The Big Lie

I’ve spent a bit of time this week going around my house compiling a to-do list of things that need done or fixed (mostly fixed) once the weather gets better.  There’s a bit of drywall patching that needs to be finished up.  The light over my shed stopped working, and replacing the bulb didn’t take care of it.  The living room carpet needs to be cleaned (or better yet replaced).  One of the fluorescent lights in my basement doesn’t work anymore.

There’s more.  A lot more.  It’s quite a list, actually.

And while I can probably handle a few things.  Many of the others, such as that the two broken light fixtures, I have neither the skills nor the foolhardiness to tackle.

If I want them fixed, I’m going to have to hire someone.   I know of a handyman, but he’ll want a whole list to make the trip out to my house worth it.  Do I have enough for that?  How much is it going to cost?

Those thoughts led me to yet another reminder of a conclusion that I’d come to many years earlier: owning a home is a load of crap.

We’re programmed from birth to strive toward owning our own little piece of paradise.  We desire a building that we and we alone own and control with a verdant lawn and trees stretching out all around it.  This is our dominion, our castle, our sanctuary.

The interior will be warm and decorated in a way that is distinctly us.  We will raise our children here and fill it with memories.  While the world outside may attempt to beat us down, inside these walls we will be refreshed and renewed.  When others visit, they will immediately feel welcome, and there will be much revelry and merriment.

I suppose all of that could be the case, but those lovely platitudes don’t tell anything remotely close to the whole story.

Let’s start with the most basic part of the premise: you own your home.  For most of us, that’s not true.  Some bank or mortgage company actually owns it, and we pay them every month to live there until that day in the far future (usually 30 years) when we make that final payment and truly own it…if we live there that long.  We might move well before that and start the process all over again with a new mortgage.

It’s a process akin to rent-to-own, but renting an apartment or home is far different than having a mortgage on one.  First, the pros.  With each payment, you’re getting closer to owning your home, and there is a pretty much tax benefit in deducting the interested you’ve paid on your mortgage in a year.  Beyond that, well…  There ain’t much.

Meanwhile, every single thing with that house is your problem to deal with.  Water heater stops working?  You’re buying a new one and either installing it yourself or paying someone to install it.  Lawn needs mowed?  That’s on you.  Snow covered driveway?  You again.  Every single thing is on you.

Meanwhile, a renter has a landlord to call when something breaks, and, if they’re lucky, the cost of lawn care in included in that rent.  Sure, maybe they can’t paint the walls or remodel the kitchen, but they also have less to worry about.

This isn’t to bash homeownership in general.  I’ve just come to the conclusion that, despite what we’ve been told from birth, it’s not for everyone.  You need to have the personality for it.  If you love lawn care, gardening, do-it-yourself projects, decorating, painting, and so on, home ownership can be fantastic.  Mortgage companies don’t care that you painted that one bedroom lime green with orange stripes.  For some people, the continuing improvement/repair project that is owning a home is just want they want.

I am not one of those people.  All of those things I just rattled off don’t sound like fun to me.  I hate lawn care.  I hate painting.  I don’t want to spend my time and money dealing with this crap.  I’ve said this before in a post about future planning – As soon as I can, I’m selling and moving into an apartment.  If I buy again, it will be a condo, where at least I won’t have to deal with the outside work.  I’d rather pay more in rent or a condo fee in exchange for the time and peace of mind I would get from not having to take care of every little thing.

Rather than instilling in us the idea that we all should strive to own our own home, I would prefer that society instead was honest about the fact that, with apologies to Dr. Ian Malcolm, just because you can own a home doesn’t mean that you should.  If you’re considering buying, be very aware of what you are getting into. 

Instead of being king or queen of your own dominion, you may find yourself feeling like the serf toiling away in service to the uncaring and unrelenting lord that is your home.

- Alan Decker

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