Can a kid own a house?

How old do you have to be in the U.S. to buy property?


Cary Tennis
July 7, 2009 2:15PM (UTC)

Dear Reader,

I thought you might be mildly amused to learn that my efforts on your behalf have earned the top grade of A-minus from the thoughtful people at Jezebel. I am suitably honored.

And now for a question from a child.

Hi,

How old do you have to be to buy a house in the USA? Because of your experience I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on the subject.

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Any info much appreciated.

Thank you very much.

Gratefully,

Kid

Dear Kid,

I did some looking into it. Basically, as far as I can figure, the thing seems to be that a house is not like a pair of pants. A child can own a pair of pants. The pants might be taken away from him by force, as in a child's world, it's the law of the jungle, but as long as he's wearing them, or has them in his drawer, his pants are his. He doesn't have to have a legal document explaining the dimensions of the pants and who they used to belong to and all that. The pants a child is wearing are his own. There's no mortgage on the pants. Basically, to paraphrase the founders of The Well, You Own Your Own Pants, or YOYOP. But a house, no.

Why?

Well, Kid, I'm no lawyer, and it will be entertaining to hear some lawyers explain why the rest of us are all idiots, but my take on it is that a kid can't own a house because a house is part of a city, and cities are made up of adults living in houses. It takes adults to put in sidewalks and mow the lawn and paint the high places on the wall. It takes adults to put roofs on and take out second mortgages. So if you have kids owning houses, sure, it would be fun at first. But imagine if a kid owned a house and people wanted to put in a new sewer. The kid might say, it's my house, I like it stinky, get lost. Kids would invite their friends over and everybody would start crying. Kids are unpredictable and you can't argue with them.

So there can't be kids owning houses. There can be kids inside houses owning small things. That's fine. Kids can own pants, and candy, and games, because pants and candy and games don't occupy land permanently. Nobody in the city is ever going to want to condemn your pants to put a freeway in. A freeway in your pants? In your dreams, buddy!

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If an adult refuses to let a freeway be built through his house, he can get hauled into court and given a good verbal drubbing. But you can't give kids much of a drubbing these days. They start crying. Kids are no good on the witness stand. You can't badger them. Judges frown and mothers object. So it's a messy deal all around. That's another reason why kids can't own houses.

An additional reason -- and the main one, for some people -- is basically that kids can't sign contracts. They'll go back on their word all the time. They can't be trusted. They change their minds.

Plus they lose things. They would put the title documents under the couch, or let the dog chew on the deed. Even if a kid could own a house outright, without a mortgage or anything like that, owning a house is not like owning a pair of pants. It's a legal agreement with the people around you. And it requires a filing system.

Stuff kids own is portable and often can be eaten. A house cannot be eaten or worn to school. You can't just throw a house out when it gets a hole in the knee. You can't put it in your pocket and take it to school and chew on it.

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Owning houses requires long-term focus. Kids don't have a long-term focus. They are focused on the bug that is crawling across the book they are supposed to be reading, and when the bug is gone, that's it. They don't have a seven-year plan for exterior paint. They don't consider obstructing somebody's view. You ever notice how a kid will walk right in front of you and not see you coming? They would build treehouses everywhere.

A kid can own a comic book. A comic book won't interfere with anybody's enjoyment of the landscape. It won't block their view or endanger their fence. It doesn't require long-term planning.

Now I know there are technical instruments by which a kid can sort of own a house, which you can talk to a lawyer about. Having it held in trust for you basically means it's yours but you can't have it yet. And it also means that adults might try to take it away from you before you get old enough to have it, if they change their minds about you. Adults change their minds too, but they don't call it "changing their minds." They call it "revoking the trust."

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Imagine that! They might try to "revoke" the trust. They do that all the time anyway. They promise to go to the beach and then change their minds because they're drunk, but they don't say the beach is being held in trust for you and they're revoking the trust. They just say, Mommy's sick, we'll go tomorrow, and then you get up early the next day ready to go and they're passed out on the living room floor again and you call the paramedics, who know you by name and ruffle your hair as they shine the flashlight into Mommy's eyes.

So to own a house you've got to be an adult.

Be glad you're still a kid.

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Kids? Want to buy a house? Read this first!



Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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