If My Dad’s Mortgage Was a Headline

What’s the best age to buy a house? Chances are, by the time you first ask the question, you’re already too late — at least if you consult the media. Plenty of sources will tell you that, technically, there is no right or wrong here, but actually, the median age is 32, the best age is “young,” and you should really do it between ages 25 and 34. So much for “to each their own.”

A high school friend of mine ticked all the boxes by the time he was 30: married, house, kids. They even built their own! But he didn’t do it because he read in the newspaper that it was time. He did it because he was ready. The timing just happened to line up. For my dad, it didn’t.

Musing about when I might own a home the other day, I realized my parents bought their house when they were 38 — but they also paid it off within 20 years. More surprisingly, they accomplished this feat despite making some mistakes.

My dad’s first mortgage was fixed at 4.5% interest for ten years. Two years before it expired, in 2011, actual interest rates were near zero, but the gloom of the global financial crisis was still hanging over everyone’s heads. “The rates will go up!” the media shouted — and my dad extended the mortgage early at the same rate. Two years later, when he would actually have been up for renewal, rates were much lower. Oh well.

On the other hand, my dad’s pay rose over the years. Whenever he got a bonus, he put it towards special payments to decrease the debt pile faster. That worked like a charm, and he ultimately paid off the house five years before his last mortgage would have had to be renewed. What an amazing feat! Why don’t the media write about that? “Man Pays Off House 5 Years Early, Says Slow and Steady Wins the Race.” Now that’s a headline, if you ask me.

But it’s not the kind of title that turns heads, and that’s why the media will always throw irrelevant statistics and cookie-cutter advice at you where, actually, a strong gut and careful consideration are required.

If you get a 30-year-mortgage at 25 years old and spend the first ten years paying nothing but interest, then lose or must sell the house for whatever reason, how far did that head start get you? Even if you don’t, someone who gets a 20-year-mortgage at age 35 might end up paying less interest than you do — and be a debt-free homeowner at the same age. But maybe you can get a cheap plot of land in your 20s or inherit some money at 30, and then, it might be the right time indeed. There are averages and medians and lots of advice, but no true answers, except the ones you come up with on your own.

The best age to buy a house, start a business, have kids, switch careers, or start a volleyball club is when you’re ready for it. That’s not a moment Google can point out for you, but I’m sure you’ll get it right — and even if you don’t, tomorrow is another day, and it’s never too late to fix yesterday’s mistakes.