Dorm Life vs. Ownership
At the risk of revealing the true depths of my ignorance — seeing as how my son is some 15 years away from having to worry about college — I couldn’t help but think about this post on Zillow’s blog:
While the potential gains are tantalizing, there are some major red flags and risks involved with financing your child’s private study environment/animal house. To further tap into this concept, I read up on the Zillow blog about buying a house for college and raised this question on Zillow Discussions yesterday. “Mom & Dad: Should I live in the dorms or will you buy me a house?” Four hours and 45 comments later, I had my answer—-or at least a lot of new opinions.
Do go check out the comments. Most of them tend to emphasize the idea that 18-year olds are simply not responsible enough to be homeowners.
The author concludes, therefore, that dorm life is the answer:
My advice: Parents, make your kids live in the dorms. Dorm life builds character, strengthens your immune system, and is the heart of undergraduate college experience. Parents, college is your time to relax and enjoy an empty nest. Don’t stress yourself out by micromanaging your child’s college experience.
There are two questions that come to mind.
1. Is there some magical responsibility transformation that happens between the age of 18 and 22?
Because the exact same analysis — whether to buy a house for your college student child or to have them live in a dorm — applies to whether you should help your new college graduate buy a place or to have them live in an apartment.
My family was not in a financial position where this was ever an issue, but if it were, I’m not sure that I was somehow far more mature at 22 than I was at 18.
In fact, in retrospect, I think in many ways I was more mature as a sophomore in college than I was my first year on Wall Street: I had less money, fewer distractions, and more homework.
Meanwhile, my wife owned her own little studio condo within 18 months of graduating from college, and her parents helped her with the downpayment. As a 22 year old assistant buyer, making roughly $19K a year, she managed to make mortgage payments every month, determined not to ask Mom and Dad for money for her house. She told me stories about eating nothing but bologna sandwiches for seven months straight, just so she could make the house payments and repay her folks for their down payment loan. Knowing her as I do, I’m not convinced that she couldn’t have done the same as an 18 year old.
I suppose every parent knows their own child, and can make the decision whether he/she is mature enough to handle the responsibility of homeownership. But that leads to…
2. If your child is not mature enough to handle homeownership by 18, is she truly ready to be leaving your roof in the first place?
This may take the discussion a bit away from what I usually talk about on this blog. But it is a real question. College isn’t kindergarten; it isn’t sleepaway camp. One gets exposed to all sorts of things that require judgment and responsibility to handle — alcohol, sex, drugs, even violence, not to mention the actual course of study, and so on.
It seems odd to me to claim that a student isn’t mature enough to make payments, maintain the property, and so on, but is mature enough to make decisions about sexual partners, choice of career, and whether and how much to drink.
Are we, as a society, holding our young people to too low a standard?