I’ve been renting places to live for years. I’ve shared houses with roommates, lived in small one-bedroom apartments, and even had a 2800+ sq. ft. Amesbury farmhouse complete with sun porch, loft, attic, yard, and barn. I’ve had good neighbors, and I’ve had to move because of really bad neighbors. I think I can safely say that over the past fifteen years or so, I’ve experienced the gamut when it comes to being a pay-per-month tenant.
My most recent place (the big house mentioned above) seemed like a really good idea when we signed the lease last year, but as it turns out it was not the best decision. It was pretty to look at with drop tin ceilings, loft, a slate-floor family room with eighteen-foot ceilings, wide pine hardwood, and barn, but that’s where most of the enjoyment and practicality ends. Actually, to say that this house is impractical is to willingly engage in reckless understatements. To sum up, it’s 200+ years old, has lead paint, very bad windows, spiders, mold and mildew in the basement, and cost us *drum roll* about five grand to heat last year.
We knew it would be expensive to heat, but the reality of the true cost was simply dazzling. We tried putting plastic on the windows, but the drafts are so bad that the plastic would just inflate like a balloon until it popped off. I’m not sure if people back in the day had thicker skin and didn’t care, but it was stupid-cold in the winter. There had to be no insulation in the walls.
I mentioned above that the house had spiders and a moldy basement, and believe me; I’m not making either of those statements lightly. I’m not a big spider guy, and this place was absolutely infested with them. I don’t mind the occasional little critter running across the floor, giving me a slight jolt and forcing me to call the cat over for a snack, but what I do mind is having them in my bed or coming down from the ceiling in the night to land on my face. Or worse, every so often a bigg’n would climb up the shower curtain in the morning and scare the b’jeesus out of me as I noticed it three inches from my face while taking a shower. We had all kinds of them, everywhere. Little innocent looking critters to silver dollar sized bastards with glossy black legs, snapping jaws, and a constant desire and remarkable ability to freak me out. Blech…
The mold and mildew issue was a different story. We almost always had water in the basement. My guess was that the basement was below the water table, because how else could we get a wet basement from a twenty-minute rain shower? If we got a decent amount of rain, like say a couple inches, we could even see over a foot of water in the basement. The sump died once and I swear I could dock a boat next to the partially submerged furnace.
Anyways, enough about the old house. But needless to say, it was time to move on.
This summer my lease ran out and we were transferred to a “tenant at will,” which basically means that we can leave when we want and are no longer contractually obligated to stay. The only issue with being this type of tenant is that the owner of the property, or landlord, can also kick you out if they wish. Sure there are no long-term contracts, but there is also no security that you will have your apartment or house in a few months.
With the winter approaching and heating season once again on our doorstep we decided it was time to look for a new place. This time it would be something a lot smaller that would cost less to operate, giving us a chance to save up some money and buy a home. Having rented so much of my life, and never really making the “big bucks,” the thought of owning my own home seemed so out of reach. When you rent in Massachusetts, the landlord generally covers repairs, water bills and taxes. The beauty of renting is that it’s cheap, and most of the responsibility lies on the lesser, not the lessee.
This time I decided to move out of my comfort zone and do something crazy – I called a real estate friend of mine and asked him what the chances are that I could get financing for a home. I asked what the payments could be, where I could look, and if there was anything he could do to help. I had been renting for so long and I knew I had to do something to break the cycle. I started talking to anyone I could in an attempt to educate myself. Dealing with taxes, frozen pipes, water bills, wood rot, snow removal, and all the things that come with a home was all alien to me. Talk about a lifestyle change and culture shock.
By comparison, renting seemed easier but had little rewards. You basically pay someone an absurd amount of money, and in return they let you live in their house for a month. If you want to stay there longer, you just continue to pay them. You must agree to live by their rules, respect their property, and build their equity. If you think about it, you basically get nothing out of it other than a roof over your head. Once you decide to move, or the owner decides to raise the rent or ask you to leave, you have no choice but to leave with nothing. All the money you dumped on this place is gone.
It seems like a novel concept now that I own a home that I can actually fix the problems that only seemed irksome before. If I have bad windows, I can fix them. If I have a spider issue, I can fix it. All the money I spend on the house is building me equity, not some distant landlord or property management company.
I laugh at the fact that I almost moved from that big farmhouse to yet another “rented” property. Eff that!