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Do you Have to Slum it in the First Home you Buy?

It’s been less than a year since I embarked on the journey toward buying my first home.

For me, that was a pretty huge step in itself. Because despite being 33 at the time, I did’t feel grown up enough to make such big adult decisions. The biggest decisions I make are which colours I want to feature in my spring bedding or whether I should stop at two or three espresso martinis on a Friday evening out.

I also get anxiety and heart palpitations the moment I start to talk about saving money, putting down deposits, paying off a mortgage and monitoring the property market. But deep down I knew it was time to be a grown up and buy a house. And the interior stylist in me was so excited at the thought of painting a feature wall, hammering some nails into said wall and hanging up shelving. I think I had my priorities right, don’t you?

The question I have for you is this…

Did you have to slum it in the first home you bought?

Because I ended up choosing not to, but I know many people do.

And I hear a lot of young people complain that the dream of home ownership is just not possible. Are they right, or are they just not willing to sacrifice?

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You gotta Sacrifice something, right?

I ask this question because I found myself in a bit of a catch 22 in terms of compromise. For the budget I had, it was about deciding whether I settle for a smaller home in a suburb closer to the city (cafes, bars, restaurants and shopping at your door), or do going a bit further out and become a suburban gent (which means a larger home and more space to play with, but further away from the hum of the city).

I’m sure it’s a dilemma most people have to grapple with when they’re buying their first home, so I wanted to pose it to you here and get your thoughts. I also wonder, if you do stay closer to the city, do you have to slum it in a smaller apartment that doesn’t have everything you want?

Did you move into a ‘starter home’ when you first purchased; a house or apartment you knew was not your forever home, but it got you onto the property ladder for a few years until you could afford the one you really wanted?

I guess it comes down to creating a checklist with your partner about what your priorities are – and whether size of home or proximity of it to the city is more important.

House Rules 2015 - Bronik and Corrine House Reveal - Dining Room

What’s your Story?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this. I’d like to know if your first home (it might be the one you’re in now) is smaller than you wanted and how it’s impacted your life. Did you find ways to adapt to the smaller size and did it end up not mattering? Or, if your first home was further away, did you find yourself missing being able to walk to venues and be immersed in that cosmopolitan lifestyle?

Working from home, as I do at times, and having two cats to consider, does make me realise that we at least needed some room to ensure we don’t feel on top of one another, but I didn’t want to live 30 minutes from the city to do it (I since caved and now live 30 minutes away from the city lol). Or perhaps if you do move further out, you end up finding a community of people in those suburbs that you feel at home with – and the city becomes less important.

What was it like when you entered the property market? Did you compromise on location or size? I’d love to know if you were (or are) happy with the decision you made.


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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21 Responses

  1. I’m in the regional Victorian town of warrnambool and it took 11 years and building four houses to get into our dream home in our dream location. I was 23 and my husband was 25 when we bought our first place, and although it was a little scary, it’s the best decision we ever made…I believe the hardest part is getting into the market! Closer to the city living small or further out in a bigger place depends on the lifestyle you want to live. That’s the biggest advantage to living regionally(26 squares on 1200sm)…you get great bang for your buck! I have no doubt that if you could transport our place to the inner suburbs it would be worth five times the price. Good luck with the search Chris 🙂

  2. I’m 39, my husband is 48, we are still in our first home, we bought it 20 years ago, it was very small, only 11 squares, very simple, needed practically everything done to it, but was in a great street and great location for us. We did the basics, ripped up carpet, tore down wallpaper, painted, polished floorboards etc. After a few years we had to decide whether to move or renovate and because we couldn’t agree on somewhere to move to, we basically gutted the house and extended it and make it what we wanted. It cost a fortune and we will be paying it off forever, or until we move and start again somewhere further out. Given how much property prices have risen, we wish we had bought 2 (or a dozen) houses back then, by now we could have sold them all for a profit and be debt free. Did we slum it? Yes in a way, but the bare bones of our house gave us something to build upon.

    1. Love your comment Charmaine. It is nice to know that you can live in a home for a long time and make slow changes along the way. There’s something almost better about doing it that way, I think, then going whole hog. It’s nice to watch your forever home change over time I imagine. Would love to see some photos of all the changes. Sounds great 🙂 And thank you for commenting!

  3. I live in regional Victoria so luckily house prices aren’t high like Melbourne. We built our first home as we got in just in time when the first home buyers grant was a decent amount and pretty much took care of our deposit. We sold it 18 months later for a smaller 70s place that is very dated. I love this house so much more. Even though every time I look at my hideous avocado green kitchen I freak out a little, I can then dream of all the things I’m going to eventually be able to do and it’s so exciting. It’s also good because instead of buying worthless accessories to style my home, I’m actually adding value by painting, redecorating and modernising the place but still indulging my inner stylist. My advice would be to religiously go to open homes and auctions to get a feel for the market, and to wait until you know it’s your house. I knew instantly with mine the second I saw the listing online. It’s kinda like a wedding dress lol.

    1. That is very wise advice Emily, and I totally agree about being in a home where you can dream of (and slowly implement) big design changes. If I got into a perfect home I would get bored so quickly. What are your plans for the kitchen? I’d love to know what your dream kitchen includes. If you ever need a design consult let me know 🙂 And thanks for commenting. So good to hear from you!

  4. I am a control freak and a home body so the thought of sharing a home is confronting. However recently we adopted an approach with another coue where we bought a property jointly – in Frankston – and renovated it quickly. We’ve kept it for long term gain but if you adopt this approach you could do 2-3 in a year of you go hard. You’ve got the design skills you just need someone who has basic building or project managing skills.

    A year of hard renovating graft cod pay off with a bigger deposit but it is riskier.

    Could also consider some lovely regional centres that have a sting vibrant culture as an alternative to Melbs.

    1. Oh Suzanne, I don’t know how you did it – what a machine! Sounds very full-on but oh so rewarding. I would LOVE to renovate a house. I would be in my element (cut to me crying mid-reno because I have to shower from a bucket lol). We must discuss your reno journey over an Espresso Martini!

  5. Ummm yes!!! It was a horrible post war house in original condition with asbestos everywhere AND it was on a main road! But 4 years later after putting a lot of blood sweat and tears into it (not to mention missing out on a few good party’s and weekends away, and the odd pair of shoes) we sold it for almost double what we bought it for.

    Now 9 years later after that first purchase, we are into our 4th house, in an amazing sort after suburb, it’s large 4 bed on a huge block of land, and it’s in a very quiet “no through road”. It still needs work but is in a more than liveable condition and we have now learn NOT to sacrifice our social life/down time for the sake of our four walls.

    So don’t be turned off by what a house doesn’t have and focus on what it does. It will eventually lead you to your dream palace. But I recommend close access to good coffee and transport!

    1. Oh Sammy this advice is SO uplifting – thank you. Such a positive way to look at it. I will go into this with a different mindset now and focus on what the property has instead of what it’s missing 🙂 Thanks for commenting – really appreciate it!

  6. All depends what your top priorities are. Just moved into my first home (at the ripe age of 36!), and because we wanted to be close to town (both for ourselves and potential future resale value), we moved to a party of town that we could afford and handle. Turns out others are moving here too, so it’s changing rapidly. We love our new spot, because it ticks all our honest and realistic priorities. Have fun!

    1. Thanks Rachel, that makes perfect sense. Will have to sit down with the other half and nut out what the top priorities are. The saddest part of the whole thing is toning down on my homewares purchases so we can finally buy a home lol!

  7. Hmmm, I definitely think you do in a lot of ways – we built our first home 2.5 years ago way out in the new estates.

    It’s about 50 minutes to drive to the city, and over an hour each way on the train for my husband. That said, it’s 20 minutes from both sets of parents and my sisters also, and very close to a number of other family members. We built here because it was a) getting into the market and b) an enormous, brand new house that we could fill with brand new things.

    Prior to that we lived in Surrey Hills for 3 years; pretty good sized 2 bed apartment, but old (cracks in the walls, mission brown bricks etc.)

    We’re definitely not slumming it in our current house – we’ve been able to fill it with all of the brand new furniture and whatnot that we want, it’s ridiculously big for 2 people and all that jazz, but I’m desperate to get out as soon as possible.

    We spend most of our time in the city or in its inner suburbs, and love the lifestyle it seems to afford people.

    It’s been brilliant living here for the last few years (there’s no way I could ever have started my business without this home) but I definitely have always viewed it as a stepping stone. Ideally we’ll be in Fitzroy in the next year or so, living the dream hahaha

    Sorry for the rambling!

    1. Oh God Alyson – Don’t say Fitzroy around my partner Gavin; it is his dream suburb lol. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. When we moved down from Sydney 5 months ago, Fitzroy was definitely our top choice. Turned out a little too pricey for what was being offered (in rentals), so we ended up in Richmond which is also divine. Now we just have to figure out if we get a smaller place around here or go out further. It does pain me to hear about a 50 minute trip to the city though. Definitely food for thought. Thanks again! 🙂

  8. Hi Chris, i love this post of being a first home owner and it is a pretty good question in regards to getting something smaller and being closer to the city to something abit further out but with more space. As for me I decided the later and get something bigger but further from the city but lucky I have good transport as there are several trains stopping by to go to the city so I’m just a 20 min ride to the city which I find bearable. I guess it comes down to the individual its not my ideal home but its a start 🙂

    1. That’s a good point actually – the public transport. It can make such a huge difference to a long and arduous trip into the city or an express one. Which state are you in Derek? I know when I was in Syd the public transport wasn’t as good as I’ve found Melbourne to be since moving here. But definitely worth investigating. Thanks for your comments – hope to see you in next week’s conversation series post too 🙂

      1. I’m from Sydney and yes while the public transport system isn’t as good as melbourne, being on a major train line helps as the trains usually arrive in about 5 mins or so during peak times. But I did get into the market 7 yes ago when things were more afforable and no one really wanted to live in the area. Iam looking forward to reading next weeks conversation post.

  9. Buying property is a personal choice and everyone does it differently. For me, it was about getting into the market because it is harder to build wealth without that first one. I wanted to stay in my neighbourhood so I bought a studio apartment off the plan in the city when I was 23. I bought it with my boyfriend and the first home buyer grant. we only lasted in it for a year or so because it was so tiny. We sold it for a $35k profit and moved into a rental until we found a brand new 3 bedroom apartment in the city that was for sale that we could now afford because of our profit from the studio.

    1. Hey Justine, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Buying off the plan is another option we’ve looked at as it’s somewhat cheaper from what I can tell. I think I might be able to slum it in a smaller place for a year or two and then hopefully make a profit (and what an awesome profit you made!). That could be the way to go. And totally agree with you re building wealth; I’m not getting any younger so I need to sort it out soon lol! Thanks again for commenting.

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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