Hey homeowners, stop telling me how great renting is

By: Vin Heney on June 8, 2018
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Dear personal finance experts, can we get real for a second? If you own a home (or townhouse, or condo) you’re no longer in a position to argue in favour of renting. I don’t care how en vogue the advice has become.

“But the housing market is so overpriced! It’s better to rent and invest the money you don’t spend on homeownership elsewhere! Enjoy the flexibility that comes with being a renter!”

Nah, fam.

Sure, renting has its time and place. As a student, for instance, it almost always makes sense. But when you have a young family and you’re wanting to put down roots in a community, looking to provide a stable home near a good school for your kids, renting sucks.

And guess what? It’s not about money. I’m talking about the personal side of finance. The transient feeling in your gut that you can never quite shake as a renter. The ‘how long will we be here for?’ The ‘should we spend money on making changes to our apartment? The ‘can I even put a screw in the drywall? What if I chip the paint?’

Frankly, I’m sick of homeowners telling me we’re better off.

If renting was such a great long-term option, then why do so many of the financial experts giving that advice own homes? Homeownership is obviously an expensive endeavour — no matter where you buy — but let’s be real about the stuff ownership provides that renting simply doesn’t: forced investment, growing equity, a sense of stability, pride of ownership, and most importantly, the feeling of being rooted in a community.

The truth is, for a lot of us renters, we’re not renting because it’s the smart financial play or because we’d rather not deal with the headaches of homeownership; we’re renting because we’re unable to buy. It’s not some savvy choice we’re making — it’s the only choice we have. And sorry (not sorry) but if renting was truly all it was cracked up to be, you’d be renting too.

But you’re not.

A homeowner telling a reluctant renter that they’re further ahead by renting is as tone-deaf as a couple with a newborn telling a couple who can’t conceive that babies are a pain in the ass anyway … and the price of diapers!

Regardless of the financial burden you’ve taken on as a homeowner, you obviously deemed it worthwhile. So why should a renter see it any differently?

I’m not saying everyone should or does long to own a home, but as a young family in Toronto who would love a modest home of their own, discovering that books like ‘The Wealthy Renter’ are written by a homeowner comes across as talking down, not helping out. A kind of ‘do as I say, not as a I do.’

When interviewed on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Alex Avery, author of The Wealthy Renter, was challenged in just this way.

“If renting is such a great idea, you of course then ... rent, right?” asked Paikin.

“No, that’s not the case. I’m a homeowner.” says Avery. “And I think for everyone, the answer is different and it depends on your circumstances. And I think, in fact, while it might on the surface appear that me not being a renter might undermine the credibility of my argument, I think it makes it that much more powerful in the sense that I’m not a renter. I’m a homeowner and I’m still advocating that I think renting makes a lot of sense and that it’s maligned.”

“Why don’t you rent?” Paikin pushed back.

“We bought a house a number of years ago. We had children and we were in a financial position where we could afford to buy a home and so we did,” says Avery.

Sure, this family’s situation and timing meant they were able to afford a home, but it’s clear that what they really bought into was the ‘cult of homeownership’. I mean, if only they’d been schooled on the merits of long-term renting earlier, I’m sure they’d be much further ahead.

I think it’s time we call a city like Toronto what it is: a megacity that middle class families will probably never be able to afford to buy in again. And that’s fine. I doubt many middle class American families have misplaced expectations about affording a home in New York City. Why should we be any different here?

But can we please stop pretending that because renting might make good financial sense families should be oh-so-happy about a lifetime of paying rent? Just because something makes sense in a rational, number-crunching kind of way doesn’t mean it meets our emotional, familial, or social needs as well.

So maybe next time, instead of demonstrating to your disheartened friends/readers/followers how much better renting is, just admit it sucks that they’re priced out, then invite them over to your reno’d semi for a drink.

They could probably use one.