Renting vs Buying: What’s the Right Choice?

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

I have several friends and family members who are close to my age and own their own homes. Whenever this happens — when a new person joins the home-owning ranks — I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a twinge of house-envy. The thing is, though, despite the allure that homeownership holds, most of my friends and similarly-aged co-workers are still renting.

There was an article in the New York Times not long ago that talked about the increasing number of single women in the home-buying market (the article referred to these women as WINKs — or more specifically, “Women with Income, No Kids”). Dumb acronyms aside, I like the fact that nationwide, over the last decade “the number of unmarried women buying housing of any type increased 20 percent.” And just last year in New Jersey, 45 percent of all condominium buyers were women in this category. That’s awesome.

As a single woman who likes the area where she lives, the thought of buying my own place (most likely a condo or townhouse since yard maintenance can go to hell) has certainly entered my mind. The biggest problem is the money factor.

The choice about whether to rent or buy is completely different depending on where you live (I addressed this last year in a post called Desirable Locations, Expensive Prices: Is Buying a Home Impossible?). A friend of mine just bought a townhouse in Richmond, Virginia, but he paid much less for it than anything comparable I could buy in the metro Washington, DC area — and we only live 100 miles apart. Along the same lines, the two-story, three-bedroom house that my sister and her fiance bought — also located in Richmond — cost less than what the condo I’m renting would go for if it was sold.

The difference between these two (relatively close) locations does seem a little crazy sometimes. I know if I moved back to Richmond — a city where I lived for eight years — there’s a good chance I could buy my own place. But I like where I am. This location is working for me for right now, even if all the cute little condos I come across for sale are all over $350,000. (For a one-bedroom. Which means I wouldn’t be sharing the cost with a female roommate, like I do right now.)

According to the same article, there’s also been a rise in single women buying a place together, living as roommates and splitting the bills — just like they would if they were renting.

Most of the time — when I’m not having house-envy, that is — my renting situation is perfectly fine with me. I’ve read a number of “rent vs. buy” articles which list the pros and cons of buying your own place as opposed to renting, and I can understand both sides. While it would be nice to have something I could call my own, there are advantages to being a renter.

As a renter, it’s much easier for me to change my location. Even though I live in Alexandria, Virginia, I could move to Arlington and still have roughly the same commuting distance to my job in DC. After I spend a year in Arlington, I could move to Bethesda, Maryland — same commuting distance. Or maybe I’d choose to move into DC itself. The options are pretty much limitless.

I also like the fact that I’m not responsible for fixing anything (or paying someone to fix it) if something goes wrong. When our garbage disposal broke, and then our bathroom sink stopped up, we called our landlord. The grass outside gets cut by someone the property management hires. Our power bill is included in our rent, as well as water/sewer/trash removal, which limits the amount of separate bills I have to pay every month.

While there are advantages to renting, I know the thought of buying something isn’t going to go away. I’m sure it will happen at some point — whether it’s here in this area or somewhere else. Until that happens, though, I’ll enjoy my perks as a renter. It’s pretty stress-free, and that’s something I certainly can’t complain about.

What are your thoughts on renting vs. buying?

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