Home ownership isn't what it used to be

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Home ownership is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve been telling my college-aged students for years that the ultimate cure for boredom is very simple – buy an older home.

An older home might have “character” and I love the odd angles and unexpected points of craftsmanship, but keeping that house safe, dry and functional as it approaches – or even exceeds – a century of use can be an unending and ever-expanding challenge.

If you have an older home, you will never lack projects to keep you busy – and you could easily spend every penny you thought you had saved for retirement or that “big” vacation on updating plumbing or a new roof or restoring, updating, repairing or rescuing some element of your home’s “character.”

The good news is, once you take ownership of your own classic home,  you will never be bored again – in fact you just might have more surprises coming your way than you ever could have imagined.

In fact, based on my experience, once you move into your own place, you will never have spare time – or money – ever again in your life.

I love the historic craftsman homes of Tacoma's North end. But over the decades that cute bungalow may have acquired a few secrets it has been waiting to reveal. Some houses in Tacoma are even rumored to be haunted. Photo: Morf Morford
I love the historic craftsman homes of Tacoma’s North end. But over the decades that cute bungalow may have acquired a few secrets it has been waiting to reveal. Some houses in Tacoma are even rumored to be haunted. Photo: Morf Morford

I grew up in an era where everyone (1*) agreed that a home was your best investment.

The reigning assumption back them was that rent was literally throwing money away.

A home mortgage was building equity, they said. Real estate prices always go up, they all said. Nothing is better than owning your own home and fixing it just the way you want, they told me.

Nobody mentioned the near infinite expenses of home ownership. (2*)

Frank Lloyd Wright used to describe a house as “a machine for living in.”

I never liked that description, but the longer I live in a house that I am financially responsible for, and spend almost every weekend and evening fixing, cleaning, painting, and restoring and where every project is multi-layered and far beyond my budget and skill level, the more I agree with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Renting, as much as I am almost hard-wired to hate it, (sometimes) strikes me as, in some ways, a better option.

As I see it, renting has two great advantages – if you have to – or just want to – move – you give your notice, start packing and move out. You don’t need to sell your home or have any other contingencies.

You also know how much you will pay each month – if the plumbing explodes, or the roof leaks, or anything else fails, you contact your landlord and they fix it – and pay for it.

A predictable budget for housing and a possibility  of a quick exit sounds like the ultimate American Dream to me. Sometimes.

If your job, or your ties to the community are not that deep, renting is a reasonable solution. For a stable real estate market (you know, the one your parents – or grandparents – took for granted) I’d suggest a tipping point of about five years to seriously consider home ownership.

For more on the practical realities in favor of renting, take a look at this article – https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/05/the-great-housing-reset/559466/?.

Home ownership is not for everyone, but if you want to put down roots in a community and develop a long term relationship with your neighborhood – and learn more about the intricacies of the mechanics of  housing than you would ever have imagined, you just might try home ownership – the adventure never ends.


(1*)   One thing I have learned from experience is that when “everyone” agrees, they are certainly wrong.

(2*)   Even if they would have, those of us in the throes of love for our dream home would not have believed them anyway.


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