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The Security of Precariousness (in Defense of Renting)

May 8, 2013

Last weekend, I undertook my first responsible actions as a joint property owner. As one of five partners now owning and caring for a condominium smack-dab in the middle of the Rockies, I went up with my cousins to give the place a solid spring cleaning. Most frequently heard phrases included, “Ew, GROSS;” “That’s a LOT of dirt;” “What is that SMELL?” (a game not limited to spring cleaning, especially when we’ve all ordered either the egg bagel or breakfast burrito at the local breakfast joint) and my cousin’s, “I got your Goodwill donation right here,” with a sneer and a lewd finger directed at his pelvis. In our family, with great power comes great immaturity.

The reasons for the transfer of ownership are, however, reasonable. Our generation uses the condo most. Grandma is 88, rarely goes up, and frankly has better uses for the money she’d otherwise pay the homeowners’ association. With her final approval no longer required, we can get down the fun-filled business of re-painting the walls and redoing the carpet.

Such business is more than enough for me. As I groaned to my cousins when we were debating paint colors, “Just tell me how much it is. I don’t give a damn about aesthetics.” Indeed, if you look at my apartment, you can confirm this: if you can even see the furniture under the piles of laundry (clean, though, for the most part) and papers that I would shred if I had a paper shredder, you will see that there is no consistency save for the theme of sticking to a bottom line, of accepting hand-me-downs and scraping the bottom of American Furniture Warehouse’s barrel where no secondhand goods were available.

The thing is, I can get away with it. I rent. And while I do take a small measure of pride in my living quarters (I’m paying a great price for a good amount of space a short walk from downtown), I’m sure as hell no Martha Stewart. But if my homeowning friends’ Facebook feeds are any measure to go by, affixing your signature to a property contract suddenly grants you with the ability to go from slacker to striver. However many great qualities the place had when you first made an offer on it, they are no longer enough. No home is complete without a model kitchen and a screened porch that you built with your own goddamn hands.

And as is often my reaction to the physical trappings of the world, I find that good enough is often good enough. In the sense that owning a home confers a sense of pride, a notion that one has achieved the American Dream, I would likely be a failure as a homeowning American. To me, a home is another place to live. It’s where I store my skis, work on my writing, and binge on Netflix offerings. As long as the building is situated near parks, bars, restaurants, public transit, and I-70 with all its ski resorts, I could not care less about what surface the countertops consist of or what color the wallpaper is. And since my primary criteria for living arrangements are location, space, cat-friendly, and roof that doesn’t leak, I might as well pay rent instead of mortgage.

Perhaps my doubt about homeownership, like my distrust of marriage and dislike of young children, is yet another indicator that I have a fear–nay, terror–of commitment. But unlike the last two, I might consider buying if the price is right (and if I can get Bob Barker to be present at the closing). After all, there is security in buying a home and having a place that is truly yours and yours alone…well, except for the bank looming over the whole endeavor. And some of the fallout from the 2008 economic collapse showed that mortgage lenders frequently ignored proper legal proceedings in the scramble to seize on homes that didn’t necessarily merit foreclosure.

Yes, I am aware that my landlord could decide he’s fed up with this apartment building and the weirdos living therein and decide to sell the place to someone who would either raise rents precipitously or try and restore the building to its original highfalutin, very-wealthy-single-family state, thus forcing us all to move on. Yes, I am also aware that with current interest rates being what they are, I could readily lock in a mortgage on a house, condo, or townhome that would result in me paying less per month than I do on rent.

But for me, there’s more peace of mind in renting. My rent might yet be higher than a 30-year mortgage, even once the down payment’s been factored in, but it covers water bills and maintenance costs, the latter of which can be stratospheric in the circa-late-19th-century houses that dominate the parts of town I’d want to live in. I don’t have to worry about the yard or shoveling the sidewalk, the latter of which is a gruesome prospect in a city that gets freak snowstorms in May and June.

Perhaps best of all for me is the non-necessity of guarantees on my end. If I find a better offer elsewhere, I’m out when my lease is up. If I don’t find a better offer but am sure one exists, I can also leave when my lease is up. I like where I live and would like to continue living here as long as is reasonably possible, but paradoxically, part of the reason I enjoy it is the freedom of knowing how easy a transition can be. I don’t have to worry about putting my apartment out on the market and frantically throwing in new paint and carpets for prospective buyers.

A pity that I cannot evade a new coat of paint in all areas of my life. Cousins and fellow condo-owners, this I say unto you: I got your paint job right here.

Because every paint job should feature cartoon sheep.

Because every paint job should feature cartoon sheep.

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