Buying a house to fit your lifestyle

Row houses
Olympus OM-10, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-110 Dilution B, 2023

If you live in a big city in the US northeast, or in the UK or Europe, you probably find this scene to be typical. Land is expensive, and packing tall houses in tightly makes the most use of that scarce resource.

But these row houses are in the Indianapolis suburb of Whitestown, on what was a farmer’s field just 20 years ago. There’s plenty of land here!]

I assume that a motivating factor in building these row houses was for the builder to extract maximum value out of the land. You’d get way fewer detached homes of the same square footage in this space.

In this stage of my life, a row house like one of these has a certain appeal. While I was raising my children, I lived in mid-century ranch homes on large lots. Those yards took a great deal of care. Just pushing a lawn mower around the yard would take at least 90 minutes out of every Saturday. The large, mature trees shed mountains of leaves every autumn. Woe betide me if I skipped even one weekend of leaf removal. I was tied to the house in October and November!

I enjoyed keeping the property looking good, and my kids made full use of the yard in their play. Those homes made good sense during that phase of my life.

But now the kids are all adults. Also, my career has hit its stride and there’s money to travel. My wife and I would very much like to take frequent weekend trips and an annual vacation.

I can always pay someone to cut the grass while we’re gone. But the other option is to not have so much yard to maintain in the first place. See the tiny front yards in front of these row houses? That’s all the yard there is. It would take five minutes to mow it. If you skip a week, it’s no big deal.

The downside of a row house is all the stairs. My left knee frequently complains at me as I ascend the stairs in the two-story house I live in now. The way these row houses are designed, the first floor is a living room, a powder room, and a garage (accessed via the alley out back). You spend most of your time on the second and third floors. Up and down and up and down — at some point when old age sets in, that may not be viable anymore.

Maybe single-story row houses are the answer!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


30 responses to “Buying a house to fit your lifestyle”

  1. Peter Miller Avatar
    Peter Miller

    Single story row houses are called assisted living facilities!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Lots of suburbs and even cities for new construction, zone buildings for minimum population density. This way it doesn’t impact their school, police and fire departments. When I lived in Chicago, I believe they had a story in the paper showing all the suburbs that you had to build at least a 3000 square foot house on at least a half acre lot! Not my deal at all!

    Still good parts of my city with standard, old sized city lots, and 800 square foot, post WWII brick mid century modern ranch homes. Row houses may be a retro opportunity for developers to shove a lot of people into expensive properties for minimum money, but they’re ugly, and sharing a couple of walls with someone else defeats the concept of having your home being your castle. I don’t want to have the neighbors telling me I play my music too loud in a building I own! You know I worked these numbers for a friend of my mom in my parents old neighborhood, and hiring a small reputable “yard guy” to mow the lawn in the summer (and even shovel in the winter) is far less than a monthly condo fee!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Lots of people in Europe and even Canada live in attached houses. We’re unusual here in the States for not doing it more, but it’s got to be because we have so much land. But you’re right about the relative cost of hiring someone to mow vs. a condo fee.

    2. Kodachromeguy Avatar

      The zoning for minimum population density is:
      1. The modern redlining, i.e., keep the suburbs white,
      2. A bone thrown to developers to enable them to build more profitable structures.
      The result is the vast tracts of lonely cul de sac McMansion neighborhoods that are unfriendly to public transport or to mixed communities.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I think most people in the ‘burbs would argue that race, gender, or color isn’t a factor; what they’re doing is keeping their suburbs wealthy, property values high, and of a “certain sociology” that keeps crime and mayhem low. Not defending that, but What I’ve come to realize over the latter years is all segregation is financial. What’s happening in my neck of the woods is that law-abiding (if I can use that term), civic minded citizens of modest means are gone. In the 40 years I’ve been in and out of my city, the middle class has disappeared, and most of that group (including me) have become border line poor. In my retirement, I live in a far more crime ridden neighborhood than I ever lived in before, with the possible exception of when I first moved to DC, and I don’t like it, because I have to plan my life around it.

        Those on here talking about “retirement communities”, well, I’m betting that the monthly fees are two to three times what my social security income is…I’m not going back to work because I’m getting gouged by developers…

        1. Khürt Williams Avatar

          In most of the neighbourhoods of a “certain sociology”, the residents cast a blind eye to white-collar crimes, the yoga moms seducing the pool boys, and the rich high schoolers toking cannabis under the bleachers during the football games.

          1. Andy Umbo Avatar
            Andy Umbo

            Khurt, that “certain sociology” I can live with…come live in my neighborhood and have illiterate inner city thugs shove a gun in your belly and steal your car in Target Store parking lot at 8am on a Saturday or point a gun at your head at 6am and steal your smart phone in your apartment building parking lot. I’d be perfectly happy with moms seducing pool boys, it’s unlike that would end up killing me. Always easy to espouse liberalism in a relatively crime free neighborhood…

    3. Khürt Williams Avatar

      Here in New Jersey the demand for housing has outpaced supply. To keep prices high some townships had passed laws requiring minimum lot sizes of several acres. This kept out developers who wanted to build smaller homes on smaller lots. This situation was untenable. We had police and teachers policing towns they couldn’t afford to live in.

      The townships were sued, they lost and a new state directives forced townships to build x number of smaller units for each mega mansion they built. I prefer this as we could not afford a multimillion dollar 5000 square foot home. And now even these townhomes are out of reach of young families (my 1700 sq. ft. is worth half a million). The solution is even denser housing.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        The same happens here. I live in a wealthy suburb where you can’t build a house now that doesn’t cost less than about a half million, which is a TON of money compared to the median house value in central Indiana. Teachers and police generally can’t afford to live in this community if they serve it.

  3. David Elder Avatar
    David Elder

    We made a similar decision about 5 years ago and moved to the Erickson Senior Living community of Charlestown in Catonsville Maryland.
    The residences are all single floor with elevators and enclosed bridges connecting all 2000 residents/restaurants and activity areas.
    The 110 acre campus has a staff of almost 1000 plus contractors for an All-inclusive lifestyle.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds very nice!

  4. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    Right on Andy.
    We have a big house on 1/2 acre and I love it, but this is probably the biggest lot in the old part of town, Actually four small city lots and part of three others. I have my granddaughter to mow the lawn, and my son in law blows the snow, because they live here too. At my age three floors of stairs would be a deal breaker. The wife and I occupy the main floor and the younger folks deal with the stairs.

    It’s not just knees Jim. Your hips and back, and even your shoulders can be an issue. My brother in law built a beautiful three story home in Florida for retirement. My sister took the main floor bedroom and seldom went upstairs, and no one ever went to the third floor except to put something into or retrieve from storage. He had planned an elevator, but they are expensive and I bet the electric bill would be huge.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So far, for me it’s just my knees. I guess I have more to look forward to!

      This is the first two-story house I’ve ever lived in. I’m …not a fan.

  5. tbm3fan Avatar

    Nah, I like a nice backyard to sit down in and enjoy the day and the birds feeding. Plus I have already lived in essentially row houses when I lived in the Richmond District of San FRancisco from 1988-98. Two story flats or 4-5 unit apartment building right on the side walk and either parking in the back or a small yard visible to everybody from their second floor. Fine in my 30’s and single in that stage of my life. Now I want some privacy along with a large garage and long driveway for all my old cars.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I like the idea of the low yard maintenance of a row house, but not so much the tight quarters with my neighbors.

  6. Peter Paar Avatar
    Peter Paar

    Stair lifts might be a solution. At least they are worth exploring.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      For when the day comes. My knee isn’t so bad yet that I need to consider it!

  7. Peter Paar Avatar

    Have you checked on stair lifts?

  8. Khürt Williams Avatar

    I live in New Jersey. We’ve never owned a home that wasn’t attached to another home.

    My understanding row houses or row homes are found in older cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore. In New Jersey what I see pictured here are called townhouses. Townhouses (or townhomes) are generally two- to three-story structures that share a wall with a neighbouring unit. I really don’t understand what the difference is between a townhouse and a row home except I think row homes have terraces.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know that there is a difference beyond what people call them.

  9. brandib1977 Avatar

    I live in the country with a big yard. I would love to be in a place with less to maintain but this style of house doesn’t appeal to me. I mean, it does- these houses are cool – but they’re not practical as we age. I’ve had arthritis since I was young so all those stairs are terrifying. Plus, what happens if you break a leg? Haha.

    Anyway, I hope you find the home that best suits your needs sooner rather than later. Life is too short to not go after what we want. Find the home that allows you the freedom to travel and go enjoy your life.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like going up and down all those stairs all the time. I’m in the first non-single-story house I’ve ever lived in, right now, and I am sick of the stairs. I miss single-story living!

      I hope to find an older home on a small lot in an older neighborhood in Indianapolis when we next move.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        That sounds perfectly lovely.

  10. Dave Jenkins Avatar

    Jim, I think you would like the setup we have here in Knoxville. I showed a photo in my blog post on April 3 of this year — We are in a small enclave of townhouses (townhomes?) There are four units in our row, with the units on the ends being single-story. We have a small lawn and some landscaping, but that’s taken care of by the (much too expensive, in my opinion) HOA. All in all we’re very happy with it. My wife has had both knees replaced and doesn’t really care to deal with stairs any more.
    Surely there are similar places in your area that you could buy for what you could get out of your present home.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I remember that post. It may have influenced me in writing this one.

      I am hoping never to have an HOA ever again. I have not enjoyed the experience of the one I have now. My brother has owned two condos and his experience with the condo associations is even less pleasant than mine with my HOA.

      Someone above advised me to just hire out yard maintenance; it will be less expensive than a condo fee. They’re almost certainly right.

  11. Mark Avatar

    IMO Single story living space, no one above you. Hire the lawn, leaf, snow service if you want a house. This house we put in a ramp to front door, reason was older 55lb dog. He’s gone now & I appreciate the ramp & no stairs. Now have another older dog to “blame it on”

    Other option is one of those 55+ places that might have different spaces, single/duplex home, condo/appt style with elevators to your floor all in same area. Some even have meal plans. The thought may make you kind of sick but you walk away to go on your trips with no cares. Important to see all the financials to ensure future repairs/taxes are properly covered. Often can rent a unit before you buy to get a feel for place & what style unit, building location, you really want. Some religious groups have some nice places & often you don’t have to be of that religion. IMO do it soon so you don’t feel you have to move because you are old.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My wife and I have one more regular house in our future. We have six adult kids and still host the family events. Perhaps in our late 60s we’ll downsize.

  12. J P Avatar

    During the apartment phase of my youth, I vowed that I would never again share a wall, ceiling, or floor with someone else’s home.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I lived in one apartment building for about nine months, and another for about 18. The first one, I could hear my neighbors, but not the other. So I guess I don’t have super negative experiences to affect me here.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: