Not Just About Money: Renting vs Owning

In his latest book titled At Home, Bill Bryson says “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.” I love this quote for many reasons – not the least of which is the way it touches on the key to my biggest passion: real estate.

My continued fascination with how people use their personal space lies at the heart of why I love my job. I can show the same property to a dozen different clients and they will all have slightly different plans for how they would adapt it to make it their home.

Although I am an owner at heart, I do not believe one requires legal title to their space in order to call it their home. This follows a strong belief that everyone ends up living where they do because of a history of events – good or bad – that leads to decisions about where they need to be at a given point in time. Hence my assertion that renters often have just as much invested in their personal living space as do owners and the decision to rent versus buy is sometimes loaded with considerations that have nothing to do with affordability.

Change in philosophy

This is reflected in a recent episode of my audio podcast series where my producer and I are joined by a retiree who made the philosophical switch from owner to renter in order to match his current stage in life. He freely admits that when he was first married and starting a family, he could not imagine anything other than owning a home. In his view, this represented security, practicality and the status that comes with owning property. In other words, he felt all grown up. The stereotypical owner is someone who is established, settled and trustworthy.

The renter, by contrast is usually considered flighty, unreliable and in need of some stability. In other words, owning property demonstrates maturity. Like all stereotypes, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Later in life – that is, once the kids had flown the coop – our retiree and his wife decided it was time to re-think their living space and how they wanted to live out their golden years. The result has been a significant shift in philosophy.
Footloose and fancy free

The yard he so proudly tended all those years had become burdensome and the uncertain costs of maintaining an aging structure suddenly overshadowed the pride of ownership he had harboured his entire adult life. Their decision to rent a condo apartment has given them the freedom to travel without fretting about returning to a flooded basement or piles of snow to shovel. They have access to a pool and expansive garden space tended to by others (the management company). Although he claims he is also way ahead financially (which I dispute), the shift in lifestyle has left him and his spouse feeling rather footloose and fancy free.

They are no doubt dream tenants, something I suspect reflects all those years as proud owners. But, make no mistake, they’re proud of this home too. It just happens to be someone else’s responsibility.