Think carefully, because this is not a rhetorical question. There are many benefits to both. Let’s take the real estate analogy further, shall we?
Life As A Renter
If you rent your house, you are paying rent in exchange for space provided by the owner, your landlord. Your landlord and your rental contract limit what you can do in and with the house. You live there at his sufferance. You have rights under the law, but when those rights are challenged, you have to fight for them. You often feel helpless and in the control of your landlord and if s/he is someone you don’t get along with, this can be intolerable.
I don’t know if you realize it, but as a renter you also have privileges. In some ways, the situation could be viewed very differently. In some ways, the landlord is actually your servant. Whether you know it or not, in paying rent you are also paying for the privilege of being buffered from a large set of responsibilities that you don’t have to think about, or even be aware of, because your landlord just handles them.
It’s your landlord’s job to pay the mortgage and to pay it on time. Your landlord had to come up with the downpayment to be able to get the building in the first place—you didn’t, but you get to live there anyway. Then there are property taxes and all the utility bills on the building. The building will need maintenance and repairs; you don’t have to pay for those repairs, keep track of them, decide whether you can do them yourself, learn how to do them or search for contractors to do them for you. The landlord shields you from having to respond to disasters and unexpected occurrences, like a storm sending a tree through your window. Hopefully the landlord also maintains the general orderliness of the building’s common areas and the yard, so you don’t have to. All these are things you’ve come to expect from a landlord in exchange for your rent and if your landlord’s any good at all, you probably don’t think about them anymore, and you probably don’t view them as privileges. In addition to these concrete duties that the landlord is doing for you, he or she is also absorbing a lot of worry and paying in psychological cost as well as financial.
Frequently a renter doesn’t get contact with the actual landlord, but deals with a management company instead. Often this will leave a renter frustrated because the company (whatever they may say) cares little about the renter’s experience of living in the building and is there to protect the landlord from the renter’s wrath. So repairs happen slowly or not at all and there’s no human face on the landlord for the renter to connect with.
The Renter Attitude
What do most people do with the privileges associated with renting? They squander them. They complain and whine about conditions and focus on their rights. They do not bother to educate themselves about the things their landlord is insulating them from—if they did, they would be getting into position to become owners themselves. But their energy is going into maintaining and strengthening their position as renters who deserve to be taken care of. The relationship bears some similarity to a parent-child relationship. A child, even an adult child has no comprehension of what even the worst parent is shielding them from until they become a parent themselves.
Now, I am not saying that as a renter you should not stand up for your rights, or that all landlords are blameless. I am also not saying that landlords should be allowed free rein for all the many forms of neglect they are capable of. I am saying that if you find yourself focusing unduly on complaints and your rights, perhaps you are ready to graduate from renting and to buy your own place. If you have that much energy for complaining, writing letters, and so forth, perhaps your energy would be better used in doing the paperwork and jumping-through-hoops necessary to buy a home. You’d be amazed how easy it is for a first-time home-buyer to buy their own home. If your credit is anything better than crappy (and sometimes even if it’s not) banks will throw money at you as soon as they get a hint of your interest. I am also saying that until you bite the bullet and buy your own place, you will have no idea of what you are being protected from and no more ability to appreciate it than a child does when their parent goes to a hell of a lot of trouble to preserve the innocent belief in Santa Claus.
Life As An Owner
If you own, you own a whole set of troubles along with your property. For many people, the good feeling of ownership, and the knowledge that your home is yours to do WHATever you want to with, is ample compensation for those troubles. There is a tremendous sense of freedom in knowing that you can have a direct and immediate effect on your environment and that you can dictate what happens in and to your home. A major plumbing break that renders your sink unusable and floods your kitchen with dishwasher water is experienced completely differently by an owner than it is by a renter. The renter experiences a sense of helplessness and frustration that is simply not present for the owner, who is free to make his own decisions about how to handle the situation, while the renter has to wait around for someone else to deal with it and to funnel the message through several people before something finally gets done. The renter has to live with a flooded kitchen in the meanwhile, and perhaps damage to property of his own. When the situation finally does get handled, it’s probably not at a time of the renter’s choosing and may be at a great inconvenience.
The things I’ve said above might not perfectly describe your situation, (in fact, I’m quite sure they don’t) but please don’t have that as a reason to miss my point. My point is: your rental situation makes it hard for you to understand what it takes to be an owner and that you and only you have control over what you do about that. You’re not a victim. Choosing to remain one will only keep you renting. Similarly, if you own, as long as you are complaining and not using the privilege of action you possess, you are just as much a victim as if you were only renting.
So What’s Your Preferred Deal?
So let’s get back to your life. Would you rather rent or own your life? Have you ever thought about whether you rent or own your life in the first place? Do you really possess your life or do you just occupy it?
Do you expect that things you don’t want to look at will just be handled by some magical agency or do you take them on and handle them yourself? Do you want the added responsibility of being aware of all your resources? Do you really want to know and take responsibility for what’s in every dark corner of yourself, knowing you and only you are the one to clean it up? Or are you content to leave the dark corners dark and not look too closely at them?
In a home, as well as in a human psyche, there are often things we inherit and would prefer to be without. The house was built before you got there and unless you have crawled underneath it and put a microscopic camera inside every wall, it will be full of surprises. Perhaps the last owner made a cheap repair. Perhaps the remodel is nothing more than a pretty face. How about that hairline crack in the foundation? When will pipes need to be replaced? And what about the roof? These are all, ultimately, mysteries until you start living with the house.
Similarly, your psyche contains mysterious relics from your childhood, left there by experiences had before you were a conscious adult. You inherited your psyche and much of its contents, but when did you start to own it? Are you whining like a renter? Who is there to send a letter of complaint to?
You have much more choice about your life than you’re exercising. Your parents may have set up the décor, but you can always choose to repaint. Paint is a good start perhaps, but it also only a superficial change. At some point you’re going to have to crawl under the house (read: your psyche) and take a look at what’s really go on. Either that or tolerate a periodic unexpected bursting of pipes and backing up of toilet. Or perhaps you cannot run the dishwasher and clothes washer at the same time because the plumbing can’t handle it. You see where I’m going with this?
An unconsidered life is not worth living.
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
It’s yours. Even though you inherited it, even though you walked in and the décor wasn’t yours from the start. Even though it’s not your choice of architectural style. Even though, once you discover the termite damage, you realize you paid far too much for this house, you have GOT to own your life. That’s the only way you can make a change. You certainly can’t sell it.
What To Do About It?
Assume the mortgage. I mean this. Start making the payments on your life. And the coin you are paying in? Attention. Pay attention to your life. And this is a case where the old saw “take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” really applies: pay attention to your life in minute detail, noticing the small things, and the large things will work themselves out.
Remember that there’s more than just mortgage. There may be a second mortgage, property taxes and a thousand small fees. Start paying them willingly. Stop fighting it because this is your house. It sure as hell ain’t nobody else’s.
Paying attention is the best possible start you could make to change your life. If there is some aspect of your life that really needs a change (that unfinished attic? the roof leak into that spare room?), all you need to do to begin powerful change is simply to begin paying attention. Hosts of information will come to you that you never saw before. This is because people quickly become accustomed to aspects of their environment that don’t change and after awhile, fail to notice them at all. Perhaps it is the predator in us, which notices movement and ignores stillness. The longer you’ve dwelt in your life, the less you will likely notice about it, at least without help.
Get A Fresh Look At Your Life
Ask your friends and people new to you. Ask people who are not yet accustomed to you, who have not yet acclimated to all the stains and leaks and curling bits of paint in your personality. They are not the ones who “love you unconditionally” but they are the ones who will still be able to see things that your older friends and family members have been ignoring for years. Ask them to be gentle with you, but to tell you the truth about what they see. What you hear from them will amaze you. If you listen with an open, curious mind, your response will amaze them and it will amaze your family even more. Imagine your wife’s surprise, upon entering conversation with you, to find that old annoying conversational habit . . . simply gone. Gone because someone reminded you that it existed and you were open to hearing about it and making a change. Now that’s a miracle.
I apologize. I lied at the beginning of this entry when I said, “This isn’t a rhetorical question.” Obviously I am in favor of you owning your life. Renting has its benefits, but it means being a lot less conscious, having a lot less control and ultimately it means living quite small. Is that what you really want?
I didn’t think so.