Match day is an exciting time in a medical student’s life. The results of that day set the wheels in motion for the outcome of the rest their life. For most students, the specialty they will practice has now been solidified. For others, they are about to take a fork it the road they did not see coming. But for almost all students, it means moving to a new home.
Finally, you know what city you will call home for the next few years. Unfortunately, there is less than four months to find housing and make the arrangements for the move. Choosing the right home in this small window of time will help set your financial and personal life up to win or lose. Attendings who are about to move should heed this information as well.
Choose the Right Neighborhood
The neighborhood in which you live greatly influences the amount of enjoyment you have during your years in residency. Many people choose the location of their home based on the school district they want their kids enrolled in or the type of homes available. I don’t think the school district is nearly as important as living close to the hospital where you will be working during this period.
If choosing a home is all about living in the right neighborhood, you may lose all your spare time commuting and not have time to enjoy your family or the neighborhood.
Start your home search at the hospital and slowly move out from there. The closer you live to your work place, the shorter your commute and the more time you will have to enjoy your free time and your family.
Often, I hear doctors talk about their great house in the suburbs. Then I ask about the commute and find it is an hour each way! That is two hours a day given up to travel back and forth from work. If you work 5-6 days a week, you are talking about 10-12 hours a week lost to commuting. That is one full unpaid work day totally lost each week.
When I ask why they bought their home in that location, they often say they did it for their family. I guarantee your family would rather have 10-12 hours a week more time with you than a slightly larger yard, or a bigger living room.
Another reason to live close to the hospital for those with school aged kids is the placement of the school close to the hospital. This greatly increases the chances of you being present during school events.
If school is only 5 minutes away, you can duck out of the hospital, drive 5 minutes, spend 10 minutes watching your child’s event, drive 5 minutes back and hardly be missed. Your child will love seeing your face in the crowd. If school is 45 minutes away from the hospital, the likelihood of your presence at school events declines drastically.
Think about those long hard days ahead when you will be exiting the hospital totally exhausted. Would you prefer a five minute walk home or a one-hour drive? Now is the time to decide how long you want to commute knowing you will be totally exhausted at the end of most days.
During my residency, we lived in an apartment a five minute drive from the hospital on a straight road with no turns. It was a very easy commute. But sometimes, I was so tired, I called my wife to come pick me up. I didn’t trust my ability to drive a straight line for five minutes.
Do yourself and your family a favor and pick a home as close to the hospital as possible.
Rent Instead of Buy
The American way is to own a house, and there is a time to do that, but residency is not the time. There are so many reasons to avoid buying a house at this stage. You might want to read my article Don’t Buy a House When You Get a Job for even more reasons.
Someday you will probably own a home. But currently, you are likely the most broke you will be in your life. You have a ton of debt, just started earning a living wage for the first time, and most likely don’t have money in the bank for a down payment. In your current financial state, renting is the option that makes the most sense.
Time is another factor that will be in short supply. What little free time you have should not be used for making home repairs, shopping for replacement appliances, or yard upkeep. You will have a lot more free time after you finish residency to do those things. You also don’t have enough time to adequately shop for a house and get through escrow before starting.
Renters have a great time advantage over home owners. The landlord is responsible for repairs and upkeep of the building and the grounds, and all the renter must do is report the problem and it will be repaired.
Getting into and out of a rental is relatively inexpensive. All that is needed is a security deposit and pre-paid rent and you are on your way. Buying a house is much more time consuming and expensive.
When it’s time to leave at the end of your residency, you simply give notice to the landlord and hand in your keys. I have been involved in selling a house and in leaving a rental and the amount of effort and money involved is vastly different.
Both your schedule and your pocket book are benefitted by renting during your residency.
Pick Something Small That Will Last
This is not the time in your life for a large home. You want a small home that is comfortable, but big enough to last the entire residency. If you are about to have a child, get a place large enough to accommodate your growing family. A studio apartment might be fine for the two of you but will not be large enough after the baby comes.
It takes a lot of time and effort to move so find a place that will work well throughout your residency.
The bigger the place you choose, the more furniture you will need. This is an additional expense you don’t need at this time of your life. Keep it simple and small. You can go big later, if you want.
The simpler you make your life during residency, the happier you will be. A premium is placed on smaller, simpler, and less expensive.
If you play your cards right, you might even be able to pay down your student debt during residency. Many residents, after going through medical school living like a popper, begin getting a regular paycheck and start overspending in many areas in life. They end up living on the edge of their income and let their student loan balance climb while paying only a portion of the interest accruing on their loans. Often this is self-imposed by making a poor housing choice that costs more than their current budget can easily afford. Don’t become house poor.
For more information as you make this awesome transition in your life, read my books The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice/Career Right and The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt. Time and income are terrible things to waste.