Why we’re still renting (and will be for awhile)

why we're still renting

I used to work for a title company, watching excited first time home buyers sign their loan paperwork. Because it was 2009, I also read heart wrenching letters from homeowners unable to make their payments, pleading their case before the bank for a short sale, their only shot at avoiding foreclosure.

As a young, broke newlywed, I observed the headache and heartbreak premature homeownership caused so many when the bubble burst. I never caught house fever because I saw homeownership as a weighty responsibility with far reaching implications.

Even though we could qualify for a loan now, we continue to rent. I think back to those hopeful young couples who sat in a banker’s office in 2005, borrowing as much as they could qualify for, unable to foresee the sleepless nights and money fights these payments would cause.

That’s the thing about debt: the instant gratification of getting something we don’t have the cash for outshines the reality that we’ve given some of our freedom in exchange.

(Not everyone who has a mortgage has stress like that, of course. I just happened to be exposed to a lot of people who did.)

Everyone has an opinion about when is the right time to buy. Since mine counters much conventional wisdom, I thought I’d share some of what’s behind it:

A good choice at the wrong time is a bad choice

Some say you should buy even if you can’t put anything down because renting is “throwing money away.”

I understand the sentiment, and I know that owning a home is a great long term investment. But timing is everything, and investing in a good thing at the wrong time can be a huge mistake.

In our case, if we are patient, we can save up a bigger down payment. Then our monthly payment will be lower, and we can pay it off more quickly, saving thousands of dollars in interest.

If renting is throwing money away, what about paying tens of thousands more than necessary in interest?

Not everyone agrees, but we don’t think it’s wise to take out the biggest loan of our lives when we’re already in debt.

We know how much debt limits our options because we’re in the thick of it. The last thing we need is even more of our income committed to monthly debt payments, not to mention more expenses like taxes, repairs and maintenance.

An exercise in contentment

I may not have had house fever, but I did dream of upgrading to a house, even as a renter, when we moved.

The on campus apartment we moved into instead was several steps down from the condo we’d lived in during graduate school. But the price is right, and while we’re paying off debt and eventually saving to buy a house, price is most important.

I used to be anxious to move, embarrassed to invite people into our concrete building, but those feelings have faded.

I realize now that owning a house isn’t a key to happiness. We are content here, our needs are met, and I can’t imagine a yard and a garage increasing our happiness substantially.

This lesson in contentment has bled into other areas of my life. Learning to focus on things with lasting value has set me free from the bondage of feverish acquisition, and it started with this apartment.

The Nester has written for years about the ways she’s made her family’s many rentals into home. I highly recommend her site. She is wise and encouraging, and offers great practical, inexpensive ideas.

The wrong motivation

Most of the arguments I hear for buying a house now revolve around the idea that you’re missing out if you don’t. Interest rates are low! Home prices are going up! All your peers are buying homes!

These things are all true, but irrelevant if the timing isn’t right for us. I also don’t want to make a decision- especially one that will affect my life for decades- out of fear. Fear of missing out is still fear.

What about you? Are you renting? What do you think about renting vs. buying?

18 thoughts on “Why we’re still renting (and will be for awhile)

  1. I love your thoughts here. We watched as all of our friends bought starter homes then upgraded, then downgraded – either unhappy or frustrated or fearful. But I’ve also seen my sister spend years fixing up a starter home they were fastly outrowing, waiting until just the write time to sell and buy their “forever” home. I’m so proud of the patience, hard work and wisdom they put into purchasing a house… and I think you are on a similar, wise path with eventual wonderful payoffs. :) House-buying will probably never be in the cards for us, due to our life choices of raising support and living overseas, but I’m so glad I didn’t fall for the trap of too much too soon when we weren’t ready financially or practically. Keep writing about stuff like this! Think it will make a huge difference to your peers. :)

  2. I think it’s definitely smart to save up as much of a down payment as possible before buying a home. It can make a huge difference in monthly payments! Sometimes it’s smart to buy a not-too-expensive home that’s well within your budget, but like you said, there will be repairs and maintenance that you don’t have as a renter, so if you’d rather have a more predictable monthly expense then renting is not a bad idea!

  3. We own a home right now, but we rented until we were in a financial position to do so (and knew we weren’t going to be moving anytime soon). Home ownership is expensive, not just the mortgage payment but all the upkeep! I try to put at least a couple hundred dollars a month into savings so those unexpected repairs don’t totally blow our budget.

      1. Lessons learned by making mistakes in the past! I highly recommend CapitalOne360 savings (it used to be ING Direct) for automatic-withdrawal savings accounts. There’s no fee, the website is really easy to use, and you can even earn a teensy bit of interest.

        1. This hit me EXACTLY where we’re at. We are renting instead of buying to pay off grad school loans & I stay home with our two littles. People think it’s weird. They don’t come out and say it but they hint. Basically it seems like the general cultural assumption is that student loan debt doesn’t really “count” as debt & a house is worthwhile. I wanted to buy but my husband insisted it was adding to our debt and too much pressure and he was soooo right. (And I’ve told him so.) So glad I listened to him on that decision. The Lord has worked a lot in my heart too as far as contentment and making our house warm for visitors even though it’s not a “dream” home. Thanks for writing!!!

          1. I’m so excited to hear your heart on this, Renee. It IS weird by cultural standards, but you are going to be so thankful you stuck to your plan. At least, we definitely are. :)

  4. We bought our town home right when we got married. buying wasn’t really on our radar until we found that we really couldn’t afford any two bedroom apartments (my husband works from home and needed an office) they were all between $1000-1500 a month. we had quite a bit in savings and ended up paying 20% down on our townhouse. For us it really just was good timing. Our house was cheap but as nice if not nicer than the apartments we were looking at and we had the money for a good down payment. I am not against renting at all! I think it is very wise and a lot of our friend still are because they have killer deals (like $500 a month or less!) but the Lord really directed us here. Also, to make sure we did not find ourselves in the situation of the homeowners you mentioned above, we bought $80k less than we were approved for in our loan. We wanted to make sure our commitment and debt was reasonable for us to handle even if we only had one income.

    This culture struggles with wise buying! That is so very true.

  5. I so hear you. Over the last ten years, we’ve had periods of both renting and owning. I have to say, I was perfectly content to rent–especially after owning for a short period in my early married days. Renting means no home repair bills, no outdoor maintenance, and greater flexibility. Not to mention the chance of free pool and/or workout facilities :).
    Yes, owning a home can be a blessing, but I agree –it isn’t always so, especially if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or if it’s simply not the right season.

  6. We rented for the first four years of marriage and it was so great to save up and not have to worry about upkeep. When we were looking at buying we flat out told our loan guy that we didn’t even want to know what we were approved for, we just gave him our ideal monthly payment and he told us what kind of mortage that would equal out to. You and your husband are being so smart and it will be so worth it and sweet when you can confidently (or as confidently as you can,I guess) buy your first house!

  7. We’ve always rented or boarded (7 years in London boarding with a local Londoner) or been truly blessed with our current situation of rent free accommodation onsite at the school my husband currently works for. To be honest I’m not sure that we’ll ever buy. We’d much rather spend our hard earned savings on at least one overseas holiday a year. Once I started travelling I realised that I don’t want to stop so, for me, this desire far outweighs the desire to own my own home. I do find it funny that everyone assumes that we’ll want to buy one day. Only time will tell if this is a decision we’ll regret – I doubt it though.

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