Strong opinions, weakly held

I love renting

For the past 15 months or so, I’ve been a renter, after being a homeowner for about four years. When my wife and I owned a home, we spent many thousands of dollars on repairs and upgrades, used about half of the available space, and often felt angst about the housing market and stress about what sorts of things we needed to do next to keep our home in good working order. We then sold the house and cleared just enough money to pay the realtor’s commission. We rented a place much more to our liking, in a much more desirable location, pay less rent than we paid in mortgage, and lowered our home maintenance costs to a rounding error. (Contrast that to my home maintenance bills, which in the first year of home ownership added up to more than we paid in rent the previous year.)

Needless to say, I am much happier as a renter, and was gratified to read the following in Philip Greenspun’s guide for early retirees:

If you can rent anything decent, try to avoid buying property. Think about the most interesting people you know. Chances are, most of them are renters. People who rent talk about the books that they’ve read, the trips that they’ve taken, the skills that they are learning, the friends whose company they are enjoying. Property owners complain about the local politicians, the high rate of property tax, the difficulty of finding competent tradespeople, the high value of their own (very likely crummy) house or condo, and what kinds of furniture and kitchen appliances they are contemplating buying. Property owners are boring. The most boring parts of a property owner’s personality is that which relates to his or her ownership of real estate.


  1. The pains of home ownership

    In his article, Early Retirement: Where to Live?, Philip Greenspun offers the following advice: If you can rent anything decent, try to avoid buying property. Think about the most interesting people you know. Chances are, most of them are renters….

  2. It all depends on what your long term plans are… We bought the house we plan to retire in. When we’re 60 (perhaps earlier) it will be paid for; no mortgage or rent to pay.

    Maint? Sure. But we bought brick to reduce maint. and just recently put siding on all painted surfaces possible. It’ll need one more roof before we croak, but i’m not all that concerned over long term maint. costs.

    Since we’re stayin’ put, i don’t care about keeping things ‘updated’ nor what the housing market is doing.

    Me thinks Greenspun’s observations a way over simplified. He’s observing priorities which are not directly associated with ones domicile.

  3. I agree with James – there are many more variables than simply maintenance challenges and cost. The argument for renting has been gaining traction, and there are clearly circumstances where that’s a great option.

    But, the thought of being at the mercy of a landlord again gives me hives. And, I’ve found that I actually value the way owning has (admittedly irrationally) made me feel more tied to and invested in the local community and area. Also, when we bought, we moved from a smaller house, slightly closer-in, to a larger and much nicer house, still in a fine location (but a few miles further away from the city), and our mortgage was just a tad more than the rent had been (less, if you factor in the tax deduction.)

    But, even if the monetary bottom line were worse, there are still plenty of intangibles that make me feel much better about owning than renting.

    Lots of variables to weigh…

  4. Phil Greenspun is always good for provocation, if nothing else. There are plenty of cases where home ownership is the sensible choice. Indeed, it is so much seen as the sensible choice that there is an immense amount of societal pressure to buy a home, even if it isn’t the right move for you. It’s just nice to see somebody defending renting as a sensible choice as well, and it has certainly worked for me.

  5. to say that homeowners are boring is a lot like saying that married people are boring — it says more about the biases of the speaker (especially disinterest in lives different from his own) than it does about the truth. that and it dismisses any value to home life. preposterous.

    I like being able to make things the way I want them, not work around the deficiencies and oddities in a place that I rent and am not allowed to modify (“but the bathroom could be comfortable if we just took part of that closet and…”). I like knowing that I can settle in and not plan to change anytime soon, even though rents and costs are soaring around me. sure it’s a drag that if the furnace dies it’s your problem and not your landlord’s, but that bother is just about offset by the totally absurd tax deductions I get to take for my mortgage instead of rent; the rest is all good.

    people who stop reading, traveling, or having a life because they own are merely demonstrating that they took on too much. get something smaller; get a condo if maintenance frightens you; get something that will be within your abilities and will not so dominate your psyche that it crowds out other bases for self-definition. being consumed with the minutiae is a symptom of the personality you started with, not a result of where you’re living…

    my two cents. no reason to demean people who had a different response to the world from yours.

  6. In 1969 we bought a house for $35K. According to standard inflation tables, the inflation-adjusted value would have been $186K in 2005. Googling just now I found that a house a few doors down the street from that one (but with only 3 bedrooms rather than 4 and not quite as nice a location) is currently on the market for $716K or almost 4X inflation.

    I’ve since moved to another state but used the profit from that house as a down payment on the next much nicer one.

    YMMV, but over the long haul, renting may get you priced out of the market. Owning a home was one reason I felt comfortable taking an unanticipated but excellent early retirement incentive offer.

  7. I bought a house, but I don’t believe I became that boring until I tried to sell it.

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