At the end of 2018, we sold our house and moved across the country into an apartment. After owning a home for the past 11 years, and living in one growing up, the only time I’d ever lived in an apartment before was with roommates in college.
I always assumed I’d want a house. Homeownership is a path to wealth, and at first, it made financial sense to have one. What I found in those 11 years of homeownership was that I really didn’t like being a homeowner.
I knew I didn’t like being a landlord after an earlier experience, but being a homeowner was completely different – right? Turns out a number of the things I didn’t enjoy about landlording are actually just part of homeownership. After almost 3 months in an apartment, I’m absolutely loving it. Here are a few things I’m happy about.
Maintenance and Repairs
This 3 months span is already the longest in my 35 years being in and around our home that there hasn’t been something new that’s needed maintenance or repairs. As a homeowner, I constantly had a todo list in the back of my head of everything I should fix. This list always seemed to grow faster than I could weed it down. While I think it would have been possible to get ahead of it (I hear rumors that some people actually do), I was never able to get there.
This maintenance list included everything from replacing broken kitchen cabinet handles to emergency roof repairs, to broken pipes in walls, to cracked tiles, and many more. In Todoist, my task manager of choice, I had an entire section devoted to “Home”. I was more than happy to archive this section after the move.
There are people who enjoy working on houses. Just like there are people that enjoy working on cars or enjoy programming. I never found a way to enjoy this work. It always seemed like time away from doing what I really wanted. The fewer things to repair and maintain the more time I can spend on things I want to focus on.
In our new apartment, the dishwasher didn’t work. Being able to just call someone and have them come into our apartment (when we weren’t there) was amazing. You’re telling me that I don’t need to even be here when maintenance is done? YES PLEASE! Whenever we needed work done on the house over the years, it was always a dance between Mrs. Minafi and me to figure out who would take off work and be home for it.
Now we just know (and actually like) the people running the apartment complex, and trust them in our apartment (even with our dog).
No Yard to Work On
If I had to give just one thing I love about the switch to apartment life, it’s the lack of a yard to clean up and work on. Being cheap, we never hiring landscapers to pretty-up our yard when we were residents there. We brought in a team to clean things up when we sold it though.
For a time, we had a mowing and edging service, which was some of the best money I have ever spent. If there’s one recommendation for past/future-me, it’s to be less cheap in hiring people for things I have absolutely no desire to do.
For a time, I did grow a garden which was fun, but a lot of work. The trouble with doing yard work in Florida is that you really have to enjoy sweating outside if you want to make good progress. I have tremendous respect for the army of people in pickup trucks with trailers of yardwork equipment buzzing around. They have a hard job, that’s made even more taxing by the intense Florida heat and humidity.
Less to Clean
Our previous house was a 1,700 sq/ft house with 3 bedrooms plus an office. When we purchased the house 12 years ago I really didn’t know what we wanted. Maybe we’d have kids? Maybe we could rent out a room? Having those options seemed to make sense at the time.
Now, it’s clear that I was buying a lot more house than I needed. We had two bedrooms that we spent more time cleaning than using. Closets that were used entirely for our storage, rather than guest storage. I have a feeling that our entire apartment now is about the size of our main open area.
Just As Quiet
We lucked out in our new apartment. Even though we’re in a large apartment complex, in 3 months here we haven’t heard a peep from neighbors. One of the main reasons is likely because we’re on the top floor, which means no loud footsteps above us.
We originally staying in temporary housing here in SLC. That temporary housing is the apartment right below us. What’s awesome about that is the apartment below us is empty most of the time, then will be in use for part of the month on contract with corporate clients. We haven’t heard a thing from them, and they haven’t complained about our loud footsteps, dancing or Dance Dance Revolution (kidding! we haven’t played DDR – yet).
It Costs Less
One of the leading reasons why people buy a house is because they hear “renting is just throwing money away.” But is it really? At the same time people share horror stories of home renovations that take years and balloon in costs far above the budget.
So which is it? Does renting or buying cost more?
Well, it depends. The New York Times has a rent vs buy calculator that might help answer this question for your situation.
In my case, I put 20% down on a house and lived there for 11 years without doing any major renovations. Every repair on my house was because something broke and needed to be fixed. After 11 years the house was sold in a similar state as when I moved in – but with a new A/C, dishwasher and a few other upgrades.
Looking back – would I have been better off if I rented? Absolutely. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
After putting 20% down, my rent was $1,440 a month. Add on to that $150/mo for taxes and $150/mo for insurance. Another $50/mo for security (after our house was robbed) and $30/mo for bug/insect/termite protection. Top it off with some other expenses often included in rentals: $100 for internet and cable, $15 for water. That puts our real monthly rent closer to $2,000 once you include our homeowners’ association fees.
Over the years a lot can go wrong with a house – sometimes very expensively so. Our air conditioner broke during the summer. Pipes burst in our walls and in our yard. Animals got into our attic. Our garage door broke. Our dishwasher broke. We needed to power wash our house and driveway to comply with our homeowners association.
After summing up all of these fees, our yearly maintenance costs over a decade were close to $300/month, or about $3,600 a year. That brings our actual cost to live in our house up to $2,300 a year.
Sadly it doesn’t end there.
Like most people, we put 20% down on our house – or $60,000. We sold our house for a $60k loss – a total loss for this amount. What if we had put this same $60k in the stock market, on the same day we closed on our house? Well, we bought in 2007, so our $60k investment would have dropped to $30k during the financial crisis. Over the next decade it would have grown all the way up to $142,800!!
In other words, if instead of buying a house with 20% down with a monthly rent of $1,440, we could have rented a place for $2,300 and STILL walked away with $142,800 more after 11 years.
You might be thinking “You bought at a bad time!” or “You should have short-sold it!”. Well, you’d be right on both. I made a lot of mistakes during this time. I didn’t know the future, and you don’t know it either. The best hope is to not assume you know what’s going to happen, so plan accordingly.
Not Everything is Perfect
Even though I’m loving it overall, there are caveats that we’re finding to this decision.
- We’re on the 4th floor (where the first 2 are parking). Walking up 6 flights of stairs is no joke.
- The price of the apartment is comparable to what we’d pay in rent. At $2,100 for the apartment, pet rent, 2 parking spots, storage unit on site + internet/cable it’s more then we planned to spend initially.
- Taking our dog out is no longer as easy as opening the back door and letting her roam around the yard. Now it takes real effort.
- We have furniture in a storage unit within the building that wouldn’t make sense in our new place. Doing something with this furniture is part of my February Goal of Using Everything.
- It’s more than likely that each year our rent here would rise. In that time, I also wouldn’t be reaping the rewards of a growing housing market.
I can’t say I know where we’ll want to live in 10 years or 20 years, but I foresee us being very content living in an apartment for (at least a few) years to come!
What are your thoughts on apartment living vs household living? Which would you prefer to live in? Would that change over time?
23 CommentsWhy not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!
Susan @ FI Ideas
March 5, 2018
I have always lived in a house, other than 2 years at a University. My brother made the opposite decision, choosing apartment life even though he makes a nice salary. Over the years, I have to envy him not spending so much time on his place. Although my husband and I do home projects, when we have traveled and pared down, I find it is so freeing.
Good food for thought. I know a lot of people in the FI community debate this. It’s hard to make a change once you do own a home, so if someone is moving or has not yet made a home purchase, that is the time to give this some serious thought. Your apartment looks cool!
March 6, 2018
Thanks! You’re absolutely right on the difficulty to change. About 6 years into home ownership we wanted to try apartment living, but making the change then would’ve been financially irresponsible.
Just paring things down like you did sounds like the best middle ground. Less to concern yourself with today and easier to move if you decide to later.
Erin | Reaching for FI
March 5, 2018
I am super jealous of your top-floor apartment because my building is horribly insulated and I CANNOT STAND being able to hear conversations and every single step my upstairs neighbors take! But other than that, renting is awesome. Water heater or washing machine broken? Not my problem or my super expensive month! Perhaps one day I’ll own property (it’s not likely but it’s not impossible) but for now I’m enjoying the greatly reduced responsibilities of renting as opposed to owning.
March 6, 2018
Ah man, that’s a rough noise situation. Is it a newish building? Or or an older one? Seems like newer ones are usually better if built well.
March 5, 2018
We live in a high rise and we really like it. No yard work unless you want to. There a community garden for those people. Our building is mostly concrete so the units are very well insulated. No repair and maintenance is good too.
We’ll probably move into a house soon, though. We need more space.
I like condo, it’s a nice compromise between living in a house and apartment. The only big issue is the high HOA fees.
March 6, 2018
It’s interesting to me that you have had rental units and prefer condo/apts. for the same reason I prefer one I lean away from landlording. I can see he appeal though – when the issues aren’t in your face everyday it’d feel less stressful I imagine. Do you feel when you move into a house you’ll spend more or less time in the rental game?
March 5, 2018
Having downsized from a 5/4 house (empty nester) into a one bedroom apartment, I hate it! My home was a new build, so I had no maintenance issues. I had a pool and a desert landscape (gotta love Vegas), so no yard work either. My apartment walls and floors are very thin, I have called security twice on my neighbors upstairs for loud music. i miss going home and jumping into my pool as well as sitting outside on the deck. I’m sure I won’t be purchasing a big house like the one I moved out of but I will be purchasing a home in the future.
March 6, 2018
This is awesome feedback Mimi! All the things you listed are the exact reason why I didn’t prefer homeownership, but given the right home chooses like you did they can be minified.
That sounds like a not great apartment situation though :/ At least you can move after your lease is up!
March 6, 2018
I could totally see enjoying the simplicity of going back to an apartment for some of the reasons you mentioned, mostly related to maintenance. However I have a pretty small house at 1500 square feet, and the main thing I could not give up is my patio. It’s my outdoor zen space and where I think the best and hang out the most. So I guess if I could find an apartment with an awesome patio I’d be sold!
March 6, 2018
I’m so jealous! I’d ditch my house in a hot second, but my wife loves owning.
March 7, 2018
Great article! My husband and I are in the process of getting our four-bedroom home ready to sell and moving into an apartment or rental house. We are officially hanging up the home ownership keys and moving onto brighter pastures, those filled with weekends and money free of fixing things. I CANNOT wait!
Ms Zi You
March 8, 2018
I’m confused….but it may be a US / UK thing. Here in the UK, you still have to do all your own repairs if you live in a flat, exactly the same as a house. There is no difference, and you could argue a flat is more awkward, as you’ve got neighbours to consider.
March 23, 2018
I’ve lived in UK for 4.5, never rented the whole house or the whole flat. So, never needed to pay anything. Even if washing machine is not working, I would call landlord and she/he would deal with it.
However, I have a friend, who’s renting the whole apartment. And yes, he needed to pay for some heating problems to replace some parts.
When I think about it now, him paying for it makes no sense.
Ms Zi You
April 2, 2018
Yeah, I think you’ve got the difference between owning and renting here.
March 23, 2018
Interesting! Here in the US, most apartments I’ve seen are covered by the homeowner for most appliances and maintenance. That’s interesting to hear when you rent in the UK it’s that different. I’ve seen in Germany they get around it by just not providing appliances, then you need to bring your own when you move in.
March 12, 2019
Apartment living comes with a lot of benefits that you don’t get when you buy a house. In addition to the reasons listed above, here are a few more reasons why apartment living is a dream: more secure, more sustainable, no lawn care or maintenance issues, be a part of a community of neighbors, forces you to downscale, and easier to update. Apartment living comes with a ton of benefits that you don’t get when you own a house. Our favorite, ease. We take care of our residents to make their lives easier. And in Minnesota, that means no shoveling! Just pull into the parking lot and walk into your apartment. Comfort that is convenient.
April 13, 2019
Left my cushy house to move to an apartment with all the amenities. You can’t beat taking the elevator to your car in the heated garage in the winter to going out in the snow ….no snow shoveling, no scrapping windows…apartment living is where it’s at.
May 21, 2019
I live in an apartment after making a few real estate investment mistakes. Apartment living is great. Rent does go up but quality of life offsets home ownership expenses. Bear in mind I’m also single.
August 8, 2019
That is a great point that you are not tethered to a mortgage living in an apartment, being able to move easily. That is something that sounds really nice to have instead of paying a mortgage and trying to sell the home. Maybe we should rent a bigger apartment for our family instead of a home since my work moves us a lot.
Kathleen G. Lupole
November 16, 2019
I moved into a studio apartment that is an old high school over a year ago. It is in the downtown area of a small city. I also gave up car ownership along with house ownership. I am at retirement age and love living here compared to owning a house. As you say, if something needs repairing, I just fill out a form or make a call and the next day someone comes to do the work. I feel safe and like having other people around if I need some kind of help or just feel lonely. Our complex has activities every month so it was easy to meet everyone. I have a pet rabbit and he is free roaming in my apartment and there was no charge for him due to him being what they call a “companion pet.” I am lucky that my building is very well insulated and has an elevator (I am on the 2nd floor). I would never go back to house ownership and have no plans to move from here. I love my small apartment and I downsized to only the items I love, need and use. Good article!
July 8, 2020
I’ve owned a house on a half-acre lot and a condo, plus lived in four apartments. For me, the key questions are whether there’s some green space nearby, whether the complex/neighborhood layout is conducive to privacy, and whether the space meets specific requirements (little carpet, washer/dryer, and at least 8 foot ceilings). I don’t want to do yard work, but I do want to see grass and trees regularly. I’m fine sharing walls, but I don’t want people walking past within arms reach of my bedroom window every day. Carpet is an allergen trap for me, no matter how nice. I like doing small laundry loads daily, with no risk of damage from the previous user’s poor laundry processes. Low ceilings make me feel boxed in and unhappy. My current 600 sqft apartment is as comfortable as my previous 1500 sqft house was, because it meets my specific requirements. It’s not cheaper, but I’m no longer paying a lawn service or saving for eventual roof repairs and painting.
December 4, 2020
I LOVE my apartment. I live within walking distance of a beautiful park with acres of walking trails as well as walking distance from a cute small, charming downtown area. I could buy something, but my mortgage payment would be higher, I would be in suburbia, and I would be heating and cooling and repairing more space than I need. I think for a single woman, the right apartment can not only be the budget-friendly choice but also offer more opportunities for safety and for socializing. I may never buy another house.
January 26, 2021
I am in my 80’s, never rented, always paid cash for my homes. Presently, I paid cash for my home in a small Texas town and the only expense I have is $800.00 per year for taxes. House expenses are low. It is perfect for the old people. I can call for help anytime I need it. I can live on $1000.00 per month and I am saving about $3000.00 per month. I buy $1000.00 worth of Silver and Gold each month. I cannot stand to be around people very long so I got my life as good as i can get it. I do 80 push ups per day and do lots of isometrics. The living conditions for most people are brought about because they do not have discipline to save during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. There is only one place for me in the future and that is in heaven with my maker. Renting verses owning a place to live is simple for me. It is owning a home. I was a football coach forever and thrived in small towns. God is my sidekick who has taken very good care of me. He gives me wisdom to make good decisions and protects me. The world does not watch out for us, God does if we love him. I worked as a teacher-coach and always worked a second job and that extra money bought and paid for my first home. You gotta work and never feel sorry for yourself. Bust your ass, save and ask God to direct you. A winning combination. I have never made money selling a home. I made all my money from real estate from the cheap living expenses. When you save that money over a thirty year span, you can come out financially set when you are in your 60’s and beyond. I am a millionaire living in a $50,000.00 house and never made more than $50,000.00 per year. God will help you if you live your life for him and not the world.