will make all this stuff irrelevant as we have seen in the last 5 years, but in a flat or depreciating market things are very different.

    It is not true that owning a home is a risk free way to financial success. One should not take on the leverage necessary to purchase a home until the rest of their financial position is rock solid. It might work out okay, or you might get hosed.

    — Kit

  17. Joey says:

    #9 sure there are added costs. I have been in my HOA controlled townhouse now for three years. My HOA is $200/mo., my property taxes are $3k a year, my upkeep so far as been zero, just elbow grease, and that along with NO mortgage because of windfall from my last house, I dont feel a thing. Even if I had to include a mortgage, it would still come in under what I would have been paying for rent in this area.

    #11 first off, guns? Really? You are relating murders to home ownership? Its a little too far of a stretch. And btw, I live in the San Fernando Valley, know plenty of people who have been shot unfortunately. One of then even bought a condo with me because he needed help with credit.

    The reason why those people regret their decision is because they had sucky credit, absolutely zero down, someone covered their closing costs, got a 2yr ARM and bought waaaay to big for their income. That I have witnessed. And I don’t feel bad for those people for one second.

    #12 using a lottery analogy doesn’t help people try to make wise decisions about whether or not to own a home. If you are in the right area, more often than not, its worth it. If you are in a depressed area, then maybe its not worth it. Simple as that.

  18. Chris says:

    $150,000? I got mine for $75,000 🙂

    I think two things often left out of the buy or rent debate are that
    (1) homes can be customized and improved, and (2) home improvements can be a hobby AND a financial investment.

    I purchased my first home a little over a year ago. I got one that was a lot less than I could “afford”, so that maintenance, upgrades, and repairs wouldn’t be an issue.

    I’ve since found that making home improvements is a great hobby for someone trying to live a PF-friendly lifestyle. Instead of spending my free time spending money, I’m investing it n my home.

  19. livingplanet says:

    i think the debate should be framed in this manner:

    buying a home for living in/quality of life reasons vs. home buying as an investment.

    you could merge both in some or many instances, but the priority always is quality of life.

    this is what amy was talking about and in this case she is absolutely correct. why buy a house in a compromised location when you can rent in a location that makes you happy?

    location, location, location is best defined by quality of life…

  20. martha in mobile says:

    I live in a part of the country where the increase in home value rarely outstrips maintenance costs (although we do see double-digit jumps after hurricanes). I bought anyway because I wanted to control my home experience. I will not be making any money when I sell this house, but in the intervening years I will have had a wonderful home for my family. That, and the security that no one can take it away from me, is worth a lot that can not be entirely quantified in dollars and cents.

  21. Carol says:

    We’ve owned three houses or condos over the past 20 years. We didn’t make any money on any of them (held them for 5 years, 6 years, and 18 months respectively). If you are willing to stay in the same house for 10-20 years and want to take up home improvement as a hobby, then home ownership is great. Oh, and selling a house will cost you a 6% real estate commission (along with other costs), so you can lose even if the price goes up. My experience is that home ownership is inflexible and time-consuming. We rent now, and with the ridiculous house prices where we live now (England), it’s actually much cheaper to rent. We put the extra money we would pay if we owned into the bank. It really does depend on your situation and preferences. The most important financial decision you need to make is to spend less than you earn.

  22. Cindy says:

    When I look at what the average-Joe Californian has to pay for a house that most definitely looks no fancier than mine, I’m just glad living in Ohio suits me fine. Okay, you guys have better scenery (I guess) but you can sure keep those payments.

  23. plonkee says:

    Many people commenting seem to be saying that because in the last few years, they have made a lot of money through buying and selling homes, that means that everyone else should do it to. This is wrong because, no one financial decision can possible suit everyone all the time.

    If it suits you to buy, then do so but don’t knock those of us for whom renting is the better option.

  24. C says:

    Don’t ever let anyone talk you into buying a house because “no one ever lost money on it.”

  25. C says:

    (rats, sorry about the double post)

    Don’t ever let anyone talk you into buying a house because “no one ever lost money on it.”

    Whoever said no one mentions the fees, maintenance, interest, etc. when calculating their profits is right.

    I bought a house 1.5 yrs ago. I knew what I was getting into. I’m not streteched, I put 20% down. I don’t regret it, but you know what? I wouldn’t do it again. I could save more money renting.

    There are benefits to having a home, being able to do what you want, having fairly fixed costs (if you don’t have an ARM), but I don’t think it’s a guaranteed jackpot. In fact, I find it hard to see how I’ll make any money once you take into account all the fees, interest, taxes and extra expenses that come with home ownership. Not to mention my time taking care of the yard, etc.

    Bottom line: don’t buy a house because you think it’s your ticket to riches; it probably isn’t. If you want your to stay put for awhile and like being able to do your own thing, then fine.

  26. Gail says:

    Amy, You seem to have thought out your reasons for not buying a home and if that makes you happy, go for it. I bought a home almost 6 years ago for $60,000. We are hoping to sell it this summer and move into a home my hubby has been building as he has had time (started it 10 years ago, five years before he met me). We HOPE to sell it for $75,000. So it truly depends on your location, the home and a lot of variables. What I didn’t count on when buying this home in my mid-40’s was getting married again and coming down with severe arthritis, that makes upkeep of the huge yard, etc. almost impossible. There are a lot of pluses and minuses to home ownership. If you are track with saving for retiremnet and those unexpected things like job lay-offs, illness etc. then you are in good shape without a house investment. For some people it is the only way to get them to save.

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  28. Kristi says:

    I lived in Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago when everything was very very expensive. I had no savings so my mother suggested that she would be a co-owner and help me buy a townhouse (she lives in another state). Do I regret buying a home there? YES! First, who wants to be trapped in home ownership with your mother? I got really tired of calling her about home repairs such as a $1,500 new air conditioner, $2,000 new roof and $2,000 new siding. Homes are money pits. And then after a few years I got married and we decided to move to the midwest. Guess what? Noone wanted to buy the house – even after all of the improvements were made. It took 6 months to get rid of the damn place. Did I make a little bit of money? Yes. Was it worth it? No. Now we are happily renting a mini-mansion in the midwest for much less than owning. Freedom to move whenever you want, freedom to put your money towards other things besides a huge mortgage & home repairs/renovations, freedom to live in a large beautiful home without being house poor…we love it.

  29. Scott says:

    I bought a house for 160K in Austin, TX. I also bought a car for 70K. Buying the car took about a half an hour and the house took 2 months with all the BS that goes with it. At the end of the day, I can sell the car today in about 30 minutes and seel the house in about 6 months with all the BS. My question is…why is dealing with property such a pain in the butt? To me, its almost not worth it. I would rather rent and not deal with the hassel of repairs. Tax write-offs? Big deal. Pride of ownership? Big deal. The government can take your land/house with “imminent domain” anyway. I have come to the coonclusion that being a ‘homeowner’ is a scam that only puts money into the pockets of banks and we all know how banks run this country.

  30. Scott says:

    Looking back at some of the comments from a year ago is hilarious:

    #14 “Foreclosures are incredibly rare” (The foreclosure rate is now at an all-time high nationally)

    #7 “I would NEVER advise against home ownership” (So, you would have bought a house for $750K in San Francisco that’s now worth less than $500K)

    I am a former homeowner who has just sold his house (bought 4 years ago) for a 40% gain. I got out becuase I see 1 out of every 10 homes in my area for sale. I got a good offer and have gone back to renting. They say that your house is your best investment, and this CAN be true. However, you have to judge the market, and not step blindly into something just because people say it’s what you should do. There are benefits to renting, such as low maintenance, and the security that you are not sitting on a depreciating asset.

    I will look to get back into a house in a year or two when inventory levels have subsided, and the selling panic is over.

    Supply and Demand!

  31. APPLE says:

    i am a registered nurse and just started living here in america… people have different views about buying a house… some of my co-nurses are excited about having their own house (they believe it’s a “status symbol”… :-)) but after buying it, they don’t seem to be happy… their way of life has changed… imagine working 6-7 days/week just to cope up with their finances and mortgage… if they get tired from work, they sleep in their garage, inside their car (gosh, sleep in your bed, enjoy your house)… anyways, i asked them – “why are you working so hard? do you still see the house you bought? you don’t live in your house anymore – you actually live here in the hospital (the place where we work)… follow up question to them (with a menaingful look in their eyes) – “are you gonna work like this for 30 years? if not, then how long?”

    well, they have been telling me they’re gonna have a profit out of it… but that’s just a simple HOPE… to this date – september, 2008 – how many foreclosures you have been seeing in the community? a lot…

    what i did? i bought a house in my country, $60,000 equivalent, 4 bedroom, 2-storey… and enjoy my money here in america… by the way, i am not renting an apartment – the wiser move is – rent a room – $500.00/month with my friend… (of course, choose the one you can trust and comfortable living with)…

    i’ve been thinking – life is too short… if you buy a house and hope to gain a profit (only GOD knows when), with the kind of stress we have for paying the mortgage plus other finances – people might end up getting sick… and sicker…

    up to you to continue what i want to say…

    enjoy the money you have now for you don’t know where it’ll go tomorrow…

    do i make sense? 😉

  32. Mike says:

    I decided tonight not to buy a house in which I’ve made an offer. You’re right to think long and hard about buying. It’s smart regardless of the final decision. I’m not too concerned about the economy where I live and in my job (though that’s one good reason to not buy!), my decision got down to my ability to start a family. Just because you can afford a place doing what you’re doing now, you also have to consider what would happen if you or a spouse decided to take a few years off to raise a child. You also raised good points about maybe starting a business (which may be a drain on your income, or your entire income!), taking time off to travel, or doing something you love that doesn’t pay well. In my case, we do own, but it’s a cheap condo that’s cheaper to own than most places would be to rent. Faced with the prospect of having to reduce our spending and maybe cut back on retirement savings — stocks being much better place to park savings, the current market withstanding — we’ve decided to stay where we are. Anyhow, these are just some thoughts for others to consider. Thanks for the post.

  33. Emigdio Frixione says:

    Bad idea! Do not buy a house! You become a slave of the state, besides paying income taxes, yuo end up paying taxes over the house you DO NOT EVEN OWN, because until you pay the whole mortgage, it BELONGS TO THE BANK! It is better to rent, after all after you die, you do not take anything with you. And better yet. o not leave burdens to your relatives.

  34. Cindy M says:

    I commented earlier and still believe in trying to own your own home. I do have a mortgage right now and knock on wood, found another job. Wow, is it ever a buyer’s market right now. I look at real estate all the time and in my town, you can pick up one of those huge old homes for $10,000 to $15,000. I figure it would cost a monthly bundle to heat one of them, and that’s surely why they’re so cheap, but wow, think of the possibilities. Enterprising couples/families should be snatching these up and making a go of it. In time, I can’t help but think the economy will turn around a bit, as these things go in cycles, it seems. I’m trying to stay hopeful, anyway.

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