In 1974, when I was 12 and my sister was 15, my family moved. We left our house on Rose Leaf Road in suburban Pittsburgh, PA for a larger, more luxurious home on Stancey Road. These days, as my wife and I are househunting in and around Palo Alto, CA, I often think back to that move and how it affected me. Any real estate agent or knowledgeable home buyer would look at those two houses and agree with my parents that the Stancey house was better than the Rose Leaf house. It had larger rooms and more of them. It had a more open layout. It was constructed better. It had better “finishes.” The Stancey house was also a “good buy.” It was surrounded by houses of even higher value, and the development in which it was situated was newer and trendier.
Unfortunately for my parents, none of those things mattered to me. Only after we moved did I realize that the Stancey house was absolutely, positively worse from my point of view. You see, the block that the Rose Leaf house was on was full of kids who played outside almost every day. That picture below shows me and my buddies (yes, there were a lot of girls there, too) posing on the yard in the back yard of our Rose Leaf house.
I’m at the bottom left. That road in the background was the site of countless pickup softball and two-hand-tag football games. The yard on the other side of that road was the Weiss’, where we played “kill the guy with the ball.” Down the street was the woods where we had our tree shack.
The block where the Stancey house was had a number of kids around my age, but fewer of them. The main problem, though, was that they didn’t play outside. It’s hard for me to put my finger on why, except that it does seem that in general, blocks with nicer houses tend to have kids playing outside less. Stancey just wasn’t a “community” the way Rose Leaf was. I ended up sitting in the big family room watching TV every afternoon after school, eating saltine crackers and drinking soda.
Anyway, my point is that my family’s move in 1974 may have looked good to my parents and our realtor, but it was bad for me.
The lesson from this experience is that what kids value in a home has little, if anything, in common with what parents usually value. Fundamentally, kids value the neighborhood around the house far more, and parents value the house itself more. The one thing they both seem to agree somewhat on is yard.
Many parents of today may disagree with me, claiming that their kids care a lot about internal house features like their own bedroom or their house’s family room. I would argue that in most of these cases, they care about these internal house factors because they never lived in a house whose neighborhood was alive with kids. At the Stancey house, I really got into our family room because I spent a ton of time there. However, because I knew what it was like to live in a neighborhood with lots of kids playing outside, I never thought our family room was more important than our neighborhood.
Unfortunately, because most kids today have never experienced a neighborhood like I had at Rose Leaf, they have no idea of the positive impact it could have on their lives. So, parents keep buying houses based on the house, not the neighborhood.
In a later post, I’ll talk about how this experience has affected my wife’s and my house hunt in Palo Alto, CA.