rent vs buy
November 3, 2018 11:44 PM   Subscribe

I am sick and tired of landlords but not sure I am ready to jump to home ownership. What is my next move?

I have been renting for over a decade and I'm tired of it. When I was younger and made less money my expectations were lower, but now I rent a condo that is more expensive than median in a nice area and I still deal with a horrible property management company. Here has been my experience in my last three dwellings in the last three years in one of the areas in the US with the highest housing cost growth over the last few years:

1) rat infestation in the walls that went on for 4 months despite multiple complaints from multiple residents, culminating in one chewing straight through the back of my kitchen pantry cabinet and eating all the contents. I freaked out at the landlord over this and was not granted lease renewal
2) AGAIN rat infestation, plus old AC that wouldn't hold indoor temp below 84F in peak summer, and the landlord tried to bill me for more than my share of utilities which I took her to court over. again, not granted lease renewal for suing her, and no recourse in my state for this.
3) apartment #3 is more expensive, in better shape but the front door stuck from heat and humidity. the property management hired a contractor who "fixed" it by cracking the frame, changing how the door hung, moving the strike plate to accommodate the more-crooked door, and then sealing the door shut with excess caulk while I wasn't home, forcing me to pry the door open on my own after hours

I am SO TIRED of moving, tired of sternly worded emails and phone calls citing laws and lease clauses, and tired of having no security or control. For the first time in my life I have enough money to buy at the low end of my competitive housing market, but I'm not sure I'm ready. Job market conditions could take me somewhere else in under five years and financially I am at the point where the rent I pay now is cheaper than buying on any timeline less than about 6-7 years when all costs are considered. but my sanity is worth something and I can't deal with another 3 years like the last 3 of landlords who are somewhere between negligent and malicious. I think I would like home ownership (I'm handy) but that has never been a good enough reason for me if the math didn't come out strongly in favor of it to compensate for the increased risk and responsibility.

What is the best option here? Put all my effort into getting a job in a less hot market in the hopes that landlords/realtors/property managers would be more decent and less predatory? Are all landlords basically like this now in any city with any amount of demand? Keep renting but change my approach somehow so I avoid the kind of people I have made the mistake of renting from in the recent past? Take the plunge and buy here, so I can finally feel some peace and control even if it's not the cheapest option or my forever home? I can't begin to answer this for myself because it requires a magic ball where I not only know future housing prices and job market conditions but how I would feel somewhere else and what value I would put on that. Hope me - how do I get out of renter hell?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tear the two parts of the problem apart.

Firstly, you have done your costings: you know how much this will cost in mortgage, PMI if you need it, monthly payment with interest and homeowners' insurance, and the eventual cost of selling it (spread out over your timeline for moving on). You've set aside something for maintenance in the costs. That comes to a number. If you paid that much in rent would you be able to find a well reputed place you'd want to live? What are you willing to tolerate to keep the money in your pocket? (This depends entirely on where you are and what you prefer, so I'm afraid I can't offer you an opinion on that.)

Secondly, homeownership doesn't have to be a terrifying thing with added responsibility. For me, and I've owned, rented and owned again, I feel more comfortable knowing that it's my place to look after and not someone else's. It costs me in occasional maintenance but for the most part it looks after itself; it doesn't fall down on Wednesday because I forgot to do something on Tuesday. There certainly are costs, like dealing with niggling and occasionally urgent problems, but they're not a daily event. And I get to do them right, rather than just good enough or not good enough at all.

On the cost front, there are risks and rewards. You've just effectively invested a bunch of money in a house whose value can go in both directions depending on market forces that you can't control - so that's a risk, for all that it can pay off. On the other hand, a chunk of that mortgage money is paying down capital and you aren't giving it to someone else - it's actually money you get back when you sell, so worth more to you than rent, but you have to balance it against that investment risk.

This is my way for working through the problem. In the past the right answer for me has been renting in some cases and buying in others, so there isn't one right answer. Sounds like you've taken at least some of the above steps yourself, but I just wanted to put it here in case it helps to hear how it works from another perspective.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 12:24 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

So... first the bad news. None of the things you listed as frustrating will be solved by owning your home. Rodents will not avoid your pantry. Dodgy handymen won't do better work simply because you're name is on a mortgage and not a lease. And if you buy a condo, you'll still have an HOA to deal with that might cause you similar utility frustration, or worse. None of your stories sound like they'd be solved by owning a home, though. Your landlords may not have handled it well, but you'll have to handle the same problems.

A landlord handles all of these maintenance issues, and while the middle man is cut out and you have more control over how it's handled, you also have all of the responsibility. As a tenant you gave less control but none of the risk. When I first moved into my own home after being a lifelong renter, our sump pump died during the middle of a rainy night the day before guests were coming. I didn't even know what kind of professional to call or how! (I learned). I had squirrels in my attic... same problem. They were frustrating, expensive lessons. My best friend lives in a giant condo complex, and 1 year after she moved in, an HOA assessment to reside the building cost her a high 5 figure sum.

The good news is with that risk can come rewards. But they are different rewards than the ones I think you're looking for. I found peace and comfort when I bought my home, but for financial reasons. I liked where I lived, but it was a lot of work and way more expensive/time consuming than I realized, I was (still am) building equity. Many dollars I spend on my mortgage, I'll theoretically get back (All of them including the interest if the property value and inflation do their jobs), which feels better than renting. But I also don't know the future and this causes me anxiety sometimes. I'm more at the mercy of my neighbours than I was before. And the list of things to do is longer than it ever was.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:33 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Owning a home isn't going to safeguard it against rats, wonky door frames and shitty handypersons. We currently have a broken boiler and an over-grown back garden because we can't afford the repairs and maintenance and they are nobody's responsibility but ours.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:03 AM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree -- the problems will still be there. The one thing that may make it slightly better if you own is that it's your problem to fix and you can do it properly (assuming you can afford it, obviously a big assumption!) When we bought, at first I was despondent at taking care of problems, but I also really liked that I wasn't reliant on my shoddy landlord to do it (or more likely ignore the problem.) I could vet my own handymen/pest control, buy nicer appliances, and get problems sorted sooner.

But I still do sometimes long for the days when it wasn't my problem!
posted by heavenknows at 1:46 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

The best way to avoid bad landlords is to rent somewhere that has long term tenants who tell you how the landlord is. Do you have any fri nds who have rented somewhere for a long period?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:58 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

While buying a house may work out financially better long term, it can vary dramatically in the short term. There's a real benefit in fixing your housing costs by renting. That said, for me I like the freedom in being able to have cats, make holes in walls and not worry about needing to move or have inspections etc. So I think the decision comes down more to those factors independence/control/risk more than pure financials.
posted by JonB at 2:08 AM on November 4, 2018

From the examples you provided it sounds as if the most frustrating aspects of renting are lack of control? Yes, ownership fixes that to the extent that you can determine the timeline and can vet handypeople but if they are busy and can’t fit you in quickly or turn out to do a poor job after all that’ll still be frustrating and it’ll be entirely your problem. And if you buy a flat, not a house, you’ll have a lot of things that are still out of your control. So it is not entirely clear from your question, that the things you find frustrating would be fixed by buying.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:46 AM on November 4, 2018

The thing you fix by buying is no one can throw you out. You may still get rats, janky doorframes, etc, and you’re responsible for them, but no one can throw you out unless you don’t pay the mortgage for a really long time. Honestly, personally I feel the stability and sanity increase that comes along with that is well worth it.
posted by corb at 6:02 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Because of work, I own in one place and am renting temporarily in another. Based on my current simultaneous experience, I would say that each comes with its own frustrations and stresses and neither is ideal. Personally I find the stresses of owning to be lower than the stresses and hassles of renting, but it's not a night and day difference.

I will say that now that I can afford to rent from a competent and somewhat responsive apartment management company, instead of the crappy corporate and terrible individual landlords I rented from in the past, renting is much improved. I used to really hate renting because of this, and I hope I never again have to deal with the kind of landlord who has to be forced to do even minor maintenance, rather than knowing the laws and treating it as an investment and long term business. So some of what you are frustrated with might be handled by finding a better landlord, if in the end your analyses show that it is better not to buy at this time.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 AM on November 4, 2018

Have you tried renting a house rather than an apartment or condo? In my experience rented houses are way less horrible, even when the landlord is underresponsive, because you don't have, for example, other tenants hoarding and causing rat problems.

I think it's a bit absurd that people are framing this as being about rats and doorframes when obviously it's about shitty, unresponsive landlords, bad management and crappy apartments. If you own your own place you don't have that frustrating crap to deal with but you'll have different problems.

I will say that I've been renting for about 13 cumulative years and moved nearly every year, and I've only had 2 good landlords/living spaces in that time. The rest have been one nightmare after another. Both of the good places have been in detached houses.
posted by windykites at 6:44 AM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I totally feel you as some of what you said is why I finally bought a house after decades of renting. You want something that is your own, that people can't kick you out of, that you can keep clean and free of rodents, that you can do mostly whatever you want with that you can call home. You want control. Unlike you, my last rental was so great, it lasted 13 years, but it was time for me to take control and buy my own home. It feels good to be in control of one's life like that, really good. My life has changed a lot since home ownership - I have a lot less free time and have to take care of hiring people to come in and fix the occasional issue (because there will be issues), but I hire who I want and it gets fixed on my timetable (usually). The best though, is when I pull into the driveway every day after a long day at work - damn, that feeling --- that little house is mine and I love it - warts and all.

You sound like you've thought a lot of this out and there is great advice here. My only advice would be to suggest going a little higher than the lowest priced homes in your neighborhood. When I started looking at, I had that price point. My realtor took me out and I soon realized that price point would come with problems - bathrooms and kitchens that had not been updated, roofs that needed to be brought up to code, septic tanks that needed to be replaced. I raised my amount by 30k (which I could afford, I was being cheap) and all of a sudden I was looking at homes that had been remodeled and updated and didn't have as much baggage and were turn-key. I didn't want to deal with HOA's - the money, the drama, and the restrictions (I WILL put my Leg Lamp in the window at Christmas dammit and I WILL blast my music when I clean on weekends!), so I did buy a stand-alone single home instead of a town home or a condo and I'm very happy. You can cut down on home repairs by buying a newer home and having a good home inspector in the first place to make you aware of potential problems.

I wish you the best of luck with your decision; its not an easy one, but keep in mind nothing is permanent. If you buy a house and hate it, you can sell it! Sure it will be hassle, but you tried it and learned a lesson that it wasn't for you, don't be afraid of that - so many people don't take chances because of the work involved and they wind up missing out on a lot.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:13 AM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Peace and control is worth a lot, especially if you're handy. If you're really handy, you could buy a place that needs a little fixing or updating and probably change that 6-7 year payback time. On the other hand, I've had a lot of good landlords, so maybe shop around for that?
posted by salvia at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Owned for 22 years and had to move into an apartment after a breakup. I miss: my sauna, my workshop, my BBQ, being able to let a dog out into the backyard for a poop. I don't miss: the upkeep costs, dealing with appliance repair people, fixing previous owner's shitty repair work, having to find people to watch the place while I'm away.

Have you thought about looking for a coop building?
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:35 PM on November 4, 2018

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