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?