Rent vs. Buy: The Eternal Debate

The prospect of actually having to sell my condo in the near future has caused me to contemplate the rent vs. buy debate.

For myself, if I have to sell this condo, I’ll be renting from now on. Losing a job kind of makes you realize that being flexible about where you can live is a big plus, especially in this job market. I will, however, miss quite a few things about home ownership. I decided I’d post up my thoughts in the hopes that it will help some of you that may be contemplating the rent vs. buy decision.

Rent

I lived in five rented places in the first twelve years I lived here. I’ve rented in both large complexes and in a couple of individually owned places, and both are quite different.

In complexes, you generally have a maintenance staff. If something breaks, you make a call and they show up and fix it. In general, they can come in while you’re at work and take care of it, as you sign a paper giving them permission to do so. I’ve mostly rented in complexes and I can say in my experience I’ve never had a problem with this. I’ve never been missing anything and for the most part you never know they’ve been there, other than the fact that whatever was broken was fixed. In owner rented places, you may have to wait a day or two until the owner can arrange something and you WILL have to be home for the repairman to come in. If you have a job where it’s not easy to take time off work, this can be a problem. And, if you’re really unfortunate (as I was with my first place, holy hell, the stories I could tell) you’ll get some cheap ass lazy landlords who really don’t care that their property is falling down around you and who only fix things once you call the fire department, who then calls the Health Department (if you’ve never had the local head of the Health Department call you at 10pm on a Sunday night, be thankful; be VERY thankful).

My second private owner was a million times better and I had a much better experience with him. I was older and wiser, though, and had had some rental experience under my belt. Oh, and if you know you want to stay somewhere for a long time, offer to sign a two-year lease. Keith turned me on to this and trust me, especially in an iffy rental market, it’s a great idea. The owner is often willing to do this because they won’t have to go looking for a new tenant anytime soon, which saves them a lot. The upside for you is you lock your rent in for two years. Just be sure this is a “nicer” property when you do this – if you’re a poor college student type I would not recommend handing two years of your life over to a slumlord.

Buy

There’s a couple nice things about buying. First of all, you lock your rent in for fifteen to thirty years. If property goes up, you pay the same. My major plus, however, is that if you want to paint the walls fuchsia, you can. Not having to look at regulation white apartment walls is HUGE. Trust me, painting and decorating a room and making it YOURS is a high that’s hard to beat. Plus, there is a feeling of permanence in a purchased property that you don’t get from an apartment. It’s a very secure feeling, and personally I like it.

However, when the housing market tanks and you lose your job, suddenly your house can become an albatross about your neck. If you’re renting, chances are good you can pick up and move fairly easily, whereas if you own, you now have to go through trying to sell your house if you want to change locations. And, if you can’t or don’t sell, it can sometimes really hinder your job search.

So, I’m not going to tell you one is better than the other. I’ve done both, and there’s good and bad regardless what you do. I hope I’ve given you a little insight into the rent vs. buy decision, and that it will help you figure out what’s best for you.

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