Picket fence or shared walls?

When my husband and I moved to Portland over five years ago, we began a long stretch of renting vintage apartments. We only lived in two apartments during that time period, both places within five blocks of each other. Although we fell in love with Portland very quickly, we still hesitated to take the home ownership plunge. We just weren’t ready. Back in 2006, everyone was frantically buying property and telling us we were crazy for not buying a home as soon as possible. We knew they could be right, but we still weren’t ready.

This year we were ready. Almost in an instant. The urge to buy hit us like a sucker punch and we started looking at homes online. People congratulate us on buying at such a good time. Sure, the market is great for first-timers right now. Prices and interest rates are down, supply is up, and the federal government is tempting would-be nesters with generous tax credits.

Even with all the first-time buyer incentives in place, it truly is a coincidence that the time was also right for us.

When we envisioned our first home and began looking at properties, this is what we thought we would get:

  • Two bedroom, cottage or bungalow style home.
  • Approximately 1,000 square feet of living space.
  • Solid bones in need of cosmetic updates.
  • A safe neighborhood in outer-inner Portland. (Not an inner Portland walkable neighborhood, but not in the outskirts either.)
  • A yard.
  • Studio space for me.

It turned out, for our price range (which we were very stubborn about sticking to) these expectations were pretty reasonable. We could get a small, cosmetic fixer in a residential up-and-coming area. So why didn’t we end up doing just that? The key word is “fixer.”

We realized certain truths about ourselves after our first day looking at homes.

For one, we knew we would really miss living in a walkable neighborhood with plenty to do close by. We love walking to dinner, hitting up local spots for happy hour, and supporting small retail stores nearby. We were also overwhelmed by the amount of cosmetic work the homes needed. For some people, the cosmetic work is not a deal breaker because they relish the challenge and don’t mind living in transition while renovations are underway. For some, sweat equity is perfect. For us, when we thought about all the projects we would need to address, we knew our other hobbies would take a back burner… or worse yet, fade entirely. We already have so many interests we can barely find time for, and a house to fix up was a hobby we weren’t ready to add to the list.

It was difficult for us to accept these truths because it meant we had to adjust our search. We either had to increase our price range, come to terms with the realities of owning those homes, or consider a condo.

We decided that we didn’t want to budge on our comfortable price range, we didn’t want the renovation projects, and we wanted to live in a very walkable neighborhood. So, it was condo or nothing.

I’m very happy to report that by giving up the picket fence ideal and deciding to share walls we got the following:

  • Two bedroom, two story, townhouse style condo with no one above or below us.
  • A garage, essential for storage and my husband’s bicycles.
  • Vintage features (the home was built in 1949) and modern amenities (completely renovated in 2006).
  • No essential renovations needed at this time.
  • All hardwood floors.
  • 1200 square feet of living space.
  • A close-in, walkable neighborhood with restaurants, bars, stores, and coffee shops within blocks.


We gave up a private backyard and unshared walls. To some, that may be giving up too much. Everyone has their own sacrifices they are willing to make and it will be different for everyone. For us, this compromise was perfect.  The choice of an easy-care home in a close-in neighborhood seems to fit with the simplified life we’re trying to build for ourselves.

I’ll blog more on condo living soon. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone.

Have you decided to buy a condo over a house? Or vice versa? What factors went into your decision?

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One Response to Picket fence or shared walls?

  1. Pingback: What would your dream house be like? « Urban Domesticity

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