Today, I was talking to a friend at my son's class pool party. It was being held at a community pool surrounded by lovely homes on regular, suburban-sized lots. As we got to talking, she shared with me her mild regret that when they moved 'out'--further to the West--they opted for land over community. She said they have a wonderful house on 3 acres, but no one close by for their kids to play with and no where for the children to do swim team. The community where the pool party was being held really suited their family now--but not then. After all, who moves further out to get less land?
With the recent downturn in the economy, I think it is important for all of us to think about our houses less as commodities that can be quickly bought and sold, and more as lifestyle choices. In the early days of our marriage, my husband and I decided we would take a smaller house and less land in exchange for a shorter commute. With that framework in mind, it was easier to make decisions about houses...we took a lot of properties off the table immediately. Further refining our choices by financial restrictions, it became easier to decide which houses worked for us and which didn't.
I think that the trap that many of us fall in to is the idea that in order to move, we must move up---more land, more house, more prestigious neighborhood, more amenities, etc. I think the most important thing to think about is how you want to live, both today and down the road. If your dream is to own a horse, and your own stable, you won't be able to do it on a suburban lot; it could be, however, be a stepping stone in your plan--just be prepared for deferred gratification. If you fall in love with the house on 5 acres because it has a 4 car garage and gorgeous granite, but you love to go to the Yoga studio 5 days a week, you better be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car.
I think sometimes we, as consumers, get caught up in the fancy kitchens and humongous yards and don't think enough about how it means we will live. A 5 acre yard is going to require a commitment to mowing (or paying to have someone mow it), but will probably give you the room to put in a pool, if you've always wanted one. A 1/4 acre yard will not allow you to raise chickens or enough grapevines to make wine, but may make it easier to get to know your next door neighbor.
Your house is more than just a place to set up your furniture; it is the framework for your life. Make sure it 'frames' the life that you want to lead.