Make Your First Home Your Last: The Case for Not Moving Up

So much of any growth will depend on where you live, and too many of these kinds of conversations are framed around places like the San Francisco Bay Area, parts of Brooklyn or gentrifying areas where there have been enormous gains in property values.

Nationally, however, the numbers aren’t so steep. Data from CoreLogic’s home-price index shows that over the past 20 years, the average increase for single-family homes priced at 125 percent or more of the median home price in their region is just 3.4 percent annually. For homes at the 75 to 100 percent level, the gain has been 4.3 percent.

Consider maintenance costs, too. A newer home — say, less than five years old — might require just 1 percent of the purchase price in annual expenses, said John Bodrozic, a co-founder of HomeZada, a tool that helps owners keep track of costs and improvements. But if your home is 25 years old or more, 4 percent is a better estimate. If history is any judge, putting money into stocks over periods measured in decades should yield a better return.

Good professionals really can help determine what “return” ought to mean to you, though. Joe Chappius, a financial planner in Buffalo, suggested one basic strategy: Consult a few elders.

Find someone you trust who traded up 10 years ago, Mr. Chappius said. Very few of his clients who did so now think it was the best financial decision they ever made. More often, they have two rooms they rarely use.

A financial pro can also help you prioritize, including getting you and your spouse, if you have one, to agree on goals and dreams — and what’s worth sacrificing in the present to achieve all of the former and reach for some of the latter.

Once that baseline is set, they have specialized software that can make talking about the financial trade-offs easier. Mr. Chappius and Jeff Wolniewicz, partners in the firm Complete Wealth, walked me through their process this week using numbers that are typical for their home-seeking (or home-reaching) clients.

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