Saturday, April 30, 2016

I don't want to own a home

It's an extremely American desire to own a home, and often we think the bigger, the better. Americans love large, sprawling pieces of real estate that we can stuff full of physical possessions (and our children's physical possessions) and the ultimate American dream is to hire someone like this Chicago luxury home builder and build your dream house from scratch. One reason we tell ourselves it's important to own a home is that it's a good investment: whatever you spend on a house or condominium, it's guaranteed to increase in value. At least that's true most of the time, if you ignore the 2000s.

I've never wanted to own anything and have often thought I was out of step with basic human values, but actually the world is full of cultures that don't idealize the owning of stuff. It's American culture, with our endless land and shorelines, that is infused with the desire to dominate and possess. I actually like living in an apartment. You can ask anyone for the reasons it's good to own a home and they'll tell you about stability, investment and investment. Plus homeowners can hold band practice in their living rooms without anyone coming downstairs (or upstairs) to complain about the noise.

Here are the reasons I prefer having an apartment (in a well-managed building):

1. Someone else fixes things. (I said "well-managed." You have to make sure your building has excellent and responsive management.)

2. Someone else takes care of landscaping, snow removal and maintenance.

3. Flexibility and not being tied down. If I want to move -- or need to because of a job or divorce -- there's no hassle in extricating myself from a property.

4. No property taxes.

5. No need for an emergency fund for major home repairs or appliance replacement (washer, refrigerator, etc.).

6. No never-ending list of chores, fixes and home improvements to suck up my attention and energy.

7. No condo association membership!

8. If someone moves in who I don't want to live near, there's a chance the management will take care of them, especially if the unwanted neighbors are involved in illegal activities or stop paying their rent. Or I can move. If you own your condominium or house, it's harder to get away from people who move in next to you.

9. Many apartment buildings have low turnover, so you can make friendships that can last for decades.

10. Many apartment buildings have high turnover, so there are always new people to meet and a chance that your new best friend will appear in your building any month now.

Many people say that a mortgage is a financial investment in a piece of property and paying rent is throwing your money away. I think that's a very thing-oriented way to look at it. Sometimes I want to spend money on a thing that I will then own, but other times I'm happy to spend money on the use of a thing that I don't have to own. 

I'm much happier paying $910 a month for the use of my apartment, plus ALL the labor and maintenance that my landlord does, season after season, decade after decade. I'd be much unhappier paying twice that, per month, to own a piece of property that I'd have to maintain, repair, landscape, equip with major appliances, improve and hope it all holds together long enough for me to pay off the mortgage. And, of course, the housing market disaster of the late 2000s only confirmed for me that my strategy of non-ownership was the superior one. 

I got married in 2008. If my then-husband and I had giddily taken on a 30-year mortgage, we would not only have been stuck with a rapidly depreciating property, but we would have had a nightmare of a time unloading it and dealing with all the red tape when we divorced in 2014. We dodged a bullet there (you have to take your successes where you find them).

Chicago is crawling with realtors, but I rarely have much to say to them. I'm an almost-50-year-old professional who lives by her own rules and can spend my money however I want, but I do not want to own a home. I know it's un-American, but it works for my lifestyle and personality.
My apartment in Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois USA

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