Thursday, June 2, 2016

On Renting a Home (or Apartment or Condo) in Retirement

Yesterday morning at about ten am, I got up and took a nice long shower. Since I have a bathtub and shower combo, once I was finished, I turned the shower knob back in the other direction so that the water was coming out the tub spigot. I have burned my self one too many times. Then I turned to individual spigots off. First the hot and then the cold .  Only................the cold water continued to to flow in a moderate stream. Not flooding the bathtub, going down the drain. But still. Even when I used one of those rubber discs to help you grip, nothing happened. It was stuck, stripped, who knows.

At that point,  a neighbor came over and helped me shut off the house water into the house, as that location is in the basement. Had I had no help, I could have gone down the basement on my backside, but this was invaluable.  Then-and this is the important part-I called my landlord. I did not search for the cheapest handyman or plumber, nor did I attempt to use a wrench myself, or ask my college student to do so. I did stay home to enable a repair person to to enter the home, but that was it. I did not worry about the cost or expend time and labor of my own. I cannot tell you how relieving it was to know that all of that was the responsibility (and cost) of someone other than me.

And this is not the first time I've heaved that sigh of relief. The first year I was in Colorado, we had one of those proverbial floods of the centuries, and a window well got flooded and a basement room had to be dried out and re-carpeted and checked for mold. Some readers may remember my pictures of heavy spring snows on branches and the dead tree that used to hang over my pergola. The bill for trimming all the trees and removing the dead tree and branches was almost two thousand dollars. I know, not because I paid it, but because my landlord feels that we should each have a record of work done as he travels on occasion.

These kinds of homeowner occurrences happen, no matter how old or new the home. This is why I my choice of life style includes renting rather than home ownership. Renting is not for everyone, don't get me wrong. But in many places in this country it seems that renting is more frowned on. I'm not sure if it's the tax issue, or the feeling that rental homes are not kept up or what.

Personally, I did have good long term experiences with renting before I entered into this agreement. My husband and I rented a townhome for almost ten years, and my kids went to the same school system from kindergarten on (My husband left one career and went to entry level in another so we were "starting out" for more than ten years). In Germany, we lived in what was basically a gated type residential community where almost everyone else rented as well (very common to rent forever, even with a large income). My home there was four stories with four bathrooms and and five bedrooms/offices-frankly the largest home I have ever lived in. So I was not turned of by the idea and did not consider it "temporary" in any way.

For a retiree (even one not as handicapped as I), who wants to let go of burdens of home and yard management, renting is certainly a valuable choice in my experience.  After all, even with a fully paid off home, there are still expenses and labor that are a regular part of home ownership-whether you do it yourself or hire it out.

When I moved to Colorado my original intent was to rent an apartment or maybe, possibly, look at a condo down the road. After all, I sold much of what I owned in my 2500 square foot home,  including my king sized sleigh bed and large living room sectional (and lawn furniture and lawn mower). I put everything into storage and went house hunting while living with my sister, who owned a small mid century modern with a courtyard but no yard. Eventually, I found the place that would work for me. I even posted it here on this blog with pictures. A first floor two bedroom apartment(one for a studio), it had a very large, very private fenced in patio, and I planned on getting some of those grass pallets for the dog. My patio would have faced onto a greenbelt.

Just as I was about to commit, my sister turned and looked at me and said "what about getting a two level house with a yard, one level for me and one for you". While it was an intriguing thought, I had just gotten to Denver-and I was never going to do yard work again (understood by the sister who got my green thumb plus hers). I was completely unprepared to commit to staying long enough to purchase and decorate a home. It was a conundrum, one that was multiplied (or solved, depending on your perspective) when my brother and sister in law entered the picture.

You see, they had been wanting to purchase a home as an investment in the Denver housing market. We would find the house together, and share in the down payment. The house would then be an investment, with brother and sister in law as the owners and landlord. We would share the house, and at the same time we would be improving the grounds and the inside pretty much as we saw fit.  Eventually the down payment thing just make finances to wacky for words.

Now, admittedly we do not have the exact same tenant and landlord relationship as others might, but believe me, I am the tenant and they are the landlords. My brother is one of those guys with a head for business and keeps excel flow charts on the house, the fluctuating prices, interest, payments, you name it. This house was purchased as an investment, and I pay the market rate when it comes to rent (although we have not had an annual increase this year). We pay late fees, maintain the yard and do the normal things a tenant would. The landlords (my brother and sister in law) get the middle of the night calls if something breaks. If there is an advantage, it is that they know us well enough to trust our tastes and not freak out when the living room is painted turquoise (they know we will repaint it if required at some future time).

Two and a half years later (in this house), I am still in Colorado and will probably remain here for quite some time. And while I may not remain in this home, when I leave it will probably be to downsize again. I appreciate the "shared wall" issue and it's difficulties, but I am more interested in simplifying the living side of my life and a condo (hopefully an end unit) or similar rental seems to make the most sense. In fact, I am looking long term at spending two thirds of my year here, and one third in Texas as an alternative. Either way, I do not see a home purchase in my future-in any market.

Traditionally, a paid off home was the standard for retirement - money in the bank and security if you will. But darn it, home ownership is expensive, even if you have no mortgage. And for most of us, it's not just the money cost, but he labor and effort that maintain a home requires. And frankly, I'm not sure that the biggest advantage of renting is financial-at least in my case

I suppose from my perspective the biggest advantage my life style is predictability-something this free spirit has learned to embrace at least a little bit late in life. My monthly expenses are almost exactly the same most months, with some flexing around those spring and fall times when you need neither heat nor air. And while I may have a rate hike, that's occasional and planned for. Within a few dollars, I know exactly where my money goes each month. My variations on basic expenses or "bills" are extremely limited, and that's the way I like it.

The second biggest advantage, again from my perspective, is freedom. There is much less to worry about when you lock up and leave on a spur of the moment trip, for example. Oh, I still l have to stop the mail, and I let the landlord know when I am flying the coop for awhile, but locking up is much easier in my experience when you have rental rather than ownership responsibilities.

Any talk about housing has to include the financial.   When I was a home owner, I figured I needed a pretty large house fund, for example. I also had lots of other "tied up" money. Now, those funds are free for future medical expenses,  travel expenses and even savings and investments, should I choose. If I recall, the guideline is planning to spend at least two percent of your home value on repairs and maintenance, and that number goes up if you are hiring every thing out and/or have an older home. That's money in my pocket (or in my retirement medical fund these days). 

Last but not least of course is that renting doesn't tie you down. Some retirees want to retire to a place and stay there. Others want to be on the road half of the year or more and some even live in an RV. Some folks though, have no idea what they want to be doing, or where they want to be living in five years. I used to be one of those people-heck I still may be-and for that lifestyle, renting makes the most sense. For me, right now.

And so it goes, this Thursday in retirement. 


  1. Your story is very revealing and could provide a model for many of us. Renting is good if you don't know whether you're going to stay there for a long time, if you don't want to do the maintenance work, if you can afford to pay for the convenience ... and if you have a good landlord. You've hit the trifecta!

  2. Excellent indeed. Renting makes perfect sense to me. I really like Laurie's idea of renting in Hawaii :) I love to own my house- but the bills that come with it...whew!

  3. I love renting and someday we will rent a house instead of an apt although here in Denver (as you know) rents are increasing at an alarming rate, especially houses. So we may just have to stay in the long as the dogs don't mind not having a yard why should I?

    1. Yes, this!! And while my dog does not need a yard, when I was looking at apartments I had one chronically ill dog and was unwilling to walk at two am. Now I see they have those nice pallets for days when you cannot walk that go on the patio so I would get one of those. We do have to get together some time!

  4. Yes, right now there are many more people wanting to rent here. I actually will be happy to downsize to an apt when the time comes.

  5. In my opinion there is a time to own and a time to rent. We owned a home while our children were growing up. It was roots for them, anchored us in a neighborhood, had a yard to kids to play in etc. Those times are gone now. Children are out of the nest.

    Twelve years ago upon my retirement we sold our home in Texas and moved to Oregon. We rented an apartment with no intention of ever owning property again. We're still in the same apartment complex. Have never had a noise problem or any problems with other residents. When we had been here 10 years we decided it was time for fresh paint and new carpet. To get that we had to move to a different apartment (still within the complex). That was a bit of a hassle but not too bad.

    We got rid of a lot of stuff before leaving Texas. I used this local move to a different apartment as the chance to declutter.

    I'm very vigilant about watching how much 'stuff' we collect. I want to be able to move with very little than necessities.

    Husband's health is very poor now. We can move anywhere we need to without burdening our children.

    Never had a minute's regret about renting. In Texas there is a stigma if you don't 'own' your home but don't experience that in Oregon.

    1. Hi Linda, I agree that there are seasons. but having said that, I did rent the same place for almost twelve years in one place and six in another (and left the second place, was not thrown out) so I would say that one can rent and that not all rentals are short term by any means.

  6. I feel the same way. I live in a rented garage apartment because I don't have to be responsible for any problems with my home. I like it like that. I also know I can get up and leave without having to sell my house should I get sick or get itchy feet or just want to live in the back of my car. I'm sure it's not for everyone but I am just not interested in that type of responsibility and if you're flexible and rent is high where you currently live, you can move to a location with a lower cost of living.

  7. I live in the home we bought new 36 years ago. She has great bones and has been paid off for several years, since I retired. I know everything about her as I've been involved in any and all updates and repairs and I definitely don't spend as much in a year on 'maintenance' as I would for rent. I do the yard work (converting the grass front lawn to water friendly California plants as we speak), take care of the pool and spa and there is minimal upkeep otherwise. It is a large house but it's comfortable and it's home. Most of my neighbors have been here for over 20 years and we watch out for each other. When I can't navigate the stairs anymore or if I need to move to be near one of the kids then I'll move but for now I'm content to stay where I am.

  8. I suspect you enjoy the yard work and the pool maintenance and it works for you. Doing so would make me crazy!

  9. It is too important for us to find a home or apartment on rent, I can understand your need in the old age after retirement. Get the facility of sell or buy home directly to owner, visit on Beycome. Rent My House For Free

  10. Hi Barbara - love your blog and personal experiences!

    You raise some really good points about the liabilities of home ownership and the freedom the renting brings from stress and property maintenance. People can easily jump into a home purchase just because it seems like the thing that everyone does. But following the herd isn't going to necessarily lead to your happiness or get you ahead financially. Best to do an analysis beforehand on whether or not to rent before owning a home.

    Keep up the awesome tips and narration of your journey through life :-)

  11. Your work is great and I value you and bouncing for some more educational posts. Much obliged to you for sharing incredible data to us. HOA Services


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