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Renting in Retirement

I’ve given up maintenance for more time.

Shoveling the snow — no more. Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels

The decision to retire someplace without snow and ice was made when I was flat on my back on the sidewalk in Minnesota. The black ice was invisible, and I had stepped off my front stoop, and the next thing I knew I was staring at the sky. I was conscious, and carefully moved each limb to identify any pain or broken bones.

After a moment of stunned realization that I was mostly OK, I rolled over onto the frosted grass and managed to assume an ungainly upright position.

Six months later, I moved to Oregon and retired. I thought I might build an ADU — accessory dwelling unit — or buy a condominium. I rented first to get a feel for the metropolitan area, and where I wanted to live longer term.

I would need to invest $150,000 in the construction of an ADU or the purchase of a condo. I moved twice in two years, until landing in a community I love A few months later, Covid hit and the prices of real estate soared. Five years later, that $150,000 is easily $300,000.

I had owned houses for thirty years.

I’ve owned houses in different states — New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. I owned a week-end/vacation cabin for three years in Minnesota, meaning I owned two places.

While in theory, I gained capital in real estate, I spent a lot on ongoing maintenance, insurance, taxes, and maintenance. Plumbing, electrical work, a water table that moved, a large yard to mow… I was devoting a lot of precious hours to the headaches of maintenance. Oh, sure, it was fun to redecorate and choose paint colors, but even those choices resulted in some disastrous outcomes.

I’ve listened to peers who spend hours working on the house or have read about unwanted house projects on these pages. Maybe some enjoy it, and the projects keep them going. But mostly I learn about the unexpected failure of some key systems and the unexpected expense.

I’ve run the numbers in my head, and I am better off renting. The apartment complex I live in has lovely grounds and a swimming pool, a built-in barbeque, and a picnic table. I moved to a cool ground-floor apartment, and have room for a small garden off my patio and lots of potted flowers. The bird feeders attract all comers in the cooler months. I am within walking distance of the light rail and the library, the farmer’s market, and restaurants.

It might seem foolish to want to gain time in retirement, but I have a lot I want to do and seem always to run short of time. I try to exercise daily, cook from whole foods, write, nurture friendships, participate in community events, and travel.

I don’t shovel snow, mow, or try to fix anything.

I put in a maintenance request if the sink is clogged and have a handyman visit within a day. It’s much easier than running to the hardware store for a drain snake that doesn’t work and a call to a plumber.

Plus, when I moved across the country I paid the mover by the pound — so I downsized a lot, and the apartment closets don’t hold as much as the basement storage I used to have.

Homeownership is one of those dreams I had thirty years ago that no longer fit the priorities of my current life. Yes, I pay rent and that may go up. But I have investments in the market, not my house, and if I travel, I just lock the door.

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