Nomad Homeowner — Why buy property when you’re a minimalist traveller?

Last year my girlfriend and I bought a new apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark, and a few weeks ago we moved in. After 5 years of living abroad most of the time and mostly moving a lot around, with very few bags and stuff, always renting short term, it can seem like a big shift in lifestyle.

Last week we had a housewarming for a lot of friends and family and a common question that came up, was “how will you guys adapt to your new life?”. While I understand the question, I’ve never seen it as a big change or big new direction in life. You can say a lot of things about being a nomad, but one positive thing is that you become a pro in adapting to change, so what can look like a big change, just feels very simple.

A big part of traveling for us has always been to try and experiment with different ways of living. It’s a permanent trial and error in finding a good (better) way for of living. We wanted to live near the beach, in the mountains, in big cities, in living, in a house, with a garden, in different cultures and so on, all with the purpose of learning more about what is the right way of living for us. The idea was to live like that for a few years and then find THE answer. Of course it didn’t turn out like that, but instead, it’s just a permanent lifestyle of trying new stuff and improving as we go.

Buying an apartment is just the next step in this lifestyle and not a complete change. If there is one annoying thing about being nomadic, it’s the constant hassle of finding a place to stay in a few weeks. Over the span of a year, it takes quite a lot of time and more importantly: energy. Having a base, where we can always go back to, puts a lot of the hassle out of a lifestyle with a lot of freedom.

So why did we want to buy an apartment?

  • We want to spend at least a few months per year in Copenhagen per year. It’s extremely expensive to rent, buying the right apartment is cheaper per month in direct expenses
  • Less hassle — We want to minimize energy spent on “where to go next” the whole time. Our main priority has always been work, soon it’s family when our baby boy is arriving in a few months, so we need to build the rest of our life, so other parts don’t take critical focus.
  • Financial freedom. While it’s easy to get stuck in property if you loan too much compared to your income, buying property has the potential to be one of the best financial decisions you can take in your private life.
  • We want a place to welcome friends and family. Even though we have become better and better to plan trips in advance so friends and family can join, being away from people that means something for you, is the worst part of living as a nomad. With a home base, it’s easier to host and see friends and family, which is extremely important for us.

But owning a place can also be the antidote to freedom. It’s very normal that people loan too much money and suddenly, they are prisoners in their own home. For me, freedom is extremely important. Therefore our requirements for buying an apartment was pretty detailed. We wanted a potential new apartment to be a positive add-on in our life (of course) and not something that would cause worry or limit our freedom.

Our requirement list for buying an apartment:

  • We want to live in the city. We’re not interested in a basement and a huge garden.
  • It should be possible to bike to everywhere we need to go
  • The apartment should lower our need for having a car
  • We wanted an apartment that is extremely easy to rent out
  • We don’t want that owning an apartment will limit our travels
  • If one of us want to take a year off, start a new company from scratch or start a new career, we want the opportunity to rent it out and move somewhere cheaper, fx Asia, for a period.
  • We want to buy something that we could live in for at least 20 years.
  • By doing that, we minimize the risk of having to sell at the wrong time. It’s very normal that you sell your place, when your life change (for example when you get kid number 2 and need more space), which makes the risk of having to sell when the market is bad bigger.
  • We want to own an apartment, where our expenses per month are lower than renting something similar (it’s around 60–70% of the expenses of an apartment like this for rent).
  • We want something where we could potentially stay on just one salary
  • We want to buy something where we think there will be a big growth in prices over the next 10–20 years. We think this will be true, because:
  • We bought an apartment close to the city center, but in a new area, so it’s not fully developed yet
  • Copenhagen is the biggest city in Denmark and globally people are moving to the cities, so prices should go up long-term
  • In 6 years there will be a subway station around the corner. Normally areas with better public transportation will have higher prices, but it’s still a bit out in the future, so it’s probably not reflected in that much in prices yet.
  • The apartment is very close to the harbor/water, which a lot of people want, but it’s a limited resource
  • The local development plans for the next many years are extremely interesting and high-end stuff is buying build, so we believe that will cause the prices to go up long-term.
  • Absolutely maximum 20 minutes of biking to 2–3 different co-working spaces. We would both truly hate a life where commuting was a big part of our life.
  • The apartment should be more expensive, than we were able to come with 20% of the price ourselves, so only 80% is a loan. The reason is that in Denmark you can get very cheap loans (right now, extremely cheap) loans for 80%, but the rest has to be normal bank loans, which are expensive.
  • We compromised a bit on this and had only 14,8% of the price in cash. The reason we compromised there is that we really, really wanted something where we could stay for +20 years. It’s expensive to buy a place, it costs money to move in, set up loans etc., and we calculated that the cost of interest of loaning those 5,2% extra could be cheaper with a pretty aggressive repayment plan. At the same time, we lower the risk of having to sell at the wrong time, which I would hate.
  • The apartment should be suitable to have many guests. A BIG part of having a place is that we want to invite friends, family, and strangers here.
  • We bought an apartment that is 94 sqm. It’s not too big now, but big enough for a few kids and lots of guests. We think it’s a perfect sweet spot.

The Property-Paradox

I’m very interested in the whole concept of buying a home, from different perspectives. I’m interested in the financial perspective, but I’m also very interested in how a home can help create some frames in your life and be a big part of your identity.

What’s especially interesting is this paradox: For most people, buying a house will be the biggest financial decision of their life. At the same time, it’s a very fundamental human thing, it’s where you live your life and develop with friends and family. To live in the right kind of apartment/house, is one of the most important things for a lot of people. These two things can be very contradictory. Maybe the best investment is not what you would most like to live in. Keeping up with Joneses is probably not the best financial decision every time.

Because it’s so fundamentally important for many people, I think a lot of people focus too much on just one part, often being how they see their lives unfold in that exact place. The problem is that that focus often leaves the economical aspect left alone, which can result in bad financial decisions.

I don’t have the solution for this. I just tried to realize that buying a home is actually pretty complex and it’s important to get the full overview of the different aspects. That’s why I wrote a long list of requirements, that we tried to fulfill.

Home and identity

Home is a big part of people’s identity, but we experienced the same with living as a nomad. People would ask us about that, we would be invited on podcasts and the media in Denmark were interested in it. It’s very easy, that such a fundamental part of your life becomes an integral part of your identity, but I think it’s very important to ask your self if you’re doing stuff because you truly want it and not because it would make you look in a specific way in other people’s eyes.

We see that buying an apartment as something that makes our lives easier and that we now have a base between travels, that will just help us achieve our goals in both traveling and minimalism: We can focus on doing better trips and we can minimize hassle of “where to live next” when we don’t want that hassle.

We’re part of a generation where we all want to feel very unique and I think it’s very easy to take some decision because you want to be unique, very it goes against what’s actually right for you. It’s important for me to not make that mistake. I optimize for happiness, not for media attention.

As we have truly experienced how much being digital nomads can become part of your identity, I also think it’s very interesting to see how homes are such a big part of people’s lives. Home improvements seem like the biggest hobby in the Western part of the World and a home is a big part of defining who you are. I think it’s an interesting topic, that I haven’t really finished my thoughts on since I also like how living like a nomad can question your ideas about what a home is.

My conclusion so far is that I don’t want a home that I think is a big part of my identity because of how it looks or the locations, but probably in terms of the atmosphere here. I want to create a home where there are always a lot of people and where people always feels welcome, because that’s important for me and I want that to be part of my identity.


Originally published at Nikolaj Astrup.

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