When I bought a house at 27 years old, I felt it was a proactive decision — a way of holding space for my intentions. It was putting out into the universe everything I hoped for. I would fix the place up as my income grew. One day, I would have a family there.
I was honestly surprised I even got approved for a mortgage, as I was just starting to make my way at work. The only reason I even had a downpayment on hand was because I had a few grand of my college fund left over thanks to scholarships. It was just three years after the Great Recession had ended, and there was much concern over millennials boomeranging back to their childhood homes. Real estate wasn’t even on my radar until my mom suggested I take a look at the little orange bungalow I now own. It was just down the block from my parents’ house, in one of the original trolley suburbs of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s appropriate that she picked out the place. Five years later, she and my father are renting it from me.
When I bought a house at 27 years old, I felt it was a proactive decision — a way of holding space for my intentions.
A couple of years before we decided that my parents would become my tenants, they sold the big brick house they had lived in for almost a decade, dropping a hefty monthly payment, and bought a tiny house next door to mine. Retirement was a decade or so in reach, and they wanted to be ready. All summer and fall, we drank rosé and pinot noir by the fire pit in my yard, swapped vegetables, and savored each other’s company.
But just as my parents were finally enjoying some financial security, my life felt like it was completely falling apart. Three years after I bought my house, a guy I was dating (who had more than a few red flags I ignored) moved in with me. He ended up losing his job, and we agreed that in lieu of finding more work, he would fix up my house. Then, he abruptly left me — and he’d only gotten as far as the demolition phase. I was left with a hole in my heart and an even bigger one in the master bathroom.
Four months after the breakup, I also lost my job. And the replacement I found paid half as much. To make ends meet, I got a second job. Then a third. I was managing my mortgage payments, but there was no room in the budget to finish the renovation. My house was in no condition to rent out, making it impossible to leverage my one real asset. Then came some more bad news: I was laid off for the second time in nine months. After that, my furnace blew and my pipes froze and burst. It was in the 30s inside the house. My credit cards were nearly maxed out, and most of my savings were gone. I went to the library each day to apply for jobs and keep my hands warm. After just 10 days, I got a job interview. By the end of the month, I had an employment offer. There was just one catch: The position was in Portland, Oregon. I had only two weeks to move across the country.
Over a few late nights and heavy pours of bourbon, my parents and I made plans. As I moved out West, they would rent out their place next door and move into my home, paying me $900 in rent each month, equivalent to the mortgage. Renting their place would mean my parents could still live effectively mortgage-free. Accepting my parents’ help meant being brutally honest with them about all my perceived failures, including the $10,000 I had accumulated in debt. The truth is, I judge myself far more harshly than they ever could.
A few weeks after my move to Portland, I gave them a Skype tour of my new apartment. In return, they showed me how all of their things fit just right in my old house. The room that once held my former partner’s tools and music equipment is now my father’s study. My mother’s wine collection fills the dining-room closet. They added a brand-new shower to the master bath. Through my laptop screen, they look at home.
I have never before lived so far away from my family. I have also rarely felt so loved. My parents have seen me work hard and they have seen what I hoped to achieve. They know firsthand how the world has changed and that, despite our privilege, my options and outcomes are not guaranteed to be the same as theirs were at my age. There was a time, in what feels like another life, that I dreamed of filling my home with family. In a way, that’s exactly what I did.