Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Renters vs. Owners

It's about time someone starting questioning why we seem to value home ownership so highly in this country. This column challenges the paradigm, which is something I've been wondering about for quite awhile, especially since I've been getting involved in and educated about urban planning. So much emphasis is placed on home ownership, and yet perhaps that's not the right perspective through which to view the values and ideals of affordable housing and healthy, safe housing for all.

Up until 2004, I was a renter my entire life, and I never really shared the "American dream" of owning a home. Why bother? As a renter, I could call my landlord or management company if something needed repairs, I didn't need to mow the lawn or take care of the yard, I didn't need to shovel the driveway or the front walk when it snowed. Why would I want to forsake this freedom for the yoke of owning a home that not only requires a mortgage but also regular maintenance and care?

Even now, I'm still not convinced of the benefits to owning versus renting. We pay more in our monthly mortgage than we did in rent, and the tax write-off doesn't compensate for that added expense. We also have additional insurance for our home, including an Umbrella Policy, that we didn't have as renters. Where's the big advantage? Supposedly, owning a home is a good investment, but like any investment, it really only pays off when you sell it, and who knows when that will be or what the market will be like at that point.

In the meantime, I prefer to look at our abode as a HOME, not as an investment, i.e. a refuge for our little trio, a place to relax, a place to make livable for our lifestyle. But we could do that just as easily in a rented apartment rather than a townhouse-style condo. And I don't want to consider every purchase we make or every change to the interior in terms of "will this add to our ROI?" "how will this affect our resale value?" If we want to make a change so that our HOME is more to our liking (e.g. redo the kitchen, enlarge the bathroom), then we should evaluate the pros and cons in terms of how it will improve our own standard of living rather than trying to anticipate how it will sell at some unknown future date.

However, I seem to be in the minority at this point. I hope this starts to change...

After all, if our culture hadn't been so focused on owning a home, then we wouldn't have encountered the current fiasco as a result of sub-prime loans and high foreclosure rates. So can't we now learn from this lesson and shift our paradigm?


Blogger Arielle said...

I like renting too! I feel like if I buy a house, I'm stuck and right now the housing market is pretty rough. Ryan and I are going to try to rent a house this fall so we have some more space and a yard. Anyway, yay for renting :)

10:34 AM  
Blogger Adam P. said...

I can see the point. For me, owning is an investment, but also some freedom; To change wall colours, landscape a yard, add a room or enlarge or combine others....

Yes, all the insurance, mortgage, planning, fixing, maintaining, tax writing-offing, etc, blahblah is a pain in the arse, but take it with a grain of salt and realize that even after the tax write-off it cost more than a potential rent, but there's also some back-end to that- when it's time to leave an apartment, you may get your security deposit back, when you leave a house (unless you got caught in the who mortgage fiasco) then you leave it with the potential of earning thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in gain.

Now, agreed, all those dollars could be seen as payment for time and labour on the property, but then again, I've never met a landlord who let me "go green" even if I agreed to leave the appliances when I left. I never met one who would let me paint, even if I was willing to put up the cash to do it, and put up the cash to make sure it was undone when I was gone. Never got that colour carpet I wanted or those energy efficient light fixtures and fans. Well, as I started, that freedom is worth a lil hassle and up front cost to me.

9:13 AM  

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