The Joy$ of Owning a Home

An electrician, a very friendly Southern gentleman with a twang as thick as Stone Mountain, is poking around the wiring on our deck right now, trying to ascertain why a couple outlets there don’t work and why the fan runs, at top speed, about as fast as I do.

Down in our basement, a basement guy — yeah, such human beings exist — is trying to figure out why the multi-thousand dollar waterproofing job he performed on our house a few months ago hasn’t yet quite done the job. When it rains hard, as it did last week, boxes and CD racks and old VCRs banned from the rest of the house all have to be shifted away from an encroaching tide. This will not be a selling point when we finally determine our next stop.

Yesterday, I spent more than an hour at a small storefront in a huge warehouse in Alpharetta, talking to an amply tattooed woman about tile and plumbing and natural stone vs. granite. (I’m not sure, but I think they’re both rocks? I don’t know. I was distracted by the tattoos and her wildly colored hair.) We’re re-doing our master bathroom for the first time in the 18-year life of our home. Hopefully, depending on that next stop thing, it’ll be the last time, too.

The zoysia grass in our back yard has been overtaken by something resembling the stuff that almost swallowed up that boy in the first Jumanji. I have to do something about that. Our back deck needs re-staining. The seals between the panes in the windows in the front of our house have started to crack and slip. Our front steps already are cracked and slipping. The carpeting is old. The wood floors are getting increasingly scratched up because our dog acts like Wile E. Coyote going over a cliff, running wildly in space searching for traction, every day promptly at 5 p.m. Or every time the doorbell rings. Or any time he thinks a treat is in the offing. Or for no discernable reason at all other than he’s nuts.

One of the pickets on a gate to our back yard has broken off at the top, which gives the whole fence the unmistakable look of Appalachia; again, not something you would list on the profile. (Charming, rustic touches in a split-rail fence lead to a spacious back yard just crying for a green thumb like yours!)

I could, if I wanted (and I most certainly do not), spend hours a week just trying to keep things up around here. I’d rather just ignore it, of course, and look for something else on Netflix. If, considering our last 15 months, anything is left on Netflix.

Owning a home has always been a tug of emotions. It’s love-hate, I guess, if you’re of that leaning. More often for me, though, it seems in the middle, somewhere around toleration and almost intolerable. It’s expensive and time-consuming and at too many times an absolute pain. But it could be a good investment, if you time things correctly and the economy and housing gods smile on you.

Plus, you have to live somewhere.

Still … is it worth it? Insurance and yard upkeep and mortgages and downpayments and property taxes and the homeowners association? HVAC problems and roofs? House poor? More than a few studies out there find that the financial difference between renting a home — something that those of my generation consider “throwing your money away” — and owning one is not clear at all. Renting could be better for many.

The argument is simple, and hard to buck: You pay a nominal rent and some small renter’s insurance and get nothing when you walk away. Or you pay a huge downpayment, a nominal mortgage, a bigger insurance payment, property taxes, upkeep, the electrician and the basement guy and all those fun little homeowners’ extras and, hopefully, make a little money when it comes time to sell. Of course, smart renters will invest the money that they would have put into a downpayment and all those homeownership costs, so they’ll have some money, too.

It all gets very complicated and grown-up, and honestly gives me a headache. But that old idea that owning is better than renting is a good ways from gospel any more. ( The not-smart among us, the above linked study suggests, probably should own. It at least forces them into investing in something.)


Maybe I’m only thinking about renting vs. owning now because of the electrician and the basement guy and the bathroom remodeler and the woman with the tattoos and all the money we’re going to have to pay them when they’re done. And that’s not all. We have new neighbors, too, who may be knocking down trees in their back yard so that they, evidently, can have a nice clear view into our back yard. It’s always something. It’s exhausting.

It’s hard not to think of these things now, too, because the real estate market, as happens some times, is incredibly hot. Housing prices are through the roof (which, by the way, we replaced about five or six years ago, at no small cost), which is great for homeowners, if not so much for home buyers. It is a sellers’ market, as they say. I look at estimates on the real estate sites for our humble, oft-time crumbling abode and it’s hard not to think,

Sell! Sell now! Sell and run away with all that dough and figure out the rest later! Sell before those damn leaves come off the trees or that other HVAC unit dies or the refrigerator goes ice-maker up, or Brodie finally scratches through the floor and tumbles into the leaking basement! Sell! Sell! Sell!

But, yeah, we have to live somewhere. And buying a house in this market? What’re you, loco?

I’m thinking about real estate, too, because our son Luke will be faced with this rent vs. own question in the not-faraway future. We’ve already talked about it. And if he continues to live in California, where housing always has been crazy-expensive, if housing prices everywhere continue shooting up like they have been, his choice will not be easy.

Rent or own? What about a tiny home? What about living in a motorhome for awhile and seeing the nation? What about just building a nice new small ranch, with a pool, in the middle of nowhere?

I joke with friends from school on a weekly Zoom call about all of our families buying a few mobile homes, putting them in a circle in the middle of an Alabama field, close to the Redneck Riviera, and laughing the days away. I mean, you have to live somewhere.

(But … Alabama? Mary Jo has not signed onto that plan just yet.)

Clearly, we’re lucky to be where we are, in a nice neighborhood close to grocery stores and fast food and with, for now, a relatively new roof over our heads. But it’s a never-easing gig, homeownership is. When you have a market like the current one, the temptation to cash out is awfully strong.

And really, what would life be like with a landlord, someone else to cut the grass and wrangle the basement guy? That, young feller (as my electrician would say), is a real American dream.

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