I’ve been trying to write this post for MONTHS! And I told myself I’m not posting anything until I finish this, and now it’s been almost two weeks since I posted!
I get asked this a lot: “Why do you want to put so much work into your apartment, you don’t own it”. My response is always “well, I am the one who has to live here… the only people who are really affected by how much work is put into this place are my husband, my daughter and myself”. Now, I’ve read a lot about making your rental a home, but I hardly ever see articles about why — even after searching for weeks (if anyone knows of a a good article, please link in the comments!). The attitude on websites like apartment therapy imply that everyone already understands why, because, of course, why else would you be interested in a website like apartment therapy?! Well, I’m interested in giving the naysayers a few points they might be overlooking when they scoff at the idea of someone being interested in transforming a rented living space. Mind you, these are all of my personal reasons behind the efforts I put into my home, but I’m sure there are some ideas here that others might be able to relate to, right?
The Middle Class is Dying
“Next stop homeownership! I’m just kidding – the middle class is dying, you’ll be renting forever.” – Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)
- What if you never own real estate? This is a very real concern of mine. I entered in the values for our rent and the median price of a home in our LA neighborhood ($515,000 — week ending February 15, 2012 according to trulia.com) on this clever nytimes interactive graph, and the point at which owning a home will cost us less money than staying where we are is literally off the chart — meaning, that point is more than 30 years away. Now, this doesn’t mean I do not understand the value of putting money into a home, and putting money into something you own and potentially see a return on — I HATE that paying rent is essentially money down the drain — but it just a good visual of how much money really goes into owning a house vs. renting. Moreover, if the recession taught me and my husband anything, it has taught us that nothing is permanent. A seemingly stable job can be gone in a flash, and another job could be hard to come by. We will forever be wary of and grateful for our jobs. So, what if things just continue to get worse, and we never get to fulfill our little piece of the American Dream, to own a home? I can’t know that at this point in my life. I can say with certainty that right now we are on the right track, but we were on the same track before we got married, and the math told us that we would have enough for a down payment by May 2010. And, obviously, sh*t happened. So, while we refuse to let that bring us down, I do not feel inclined to sit in a house with nothing but my college furniture, drearily drab and dull walls, and ugly fixtures until I buy a home. I feel very inclined to make a beautiful, comfortable home for my family that we look forward to coming home to. :)
On a more positive note, we are much more likely to buy a “fixer-upper”(I don’t want a cookie-cutter kitchen, and so I would hate to have to tear out a bunch of “nice” stuff someone just installed; plus, we are totally DIYers, if you haven’t noticed! And my father is a tile setter, and all around handy guy in a general contractor sort of way…), which should cost much less than the median price for a home in our neighborhood. The price that we are looking at would put the mark of “better to buy” at 7 years, and our current plan is to stay here for a total of 6.5 years (we are 3.5 years into it), so we are right on target for that!
- Don’t waste your precious life waiting for better days ahead; odds are, we have one life to live. Everyday that passes by is one we won’t get back. While waiting until I own a home to begin to execute ideas and dreams I have for said home sounded like a good idea when I was a teenager, I am almost 30 and I don’t own a home yet (which is not something I expected. Oh well). And as I stated in the previous paragraph, I may never own a house! But I do have a husband and I child and, in the meantime, don’t they deserve a lovely home? I know I can give it to them now. For me, as I suspect it is for many people, making your home a place you want to live is about your quality of life!
- Take advantage of renting while you can; Apartments are usually smaller than a house which can mean a couple of things:
1) Smaller over-all projects; they are less complex due to scale.
2) Projects are potentially more challenging because of constraints (no, you can’t replace the periwinkle tile but you can find a great piece of artwork to match it!) which means you can develop skills that can make a bigger project (as with a house) easier to handle, or have more focused results.
3) So long as your landlord is good about upkeep, an apartment can let you concentrate on what you want to improve (i.e. your furniture), not what you have to improve (i.e. plumbing and heating); in a fixer-upper you have extra overhead of getting functionality to work right before you can focus on decorating, so renting can be the best time to focus on what you want to do instead of what you have to do.
- Learn lessons about home improvement that you can take with you.
Continuing with the point about wasting precious years living in a drab state because you are waiting to own, you are also wasting time that could be spent learning. When you put a little effort into your home, you are also figuring out many things that take a lot of time to get just right, and they will be valuable lessons to take with you when you finally do own a place:
1) How to take care of a home: Much of the following probably applies more to long-term renters and people who rent older spaces, but it’s a good idea to learn where and how to hang frames and curtains, fill holes and sand and paint walls, to replace faulty outlets and install new switch plates and light fixtures, care for hardwood floors and carpets, and clean walls and remove paint from windows and hardware. Some of these things your landlord might prefer a professional to do (such as the electrical stuff), but in our case our LL didn’t really pay attention to our requests for replacing broken outlets, so my husband just did it himself. He has built computers from scratch, so replacing an outlet didn’t intimidate him much. Also, I’m guessing if you rent newer spaces you don’t have to deal with caked on paint on door hinges and windows, but for some reason the cheap painters that my LL hire don’t even bother to remove or tape over ANY hardware or plate covers before they paint, they leave horrible paint drips, they don’t use primer and rarely clean up after themselves. They even leave paint on the floor! I can’t close the majority of the cupboards and doors in the apartment because the paint is so caked on, so removing the paint from these hinges (or replacing them outright) is on my list of things to do. We have also had a MAJOR problem with peeling paint (which is exponentially compounded by having a curious baby in the house); Our apartment manager has had painters come twice to “paint”, but they never actually remove the peeling paint, they just paint over it, so we paint the apartment ourselves now. However, all of these experiences are valuable to us as we are learning the sort of problems that arise when you own a home, and we are also learning how to take care of these problems.
2) How to discover and refine your tastes: In my experience, it has taken me a while to figure out what I want in my home vs. things I am simply attracted to. If you are anything like me, it takes a bit of practice to learn exactly how you like things! I am totally guilty of buying a few things that were on clearance because “I liked them” and it turned out I didn’t like them for me… Much better that this happens when you are young and have little money than when you are older and spend thousands of dollars on couches that you end up hating. Moreover, I don’t think I would have discovered how to pinpoint and identify motifs I love unless I allowed myself to put an effort into my living space. Would I even be able to know and identify terms like “chesterfield sofa”, “midcentury modern”, or “classical architecture” if I didn’t immerse myself in trying to create a home for my family? (Well, maybe I would, but you get the point, right?)
3) How to organize flow and layout of rooms: the more practice you have looking at a space and determining how to “make it work”, the better. I know that I will be able to set up a room for function and flow and style much better now than I would have 5 years ago because I’ve made it a point to make that work in our current home.
4) How to discover your own potential in regards to interior design, organization and craftsmanship: Personally, I want to find out what I can do. I’m curious to see how well I can execute my ideas–can I make the ideas I have on paper, pinterest and inspiration boards become a reality? I find it incredibly challenging, and an invaluable source of self-discovery. You don’t really know until you do.
In conclusion, here is a short list of the bullet points above:
- What if you never own real estate?
- Don’t waste your precious life waiting for better days ahead.
- Take advantage of renting while you can by focusing on smaller projects and more of what you want to do, not what you have to do.
Also, Lessons about home improvement don’t always require home ownership. Working on your apartment now can help you learn how to:
- Take care of a home.
- Discover and refine your tastes.
- Organize flow and layout of rooms.
- Discover your own potential in regards to interior design, organization and craftsmanship.
All of which develop your experience and better prepare you for an enjoyable home ownership.
So how about you guys? What do you think? Is there a certain philosophy that you adhere to that influences your decisions about your rental? Why do you want to make your rental a home?
Next up; my tips to affordably make your rental more like a home.