My husband and I collided as he tried to open the fridge while I tried to open the dishwasher.

“This is the best home you’ll see for your price point in this location,” our real estate agent told us as my husband and I exchanged panicked looks. This was less space than we currently had in our rental.

Like a lot of first-time homebuyers, we had big dreams when we set out to buy. After renting for several years, and now with a baby in tow, we were more than ready to make a new space our own.

We wanted plenty of square footage on a nice piece of land near the best schools, but soon realized these big dreams weren’t possible without a big budget to match. Here’s how we went from dream-house expectations to real-world possibilities.


“We want to build!” we excitedly told our real estate agent, as we explained our ideas for floor plans and developing neighborhoods we could see ourselves in. But after looking at a couple of options, we soon realized a plot of land would cost nearly half our budget, leaving us with little to work with when building the house itself.

It wasn’t easy to let go of this dream, but our agent helped us understand that buying was the best option for us. As a compromise, he advised finding a place we could put our own stamp on with some home improvement projects. Plus, selling a home we improved would likely increase our equity and put us in a position to build that dream house down the road.


Once we accepted that building was out of the question, we started looking for a home that met all our criteria: at least four bedrooms, a three-car garage and in the best school district in the county.

Are you laughing yet? Because I’m sure our realtor was.

He did his best to find us homes that met our demands, but our price point and “must-haves” did not match up. We had to choose — location or size — because we couldn’t have both and still be financially comfortable.

Fortunately for us, all the schools in our county are great. But we weren’t sure we could really be happy in a house with less space than our rental duplex, so we gave up our preferred location in hopes of finding a larger house.

Erin and her son outside their home.
The author and her son outside their home. Courtesy of Erin Heger


One of the first things our real estate agent emphasized was that this was our first home.

“Right,” I said. “But we don’t want to move again.”

We were intent on finding a place we could call home for at least the next 30 years, but we also didn’t want to wait to save up for a forever home; we were ready to buy now. That meant accepting that our first home wouldn’t check all our boxes — at least not right away.

So, nine months into our search when we saw a house with four bedrooms, a fenced-in yard and a decent commute for my husband, we knew it was the one. It didn’t include the luxurious bath I dreamed of, and it came with a two-car garage instead of three, but it had a lot going for it, and we could see ourselves calling it home.

More than a year later, we still love the house. While I’d still like to have that spacious bathroom someday, and my husband would like more garage space, we can see ourselves in our current house for a long time.

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