A House or a Home?

If you are not a resident of Canada, then chances are, you haven’t yet heard of the nation’s latest group of rockers, Three Days Grace. But when they hit your nation, be sure to pay attention to their third hit single. In it, they passionately proclaim that “This House is not a Home.” Without meaning to, these chart-toppers alluded to one of the key elements of house hunting. There is a big, big distinction between the term “house” and the term “home.”

The Difference?

Real estate articles tend to use the words “house” and “home” interchangeably. This is mainly for the sake of variety, so you’re not hearing the same words over and over again. The truth is, “house” and “home” mean two very different things.

The word “house” really only refers to a physical structure. It is a material object, a possession, something you gain as a result of having invested money into it. A house is something you can perceive with your senses; it’s an object that you can see and touch. It is a physical place in which you can perform activities, like eating, sleeping or just “vegging out”, or where you can store other possessions, like furniture.

The word “home,” however, is not something you can see, but rather something you can feel. Think of the difference in terms of this analogy: house is to home what book is to story. You can look at and touch a book; it is a physical object. The story, however, is something you have to process, connect to emotionally, and experience intuitively.

Similarly, the experience of “home” is intuitive. It is a feeling of comfort, of warmth, of safety, and of protection. It is more than just a place to fill with furniture or store your clothes. It is a place where you truly feel that you live; a place where you feel like you belong.

When Buying A House

One of the early steps in your home shopping process should always be to sit down and list the features of your dream house (or condo, townhouse, loft, or other form of dwelling). At this stage, you decide things that are important to you, like location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, views… basically, whatever features you feel you would like the place where you live to contain. However, what you’re really describing at this stage is a house (or condo, and so on). Your home is not really something you can describe. Home is something defined by your sense of intuition, not by your sense of logic. It boils down to this: can you “see” yourself living here?

When you purchase a house, you’re using logic. (“Can two people use the bathroom at once? Is there a fire station nearby? Does this place have decent resale potential?”) When you purchase a home, you’re using emotion. You’re not really asking yourself anything specific; you’re sourcing out how you’ll really feel once you try to build a life within those walls.

Confused? No wonder. Most of us really do think that a house and a home are the same thing. To fully understand the difference, consider the story of the following house:

A Story

Jennie, an associate editor at a fashion magazine, purchased a midtown house shortly after she was promoted. The house had all the features she was looking for: close to shops and a supermarket, large windows, three bedrooms, and even a fireplace. Logically, it seemed to be the perfect house for her.

However, Jennie hadn’t counted on the long hours her new job would require. She often stayed at the magazine well into the late hours of the evening, putting the finishing touches on articles. Sometimes, she and her colleagues would work until midnight or later, ordering pizza and breaking out bottles of wine to get them through deadline-time. She loved her job but, as is natural, she often had nights when she longed to go home and relax in front of the TV, phone a friend, or just pass out on her suede couch. However, she found that, upon returning home, she’d end up engaging in none of the above. The reason? Jennie had moved into an older neighborhood, where the houses were quite close together. Her neighbors to the right were a family of four: a couple, their one-year-old son, and their Saint Bernard. The baby and the Saint Bernard engaged in all-night screaming marathons almost every night, sometimes on an alternating basis, but more often together. They’d drown out Jennie’s TV, and whenever she phoned a friend from home, they always seemed to be “busy” (finally, one of them just told her not to call while that demon child was screaming next door). Eventually, Jennie had to depend on her well-stocked liquor cabinet to get through those long, loud nights. She developed a bad habit of coming in to work while the effects of last night’s “sleep potion” still lingered. Soon, her bizarre work/sleep cycle began affecting her performance. One day, a sympathetic colleague pulled her aside and warned her that promotion time was coming up and, if she didn’t pull herself together, she’d get passed up for a position that would be perfect for her. This moment was a huge wake-up call for Jennie. She arranged to rent out a friend’s guest bedroom for a minimal price, and put her house up for sale the very next day.

Did Jennie have a house? Most definitely. She owned the house; she kept her furniture, clothes and other possessions there; she often ate and, with the help of a little vodka, slept there. But did she have a home? Not really. She never developed that sense of warmth and security that one is supposed to feel about one’s home. Rather, she associated her house with noise, sleeplessness, headaches and hangovers. She didn’t look forward to going “home;” rather, she looked for excuses to stay away from it as long as possible.

Luckily, Jennie’s house sold quickly, and she used the funds from it to purchase a waterfront condo in the came city. Though smaller, the condo was in a building full of young single professionals like herself. No one in the building had any children, and pets weren’t allowed. Jennie was truly happy there (and well-rested, too!). This house (or, rather, condo) truly was a home.

The Next Owner

When Jennie moved out, Cam, a high-flying executive in the emerging world of internet marketing, moved in. A copywriter who had written his way up to the senior level of management, Cam could easily have afforded a bigger house. However, he saw the house as a gold mine of potential. It was in a highly desirable mid-town neighborhood, but because of its aging plumbing system, was a bit cheaper than any other homes in the area. With dollar signs in his eyes, Cam bought the house and, when not jetting around the continent on business trips, worked on renovating the house. Within two years, the house had brand-new plumbing, and also much more modern floor tiling, new paint, and a skylight in each bedroom. It was a gorgeous place and, combined with the normal 5% appreciation value that most property undergoes each year anyway, the renovations helped the house’s value soar. Thus, after two years, Cam sold the house for a very impressive profit, retired from the internet company, and moved to Costa Rica to open a hotel.

Did Cam have a house? Yes. While renovating the place, he stored his furniture there, cooked and ate there, and slept there. (By this point, the baby next door had grown into a toddler and was crying less at night; also, the poor Saint Bernard had been put to sleep.) However, did Cam have a home? Not really. Sure, he treated his house like a home, but like Jennie he never really developed the warm fuzzy feelings one develops for a home. It’s not that he had a bad experience there, as Jennie did; rather, he’d simply viewed the house as an investment opportunity all along, and never really got all that emotionally attached to it.

When Cam sold the house, it was purchased by Jo, a best-selling novelist most famous for writing steamy countryside romances. Jo and her partner had a small child themselves, so they were thrilled by the fact that there was a friendly family living next door. As well, Jo did most of her writing from home, so the brightness added by the recently installed skylights made for a sunny, pleasant and inspirational writing environment. After three years of living there, Jo still felt a surge of joy, almost like an inner glow, every time she pulled her car into the driveway. This house was the place where she had written her two most successful novels, given birth to her second child, and watched her firstborn grow up into a happy, playful kindergarten student. Unlike Jennie and Cam, Jo had a true emotional connection to the house completely independent of its resale potential, physical features or convenient location. For Jo, this house truly was a home.

It might sound like Jo was just luckier than the first two, but that’s not the case. Her happiness and sense of “home” in the house had a lot to do with her mindset when purchasing it. Jo knew that she was looking for not just a list of features, but a place where she would feel comfortable, safe and happy. When Cam and Jennie house-shopped, they looked almost exclusively for features. Cam looked for investment potential, while Jennie looked for number of rooms, bathrooms and location. However, both of these people failed to take their emotions into account when choosing a house. Could they really “see” themselves building a life in this place? Perhaps this was less important for Cam, who was looking at the house as a means to make money. Jennie, however, learned the importance of “home” through experience. Clearly, when she purchased her condo, she was thinking not only of the view or the presence of laundry facilities, but of how comfortable she would feel in that kind of environment. She was looking for a place that would fulfill her emotional needs as well as material needs. No wonder she was so much happier in the condo. As for Jo, she was house-hunting with a house and home in mind, so she knew to look for the intuitive “triggers” that tell you that this is the place where she wanted to nurture her family. If you house-hunt with your own happiness as a major factor of consideration, you’re much more likely to find a “home.”

The lesson to be learned from these three characters, then, is that when you’re out buying real estate, you should use a healthy mixture of logic and emotion. We’re not saying you should let your emotions run wild and buy a dump of a house in a crime-ridden neighborhood just because it smells faintly like great-grandma’s kitchen used to. However, we are saying that you should consider many factors when buying real estate, the “home” potential of a house being one of them.

If you have ever sold a house (or condo, or apartment) you probably noticed that the real estate agent you spoke to referred to the place as a house, condo or apartment. However, now that you’re buying a house (or other form of dwelling), you’ll probably notice that the real estate agent refers to the place as a “home.” Why? Because they are encouraging you to take your emotions into consideration when you make your purchase. Remember that buying a home is not the came as buying a toaster, a TV, or even a car. You’ll invest more than just money into it. You’ll invest a huge chunk of your life. When you buy a home, you’re buying a place where you’ll laugh, cry, fight with people, make up, relax, stress out, and relax again. You’ll cook food here, eat meals, celebrate birthdays and other special occasions, and relax. This will be your sanctuary, a home for years to come. Remember: home is where the heart is.