When you’re house-hunting, there’s a continuum of numerous factors weighed against each other, including indoor space, outdoor space, location, walkability, and plenty more, including of course price.
By walkability, I mean the walking distance to amenity such as parks, good public transport, shops. (Walkscore attempts to measure this.)
From some points of view, perhaps the traditional position is that growing families will prioritise indoor and outdoor space over other factors. Big house, big garden.
I didn’t prioritise those when I bought my house; within my budget, I prioritised location and walkability over space. This had both pros and cons of course.
I wanted to flag one of the big advantages.
When I moved, my sons were 7 and 10. Now they’re 19 and 22. Location and walking access to shops and trains (under 10 minutes away) has been absolutely crucial to them gaining a sense of independence through their high school and university years and beyond.
Public transport problems notwithstanding, they’ve been able to get themselves around relatively easily, and enjoy it too, without a long walk or a long wait for a bus to get home — either of which would push them quickly towards driving.
Just for now, my sons are holding off learning to drive, but will do it eventually. With my concerned parent hat on, the risks of personal safety issues while out walking and using public transport are far less than the risks of driving. (The equation might be different if they weren’t both boys.)
I hadn’t really thought about how this had played out until my sister mentioned pondering moving her family from Moorabbin (under 15 minutes walk from a station) out to “where you can get more house for your money”.
It made me think that teenagers’ mobility is an important issue. You don’t want them being driven everywhere, and neither will they. You do want them to have access to friends, jobs, events and education independent of their parents.
Lack of space has obvious disadvantages. My front and back gardens are pretty, but not big enough for playing footy or cricket or other such activities. More private open space would be great.
But we have a park down the road, and being on a quiet street, we’ve been able to use that space for outdoor activities.
More indoor space would be possible by renovating, expanding upwards, but the budget hasn’t really allowed for that.
When it comes down to it, we sacrificed private space for the ability to get around without driving — for both my sons, and also for me.
Beyond their independence, being able to leave the car at home most of the time is also good for the health and finances of all of us.
It also means they have access to opportunities without the cost burden of owning their own cars.
I’m not alone in going down this path. With pressures on real estate prices, others are raising families in smaller houses or flats / apartments.
Whether it be buying or renting, we all make our choices. Hopefully those choices take everything into account — including things that may not be immediately obvious.
I’m not trying to tell anybody what’s better for their family, but if I had my time again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.