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In Defense of Renting

Astoria is a quiet, quasi-suburb of New York City, the sort of place my friends say they will move to when they get married and want to enter the financially stable world of joint incomes and home ownership.

"How can you live there and pay rent?" they ask me incredulously.

But in the past year, a few engaged couples I know have started eying rental apartments in my neighborhood, which has left me wondering: Have I been living the new domestic ideal as a renter all along?

I will concede, my landlord's five dogs, who live on the first floor, have a certain disregard for my sleep schedule. And my landlord's sons -- and their car stereos -- have even less respect.

But when my shower won't drain, my landlord comes with the snake and plunger (if I owned it myself, a plumber would charge about $50).

When my roof leaks he patches it in an hour (a roof patch would have cost me about $56).

And he just finished painting my living room (a contractor would charge about $500).

Yes, he'll make inane conversation, but I still pay zero. 

Yet strangely, all my homeowner friends who had recently scoffed at my "wasted" rent money and free paint jobs are keeping fairly quiet about their "solid investments."

Maybe it's because – aside from catastrophic housing headlines -- most people move an average of every five years or so these days, making buying not so good a deal in any market that isn't skyrocketing, says Bill Petersen, founder of The Renters Guide

About 80 percent of an owner's payments on a home go toward interest during those first five years, so if you move as much as the average person, you're not buying much equity, he explains.

Plus, I couldn't imagine making hefty monthly mortgage payments in addition to my student loans, which should drag on for another six years or so.

"When you consider the cost of buying and selling and the fact that most people do not itemize their deductions there is really no tax advantage that will overcome all the costs of buying to make it worthwhile," Petersen assures me.

True, no matter what the market is doing, the consistency of home ownership may be nice for a couple with kids, but you might find yourself uncomfortably chained after a few years.

My parents lived in a house in New Jersey for 10 years. The community changed quickly from picturesque farms to McMansions and my mother hated the parade of sport utility vehicles and strip malls that followed.

Their excuse for staying was always the mortgage. Now they're finally hoping to count their losses on the sale of their U.S. home, as they renovate a more lucrative real estate investment -- a fixer-upper in northern Tuscany, which they plan on renting out part of the year.

It's not Italy, but when my rent-hater friends are watching home prices with the fervor of stock brokers, I love to mention my charming tree-lined street with the East River three doors down and my neighbor's grape vines hanging off the terrace next door.

Still waving the buyer's flag? Enter your finances into Relocation.com's rent or buy calculator. If my clever rhetoric didn't do it, this may make a renter out of you yet.

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In the Press

A Moving Company's Moving Story
June, 2012

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