Learning to love my RENTED house

Guest post by Kelly B.

One day when I was young, my mother plopped me in the stroller, and set out from the third-floor apartment we shared with my dad and a small population of squirrels. She crossed the river that divides our town, and walked into a neighborhood of large homes and large yards, with plenty of children running in them. I’d love to live here, she thought.

Five years later, we moved in. I distinctly remember standing in the living room of my new home, looking at the chandelier, and breathlessly exclaiming, “It’s a mansion!”

American dream? Not quite. My mom was in her dream neighborhood, but the house wasn’t hers, wasn’t even the bank’s. It was the landlord’s.

As I grew up I loved that house, from my bedroom that smelled like lilacs, to the yard where my brothers and I built many a fort, just to tear them down and build them again. As I got older, though, I began to question why we still rented. None of my friends lived in a rented home. Why did my parents seem incapable of doing something that seemed to be no problem for everyone else?

Eventually I became ashamed of the fact that my parents didn’t own our home, and at times a bit resentful. What do you mean I can’t get a dog without asking the landlord? Can’t she just die and leave the house to us? After all, we were the ones in the house every day, fixing it when it was broken, and beating up on it when it wasn’t.

“Nice house,” friends would say. Thanks, I would think. Isn’t ours. But you can bet those words never slipped from my mouth.

Then, much later than I should have, I had an epiphany.

My fiance and I were beginning to think about buying, and I was constantly thinking negatively about money “wasted” on rent. There I was, driving along, running through an internal anti-renting tirade, when I realized that renting “60 Win” (as it is affectionately known) was a blessing, not a curse.

By renting, my parents took us from a slightly-dodgy area, to one you’d see on Leave It To Beaver. My siblings and I ran wild through that beloved neighborhood with armies of kids. Recently, one of those kids, who now has memory loss, walked into my mom’s yard, and, without knowing that she had spent countless childhood hours there, looked at my mom and told her this place “felt safe.” Safety is exactly what 60 Win meant to my family. It’s our family that has memories in front of the fireplace, pictures in the yard, and insider knowledge of just how tall a Christmas tree can be and still fit under the ceilings.

As an adult, I can see that my parents were able to put aside their own home-ownership goals to keep us in a place that was ideal for four rambunctious kids. Not everything in my childhood was perfect, but living at 60 Win was spot on.

Now that my youngest sibling is nearing high-school graduation, I know that soon my mom will be moving out of our beloved 60 Win, and maybe a new renter will move in. I no longer fantasize about my mom buying it and making it her own — a house that’s perfect for a family of six isn’t quite right for a single lady. Instead of thinking that my mom is coming away from twenty years at 60 Win with nothing, I now realize that she and our family have the most important things — the pictures, the memories, and the love. Although it will never be our house, 60 Win is and always will be our beloved family home.

Comments on Learning to love my RENTED house

  1. This is why we rent! I have never owned my home, though my husband has. If we learned anything in the recent economy, it’s that home ownership isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! He and his ex bought when the market was high, and had to sell when it was low. The bank had to take a loss and it took *forever* to arrange and a ton of harrassment from the bank. And they didn’t even love the place.

    Together now we live with three kids – his one, my two – in a lovely place. Turkeys, deer, bunnies and bluejays in the back yard. And sometimes a fox. The landlord composts and even plows a garden plot for us every year, and her kids are friends with our kids (it’s a duplex and they’re in the other half).

    The neighborhood is MUCH nicer than my old one (read: no shootings) and at least as nice as my husband’s old one. The kids have friends up the street, great schools, and a library around the corner.

    Renting is *so* legit these days.

    Oh, and they don’t know it – but the landlord isn’t the only reason they only have hamsters as pets. Bwahahaha.

  2. I have a lot of mixed feelings with owning homes. The house I grew up in had belonged to my family for over 100 years. My great grandfather built most of it around a one room cabin. When my parents had to sell it I was crushed. That was my house! They didn’t have much of a choice, but I was still very upset by it. Renting is much, much less scary. Since then I’ve lived in 6 different rented homes and they’ve always been fine. My parents didn’t have the weight of responsibility on them for everything that happened. A broken water heater didn’t mean disaster anymore. New roof, bad pipes, septic tanks, none of it was a real concern anymore.
    People seem to think of renting as “throwing away” money, but when it takes people 30 years to pay off their houses, PLUS the maintenance and repairs that can be astronomical I don’t see much of a downside, other than not being able to do fun DIY stuff or pet restrictions. I am stone cold terrified of owning a house. I might bite the bullet and do it one day, but for right now, renting is the best option.

    • “I am stone cold terrified of owning a house. I might bite the bullet and do it one day, but for right now, renting is the best option.”

      I feel the same. I’ve had multiple friends buy houses near their workplaces, then lose their jobs and find new jobs an HOUR away. I find commuting to be a soul-crushing experience – I can’t imagine spending that much time in a car every day! I would rather rent with the flexibility to relocate if I found another job than feel trapped in a single location should my life circumstances happen to change.

      • Yes, yes! My husband and I have no desire to buy anything anytime soon and some people think we’re crazy. They say we’re throwing money away with renting. I say we’re buying peace of mind and freedom. I know lots of people who say buying a house is the worst mistake they ever made. I don’t want to join them. Plus, in order to afford to buy something nice, we’d have to go way out into the suburbs. Right now we rent in a fantastic urban area which we don’t want to leave, but can’t afford to buy in.

        Plus, we don’t know what our needs will be 5-10 years from now because life could take us in a million different directions. I <3 renting.

  3. After watching my home lose 50% of its value/cost during the market crash and still today, I feel completely traumatized and trapped by home ownership. I would escape in a second if I could, and start renting. My only fear is raising my child in a rented house and the landlord dying or deciding out of nowhere to sell, and we are asked to leave our home. That would be traumatic too!

  4. This happened to me as a child too. My parents rented my childhood home for 20+ years. It wasn’t something I thought about when I was younger (renting vs. owning)until it was brought to my attention in high school. But like the author mentioned, it was definitely a step up from where we lived when I was young. Even though we didn’t live in apartments my parents were born and raised in East LA. While it was a much different place when they were young they moved to a more suburban community at the right time. Actually I believe we moved only a couple years before the riots. After my siblings and I moved out, my sick father was unable to keep up and had to move. It was bittersweet. My husband and I are serial renters and just got out of our 7 year string of apartment living to a nice house by my childhood home. I don’t mind renting. Home ownership is not something I am prepared for and I’m not even sure where I want to settle down forever.

  5. Renting a house is great – we love our rented house, and being free of the burdens of home ownership – that is until your landlord moves back to town and wants to move back into his house once your lease is up. Not much you can do about that, and moving sucks. I think we’ll be buying next, because I don’t want the potential of having to move again in 2 years or something.

    • I’ve had that happen, too. I still rent, though. Partly because I can’t afford a house in Sydney that’s somewhere I’d actually want to live and partly because I think I’d make an exceptionally shitty homeowner.

      Basically, there are pros and cons to any housing type. Everyone has their own priorities!

      • That is another reason why we don’t want to buy. Both of us are lazy when it comes to maintenance and we would just devalue the home. Neither of us wants the responsibility.

  6. Interestingly I ended up feeling almost exactly the opposite. I felt trapped and controlled and frustrated by renting. I couldn’t have cats, and that was huge for me. I couldn’t just up and decorate it however I liked, couldn’t turn the basement into a spare room like I wanted. I could do nothing with my living space without permission, and it wore on me.

    It didn’t help that the landlord refused to do basic things to keep the place fixed up (where I live repairs are the landlords business) meaning I lived in a house with mould growing on the walls, damp ruining all my things, and in the last six months of our stay there, a gaping hole in the living room with a wasps nest in it.

    We got lucky where we bought. A good place in an OK Neighbourhood just right for US for a price we can afford. It has no mould and as I own it I can stretch out and enjoy it. I can slap colour on the walls and fill it with cats. (Only two cats so far, but it’s amazing how well they fill a house on their own).I can take my time to make sure it’perfect, and even if it’s a dragged-together cluttered mess right now, it’s MINE.

    But then, I’ve always been a very possessive person. I need to keep things and I struggle to let go. I hate any feeling of insecurity, and with being on a rolling one-month contract, and landlord I ever had could tell me to get out of my house with only one months notice, which would be incredibly stressful for me.

    There were positive sides to the various rentals me and my families have had over the years – it was possible to live MUCH closer to the city when we rented, in a much older house with more history. But for me, the cons outweighed the benefits. It’s really interesting to see others coming at it from a different place!

    • I feel the same, renting stresses me out. I paid way more rent to be able to have my cats in an apartment, about $250 a month more than a non pet apartment. I always felt uncomfortable in a rental, like I was a guest in someone else’s house and I was over staying my welcome.
      I need to be able to paint the walls in colour and build garden beds in my back yard. The first thing we did when we bought this house was cut a hole in the back door so the cats could have a cat door.
      I wouldn’t go back to renting but I can see how renting is the right option depending on your circumstances. For my sister she is renter because she travels all the time. She is generally teaching over seas and owning a home is not a good option for her. Everyone need to do the right thing for themselves. For us we just feel more comfortable in a home that we own.
      I really appreciate the fact that the author was able to shift how she looked at renting. That her parents were able to offer her and her siblings a better place to live by renting a house.

    • I agree that renting can make you feel trapped. I also have a pet(large dog)and finding a rental that would allow a large dog was almost impossible in the small town I live in. Also when I bought my house my mortgage was only $150 more a month than what I was paying in rent and while renting we were already paying most of the utilities and fixing things up since our landlord lived 3 hrs away. So renting wasn’t really being a cost savings for us. But if it was , even with the dog, I’d probably would have kept renting for a few more years at least.

    • I am like you. I hate renting with a passion. In the five years I have rented, I have dealt with some of the scummiest landlords who have refused repairs, accused us of damaging the house when we didnt, tried to charge us $750 for a ‘flea treatment’ but when I asked to see the receipt it turns out she bought a flea bomb from the super market for $5. I estimate that just from theft from flatmates, and landlords I have lost around $10,000. I will wait for the high buying prices to settle, but i will be buying a house as soon as I can.

      And then mark my words, I will get my puppy and kitty, and paint the walls whatever colour i please.

  7. This was such a cool article for me to read, thank you for sharing your experience!

    Growing up, my parents owned (and actually BUILT) my first two childhood homes. Then we moved into a large rental on acreage. Than we moved again, into another rental, and another, and another. As a child I moved something like 10 times, but always within the same county.

    As an adult I suspect that many of those moves had to do with rental “issues”… Landlords returning, selling the property, etc. But i never thought it was a huge deal. And because my parents had owned the first couple houses I was in, I grew up assuming that it was just a choice — and didn’t ever think that renting was somehow below owning.

    This has definitely colored my perspective on renting vs. owning now. My husband and I rent. We “window shop” houses on the market all the time, but I just can’t imagine rooting myself to one place unless I *really* love it.

  8. I’ve been renting ever since I moved out of my parents house at age 20, and it’s all I know. My parents purchased their home from a cousin who gave them a great deal (back in 1984) so unless I strike some amazing deal like that, I’m content to rent.

    I had to change my perspective and realize that although this isn’t my own home, the money I’m saving in home ownership allows me to take my kids on adventures. I can’t give those up. 🙂

  9. Renting is such a thing in some parts of the world. Americans and Australians are all about “the dream” but in some cultures it’s just not such an angsty thing, as here.

    Having said that, I own, but my situation is still something like yours- I own an apartment rather than a house, so I can afford to live in a neighbourhood I am into, rather than a house for the sake of a house in an area that I’m not suited to.

    • I also own an apartment/condo. I pay the same monthly for mortgage and dues, as I would it I were renting. While the dues will go up gradually, my mortgage payment will stay the same for the next 20 years unless I change it. Plus if something goes wrong or needs repair, the cost is shared. It’s perfect for us because we do NOT like to do home maintenance and repair, or yard work. We love our neighborhood and couldn’t afford a single family home here (buy or rent) even if we wanted to. Someday when we want to move, we can rent it out, and probably come out ahead as the rental market goes up and up.

  10. I’ve been on both sides of this discussion. For the most part, I lived in rented homes growing up so it wasn’t unusual for me. We rented because we could live in a nice, SAFE neighborhood by renting. I never knew any stigma on owning verse renting as a child.

    Once it was time to find a home of my own, I rented. Yeah, it’s a pain to have pet restrictions and not be able to paint my walls orange if I want to. With renting there’s also no major home repairs out of MY pocket (at least with the places I’ve rented) and no house insurance/yearly taxes to pay.

    I did very briefly own a small, modest, older little starter home (3 years). The house itself was within my budget but OMG THE ADDITIONAL EXPENSES!!! Eg. Found a small leak in a basement wall that the cheapest estimate for repair was $10,000+. I was just flat out not prepared for how much everything costs. And I was trapped to this building… it was a very costly and unpleasent experience.

    Thankfully, I was able to short sale the house and I’m quite happily back to renting now. Rental insurance is cheap, my landlord takes care of repairs (eventually, but that’s another tale), no taxes to pay, and if I want/need to relocate I only have to wait until my lease is up. It’s awesome-sauce. 🙂

  11. Because of the career I’m persuing I’ll likely have to move often until I’m at least in my mid-thirties so renting is the only real option. I grew up in rented houses and my parents didn’t own their own until they were in their 50s. Yes it would be nice to able to paint the walls and stuff but the flexibility of moving is more important at this point.

  12. I’m still waiting for home ownership to start feeling good, or empowering, or worth it. Right now, it just feels like we have the most negligent landlord ever.

  13. I have always rented but my wife has owned (before we met) and didn’t like it at all. Bought and sold within two years. I don’t particularly like the idea of ownership. It’s just TOO permanent. We are just 7 months into our ‘new to us’ rental and we love it. Would we buy it? No. But we love renting it.

  14. I`ve absolutely loved some rented homes I`ve lived in, but I do still look forward to buying. For me it`s about a frame of mind – I wouldn`t be comfortable purchasing a home I didn`t intend to stay in for at minimum a decade but I do one day want that sense of ownership and freedom to make the decisions I prefer when I`m ready to stay put.

    I wouldn`t give up my experience in rentals for the world, and I`ll probably rent again in the future but I definitely subscribe to that whole home ownership dream.

  15. Great post! I would love love love to be able to buy a house, but it simply isn’t a practical option for my husband and I. We both work in the same field, and our jobs have us relocating frequently. Our longest stay was 6 years in the same city… happily we didn’t have a house weighing us down when we needed to move.

    I too feel trapped by renting homes, and whenever it comes time to deciding what to do when the lease is up, it is always the same cyclical argument – would it be worth it to buy a house? Will we really be in the area long enough? Renting seems cheaper in the short term yet home ownership seems to be more financially sound in the long term (although I suppose with property taxes and crazy repairs, maybe not so much).

  16. I live in one of the most expensive places a person could buy property in (Sydney, Australia). No freaking way am I buying here. A mortgage in this housing market would be way, way beyond my means.

    So I rent. And you know what? That’s fine. I like my neighborhood, my realtor lives across the street from me (and is thus a phone call away if something breaks), and I don’t have to deal with the non-mortgage costs of home ownership.

    I don’t see renting as throwing my money away at all. I see it as paying to keep my options open. I feel a lot of judgement from some of my friends and colleagues about this, but I’d rather live in my fun Inner West semi-detached than a small flat in the outer suburbs any day, tyvm.

  17. I have the opposite experience: my parents bought a house (a nice house, too nice for us really) and then lost it to the bank about 8 years later. This was less common then, but very common now I think for people to lose the house they ‘own’. There isn’t necessarily anything different from renting or owning, even people who payed off their mortgage can lose their house from inability to pay taxes. So for me, I’ll live where it makes sense (which in my city means renting as home ownership is impossible here) and not see any difference between renting and owning. (It does help that we have some good tenant protection laws here in Ontario)

  18. We’re desperately trying to find a house to rent, as opposed to an apartment. The rent is about the same for a 3 bedroom no matter what, and I want my kids to have a yard to play in, and somewhere for me to put a garden. The hubs and I may *never* be in a position to buy, so renting is our dream. Thanks for sharing! 60 Win sounds amazing. Good on you.

  19. I’m so happy that this post resonated with so many people. Renting, buying, driving…. there are so many facets caught up in our homes that it’s super interesting to here everyone’s different experiences!

  20. we have always been been renters.when our kids were young we rented 2 houses,staying in the same neighbourhood, I admit that i had to learn to love renting.I did sometimes listen to the lectures of friends that we were “throwing away money”, and feel somehow that I was not doing something right.2 years ago we had to move out of our rented house, and since we now have just 1 17 year old left at home, we decided to move to a high-rise apartment. we LOVE it!! I feel i will live here forever.We have privacy, a million dollar view, and best of all, I never have to shovel snow again! I do not have to spend my weekends mowing the lawn or doing repairs.Now that I see how free I feel not having to worry about that stuff, I know I will never , ever want to be a home owner.

  21. This is great!
    My father was in the Army, so we moved a lot as kids. As a result, we lived in lots of houses, almost all rentals. In fact, I think my lifetime count (including all of the renting I’ve done on my own as an adult) is almost 20. My parents owned a house in one of the cities we lived in, but we only lived in it for a year and half before we had to move yet again.
    My parents own their own home now, but again, I only lived in it for a year before moving out to live in share houses. So for all my life, I’ve been used to: no posters on the walls, no new hooks on the walls, inspections, etc.
    My fiance and I have no desire to buy a home now, we don’t earn a lot of money, and to buy a property in an area we enjoy living in, and which is close to our respective places of employment, as well as my University, would be way above our means. But renting is something we can definitely afford, so thats what we’ll do for some time yet.

  22. The huge downside of renting is the lack of control, and therefore uncertainty. My husband and I were happily raising our baby girl in our house, and then out of the blue received our tenancy termination. Absolutely no reason given. Heartbreaking to say the least. We have been lucky enough to find a better house in a much better neighbourhood willing to take us on with 2 dogs in tow and myself on maternity leave – but at a cost of an additional $25 a week. This means that I will definitely have to go back to work, which was something that we were trying to work around so that I could stay home and start my own business. Its tough to see your dreams go down the drain, and it sucks.

  23. I grew up in a home-ownership, secure-comfortable, fiscally conservative home. It was a blessing, I was lucky, and damn, was it oppressive. Renting cheap spots in my adult life let me concentrate fully on art and a creative career.

    I ended up falling in love with someone who had the whole home ownership, mortgage, reallygoodjob, kids type of life. Now I truly understand middle-class anxiety, and it is not pretty. Through a major illness and the Great Recession, we’ve scraped and angsted to keep our house. I sit there and fantasize about living in one of my crappy old apartments.

  24. I feel trapped in our house that is WAY devalued, and feel like I’m a slave to the ever opressive HOA. However, rent in my area is outrageous. I’m paying about $400 less per month with a mortgage than rent with a comparable home would be. It’s a lose lose here.

  25. Interesting perspective. I think the whole owning vs. renting issue really has to do with the area you’re in and your lifestyle. For people who move a lot & don’t want to be tied down, renting is the better option especially when owning a home in a desirable neighborhood isn’t affordable.

    But in different parts of the counrty home ownership could really be the better investment, especially now with the rates being so low. I bought my first home (a double) at 26, and my husband and now our 2 year old daughter live in the upstairs apartment while we rent out the downstairs. It’s been a win/win for us since we were lucky enough to be in an area of the country that wasn’t hit by the housing crisis–our house has actually gone up quite a bit in value in the 7 years we’ve owned it, and we’ve been collecting rent that just about covers the mortgage every month. It’s been cheaper than renting, while acruing equity at the same time. For anyone considering buying a home but who doesn’t want the committment of having to stay in one place, buying a double or multi-unit to live in could be the ideal solution. You’re not tied down there since you can always leave and continue to rent out the apartments solely as income properties. Of course you have to deal with repairs and occassional emergencies, but it’s a risk you take for the investment. For us, it’s been a huge blessing and the only way we’ll now be able to afford our own single-family home… we’re ready to have our own yard, porch, basement, etc.

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