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Once again, your newspaper has brought to the forefront the nagging concerns about renting vs. homeownership (“A New Lease on Life,” 8/15). It is not surprising that some real-estate agents balk at potential renters who are not remotely interested in becoming first-time home buyersand those who refuse to take another stab at the trappings and perils of homeownership a second time around. The truth is out there, and no matter how you slice it, dice it, or compute the figures, some things don’t add up.
Some real-estate agents make others in their field look bad by being overzealous with empty suggestions about the glories of homeownership. They have a lot of nerve, preying on the weakness of some potential buyers who are struggling renters. Why should people exceed their monthly expenditures for a piece of real estate? All you have to do is the math, adding and subtracting what you are willing to give up and what you can afford, as well as list the pros and cons in renting vs. homeownership, of course. People with lackluster job performances, questionable income, poor life skills, unstable health, and bad hygiene need not apply. A person must have the mental and physical stamina to continue the challenge of interior and exterior home upkeep.
People like writer Thomas Scoville and I have seen the reality of homeownership. It’s a piece of work. It’s almost like working two jobs: First, you have your real job, which pays for your house, and then you have your job where you have to wear all sorts of hats and costumes in what some may see as a vain attempt to hold on to a piece of the American Dream.
There are those who prefer to live their lives without the huge obligation of a home, white picket fence, and rolling green lawns. I truly understand Scoville’s position, because who in the heck wants to always have his house regulating his paycheck and governing his life?
If you’re a renter, when something breaks down in your apartment, the repairs are just a phone call away: You call the management office. If the management of the apartment complex where you live is good, you get a timely response and the repairs are accomplished before the next month’s rent is due. If the management is bad, you end up either trying to fix it yourself or calling a friend or relative who is not maintenance-challenged. On the other hand, you could take the neutral approach and just stew over the long delay while waiting for hell to freeze over and the next legal holiday to pass (i.e., six months or so after the initial phone call). If all else fails, you can always move out and move on to better pastures: your next apartment.
As a homeowner, you have limited options, and they’re tied to your purse strings. You are responsible for everything that breaks down in your home when things go wrong (and they sometimes do).
The one thing that renting and homeownership have in common is that with both, you’ll get both good and bad neighbors. There are the occasional neighbors who draw all sorts of people and pests, like a magnet. Nobody, not even the worst neighbors themselves, wants trouble next door. In the renting world, of course, you can always move out to another apartment complex if things turn ugly. However, in the homeowning world, you own the house and unloading it is not a snap, crackle, and pop away. There is nothing worse than being stuck with a hellish neighbor or, worse, the neighborhood from hell. It’s an uncomfortable feeling having neighbors who spend every waking moment converting the exteriors of their homes into junkyards, for example.
A real-estate agent’s job is to show you a house and tell you about how wonderful it isand get the sale finalized. Try asking an agent if she would live in a certain neighborhood and wait for a response. Scoville is correct in stating that there are hidden costs. I’ve learned that it is a good idea to personally check out the neighborhood to get a clear idea if the house you’ve looked at is right for you. You may want to drive through the neighborhood both during the day and at night to acquaint yourself with the neighbors and their the daily activities. (This is a good idea for prospective renters as well.)
It is obvious that no matter where you live, you are going to encounter the good, bad, and ugly of both worlds. A lot depends on your mind-set, level of financial comfort, and determining what works for youwithout the pressing influence of a pushy, commission-driven agent. If you currently struggle to pay your rent, you ought not to buy a house. The notion that you have arrived if you own a house is bull. Just ask those who struggle to pay the house note and manage the upkeep of a house, on top of their family obligations and bills. Society has instilled in our culture that we must have material wealth to be somebody in the world, but it is fair to say that you are somebody no matter whether you rent or own a house. The difference is whether you made the decision on your own or were so shallow as to think that you had to keep up with the Joneses.