My Dad’s Critical Piece of Real Estate Advice for Homebuyers with Kids

published Jun 18, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy

For those on the hunt for a new home, there’s a lot of conflicting real estate advice to wade through. From the often-dubious guidance of real estate podcast bros, to the all-too-familiar nonsensical directive, “Stop eating avocado toast and you’ll afford a suburban 3B2B,” too many real estate recommendations fall short of having any meaningful impact. That’s why I’m grateful to have a built-in home-buying expert of my own: Apartment Therapy superfan and Number One Dad, Stewart Magnuson.

My dad’s always had a mind for business and investing. If I could get him to commit to binging Succession, he’d actually understand everything going on, unlike me, who simply nodded along, exclaiming, “Wow, this Matsson deal, right?” while really just hoping for a Roman-Gerri smooch. 

Anyway, with more than 30 years of experience providing for our family, my dad has developed a deep understanding of which investments deliver and which fall short. Notable successes? Our family’s Yukon XL, our annual summer pool membership, and a combined decade of orthodontia. Notable duds? Definitely the DVD player that was installed in the Yukon XL that my brother and I immediately shoved two (two!) Family Guy DVDs into simultaneously, effectively rendering it unusable. (Perhaps in that instance, children are the bad investment?) 

So when it comes to real estate advice, my dad’s wisdom is what I trust most. And because I have a handful of friends who are embarking on their own house hunts, trying to secure more space for their growing families while navigating a competitive market with sky-high interest rates, I had to check in with my dad about investment advice. I was expecting a complicated and calculated response akin to a Waystar Royco board meeting, but was delightfully surprised by his take on priorities when it comes to ROI.

“Let’s say you have a family. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t buy the home so much as an investment because in general your home’s going to go up in value pretty much at a normal rate,” my dad explains. Wait, excuse me? The same fellow who once sat me down for the most confusing stock market investment tutorial of my life is suddenly downplaying ROI? Well, not exactly. 

According to my dad, “If you have a family, buy [a home] that’s going to make your family happy, that your kids are going to enjoy, that you’re going to get the most happiness out of with your family — not necessarily the biggest return.” 

Looking back, there are countless examples of how this “investment” framework shaped my family. For instance, each of the homes the Magnusons have inhabited throughout my childhood was located near a massive hill. Naturally, my parents didn’t seek out listings for the nearby hillsides! But the barrel rolls and snow days spent sliding and sledding down these hills created formative memories for my brother and me, and clearly meant the world to my dad. 

It’s understandable to get caught up in the financial details of your homebuying investment — after all, a house is the most expensive purchase most people ever make! But it’s OK to take a step back and reconsider the most important piece of the puzzle: the folks who make the house a home.

“No matter what the return is, if you’ve had that kind of fun with your family and good memories, you’ve done just fine,” my dad says. 

Don’t labor over the ROI mathematics. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for sledding hills, climbing trees, and all the wondrous opportunities to create some lasting memories for your family.