When I ask home buyers what they’re looking for in a house, they tell me about they features they want—how much land it has, the number of bathrooms or bedrooms, or whether it needs work.
But research on what spending choices make people most happy prove these home buyers are looking for the wrong things. At least if they’re hoping their new home will make them happy.
Experiences vs Objects
Sounds like you’ll be happier backpacking around the world instead of buying a home. But until banks offer mortgages for airfare and camping gear, you might prefer owning a home. Besides, game night in front of your home’s fireplace probably involves fewer rats than camping in a lean-to in the forest.
But some objects become experiences. Don’t believe me? Ask an avid reader of, say, Game of Thrones or Harry Potter.
So how do you transform the most expensive object you’ll ever buy into an experience that will increase your happiness?
4 Rules for Creating a Home Experience That Will Make You Happy
You’ll get the greatest satisfaction from an experience if you remember these four rules:
1. Make your home a social experience that connects you to other people.
Even introverts need social interaction to be happy. What social events do you find most satisfying? And what kind of house will foster the social interaction you enjoy the most?
If your family is important, focus on a place to host backyard barbecues or a guest room for Grandma to stay for weeks at a time. It will make you happier than a large home office or extra storage.
I like casual interactions with strangers on the street—people who compliment my garden as they walk by or fellow dog lovers. I will probably always live somewhere that has lots of people walking by my front door.
2. Buy a home that gives you a good story to tell.
A haunted house or one that’s converted from an old railway station make for better stories than a McMansion in a gated community. Unless the McMansion was home to a notorious reality tv “star.”
I loved my Philadelphia home and neighborhood for many reasons. But I admit, it’s more fun to tell people about the burglars were regularly caught in our home than it was living through it at the time.
My Ithaca neighbors are far less exciting. But I still enjoy telling people the story of how I could travel from my front door to the Atlantic Ocean without ever relying on an engine, despite being more than 200 miles from the shore.
Look for the house with a story.
3. An experience should be closely tied to your sense of self or who you want to be. To treat your home like an experience, it should too.
If you dream of being an artist, a plain vanilla ranch in a quiet neighborhood might be a financially wise choice. But does it say anything about who you really are?
4. Your home experience should be unique and not like every other option.
I love unique homes—airstream trailers, converted churches, tiny houses, houseboats, and railroad cars. Yes, they give you a story to tell. And they say something about their owner who would pick an unusual home.
You have to ask yourself: if I want my home to make me happy, is it more likely to happen if I only think about the features? Or if I find a place that is unique and special to me?
Why We Buy Homes
Lots of first home buyers tell me they want to build wealth for themselves. They call it “not throwing money away on rent.”
But when I probe deeper, I find money is not the core issue for most of them. They want to decorate their houses. They want to start gardens. They want room for their kids to play.
If that’s true for you, then try to spend at least as much time thinking about how to turn an expensive object (your home) into an enjoyable experience.
Because there’s nothing worse than buying something you think you’ll enjoy just to leave it collecting dust on the shelf when you tire of it. Unless it’s buying something for hundreds of thousands of dollars that doesn’t delight you every day you live in it.
The idea for this post came from Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton’s readable discussion of current research on the money habits that make people happier. I highly recommend it.
If you buy something through the link above, I’ll earn a few cents but your purchase won’t cost you more. Thanks for supporting Hands on Home Buyer.
photo credits: (Levittown house) Jesse Gardner via photopin, (floating house) cc, finchlake2000 via photopin cc, (happy shadows) © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc. Click images to learn more about the photographers.