Monday, July 12, 2010

The Great Wall of N

I like older homes, homes that have some character to them. I understand that 'character' usually means 'expense', and sometimes means 'big mess'.

When we moved to Florida, we rented a newer home, with a contemporary layout. This meant that all of the main living area, while technically divided by a half wall, was really one big room, and the secondary bedrooms and garage combined occupied less square footage than the master suite. Really. I could have stored the Spruce Goose in our master bedroom, and yet we had to walk sideways through the garage if we ever parked a car in there. Our neighbor would work on his truck at three A.M., and one time while I was on the road for work, the alarm system, which we never activated or armed, went off early one morning until Lori was able to rip the plug from the wall. Our yard shared its rear boundary with an open road where teens would drag race in the wee hours of the morning, because somewhere along the way, Floridians decided they no longer wanted big, private yards.
In contrast, the first home we bought after we were married was built in 1952 by Lori's grandparents. It was a beautiful home, with proper scale, division of public and private spaces, and views of the lake. It killed us to sell it. However, when we'd get a heavy rain, the window wells would fill up at the back of the house and flood the basement since the yard was dense clay sloped to the house. There was a fair amount of asbestos in the flooring, which wasn't an issue unless you ripped it up. We did. But the windows were original to the house, and better insulated and less drafty than newer replacements ever could have been. In winter, our roof was the only one in the neighborhood with a perfect blanket of snow instead of long icicles and patterned patches of bare roof. On those cold winter days, I chopped wood and we cozied up by the fireplace. We had great neighbors, every one of them. And it was home.

The next home we purchased, in Florida, was built in 1971. Again, the rooms were properly scaled, you could sit and read in the living room without being blown out by the television in the family room and the private spaces were separated from the public spaces. The public spaces all faced the side and back of the home, so there was never that 'on display' feeling that you get with some homes. And it wasn't perfect, but we did things to make it ours, made plans for additional changes, planted trees and flowers and had a certain level of home-y comfort surrounding us. The neighbors who made an effort to interact were great neighbors. It was 'home', for lack of anything better. But some of you may remember last December's plumbing fiasco. There went the Christmas budget.

Now in Ohio, we're renting again. The home was built in 1966, but refurbished before we moved in. It feels like home. Same pattern as above, separation, privacy, et cetera, nice yard, nice neighbors. We've done a little landscaping to make the front of the house more inviting, make the rear deck lush. We've bought other little things to make the house feel like ours.

But the deal with renting, the BIG deal, is all the little things. Our landlord is engaged, responsive, and seems to have a vested interest in our residential experience. The work he had done before we moved in was impressive. And when our wall oven died, when it just wouldn't light after 44 years of dutiful service, he had a service tech at the house that week. When it was determined that parts no longer exist, a new wall oven, an unusual and non-stock size was ordered. And when Jim and Jim showed up to install the new unit on Saturday, he was there as they finished to check out their work and settle their bill. He was there to call the landscaper, when the lawn wasn't coming in like he expected. He was there to call his handyman when an outlet proved to be dead. And all of these things come along with my monthly rent.

Sure, I enjoyed home ownership, but many of the aspects I enjoyed don't require ownership.  I mow my lawn, because I enjoy it. We planted plants and a Japanese maple because we like those items and it makes it feel more like home to us. We put up drapes, we're hanging pictures, I ran cable to the family room for our television, but in the end, any investment we make in our home now is our choice, and any of the big things can be deferred to a higher power. I don't have the stress of unexpected costs like the oven dying or a clogged main sewer line or a hailstorm ripping off shingles or the garage door coming off the track.

Because that's what rent is for.


Midwestern Mama Holly said...

We lived in a bungalow built in 1947 when we lived in Florida. I loved that house. So big and airy.
When we moved to Ohio we rented for awhile. It was kind of nice that others were responsible for the fixing of the major things, but I soon tired or it. I wanted the freedom to do with my house what I wanted.... so we finally purchased a home.

Elliott said...

Some day we'll purchase again, I suppose. However, we took such a beating on the last two when we sold, I'm not eager to go down that path again unless I know, almost certainly, that we'll be staying someplace for many, many years.

I do like owning, I really do, and understand the desire for freedom. The only thing we can't do right now is paint, but since the paint is new and fresh and neutral, I don't mind.

Didactic Pirate said...

Yes, yes, and yes. You couldn't have posted this at a better time. My wife and I just sold our house, and are returning to the world of renters in two weeks. We can't wait. We loved our house, but the stress of NOT owning is going to be sweet indeed. Your post just reaffirmed it all for me.

Sadako said...

Have never owned a home, but you made some good points. I know what you mean about character.

Not directly related to this post...but your fat David picture made me giggle, too. :)

Daisy said...

I enjoyed this post, Elliott. We do own our home and all the headaches that come with it. Luckily, we like it here because the real estate business in this area is in a huge slump and has been for quite a while. Selling it would be difficult indeed. I do hope to someday move though. I'd rather live a little farther south. It may not ever happen, but you never know.

Elliott said...

Pirate, glad I could help. It is a bittersweet transition, but knowing I don't have to worry about unplanned home expenses is comforting.

Sadako, new construction saddens me because it seems that new buyers don't know what quality is, so home builders can't build to the level they'd like when buyers won't pay for it. We're left with cookie-cutter subdivisions. There's a whole rant here, but I'll defer to another post when I'm ready to open that can of worms.

And 'Fat David' really dresses up the place, don't you think?

Daisy - loving where you live is important, and I understand the problem with selling. If you don't have to, I'd stick it out. (I'd also warn against long-distance landlording, that comes with its own set of issues.)

It just dawned on me that in just under six years of marriage, we've lived in five different houses in three different states - rent, own, rent, own, rent. I suspect this pattern will slow now that we enjoy our surroundings again. Which is good, because I really dislike moving, despite what the pattern above would indicate.

Cul-de-sac-ed said...

Hiya. Found you on Studio 30. I like your style.

tracey said...

We're in a rental now. I like all the things you like & hate the same stuff too. We owned our house in VA - built in '69 with a real front yard & backyard complete with a big ol' pool. House wasn't fancy, but well built, decent sized rooms & felt like home not just a house.
This house was built 2 years ago, rather posh w/ stainless steel & hardwood everywhere. But, it doesn't feel like home. Maybe b/c we're thinking of moving to a differnt house at the end of this lease, although the thought of packing & moving again makes my teeth itch.

Be nice and share!

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