Rent or buy?

My daughter is newly married, and my son is returning to Maryland with his young family after completing his military service.

Look for a spike in home sales in 2015.


Both young couples have had it with renting, and I can't blame them.

Joe and Brooke weren't allowed to turn on the ice machine in their refrigerator because the landlord feared it would leak, and my daughter is still doing laundry in my basement because her washer and dryer don't work.


But I am the one who keeps sending them newspaper articles about how homes aren't the piggy banks they once were. And the new economy dictates that workers be mobile in case a job disappears or a better one opens up.

You aren't turtles, I tell them. You can't take your house with you if you need to move.

Home ownership was once the best path to the accumulation of wealth. Renting was a sign of financial failure. But I am not sure these things are true anymore.

Both couples have remarkable savings discipline. Might they not be better off paying rent and saving what they would pay in closing costs, taxes and maintenance? It is worth a conversation with somebody smarter than I.

Members of my parents' generation didn't view a home as in investment. It was a place to raise a family. It was more than a roof over your head, it was a sign of success and stability.

Homeownership not only stabilized communities and their schools, it reverberated through the entire economy. Homeowners decorated and furnished their homes, spruced up their yards and replaced roofs or windows over time.

The bank told you to buy as much house as you could afford — and you listened — because your earnings were certain to go up. That's no longer the case, either. Today the best advice might be to buy as little house as you can get away with. (And never listen to the banks.)

But it is hard to let go of the notion that paying rent is like burning a pile of money in the front yard. You are paying all or most of the cost of ownership for the owner, and you have nothing to show for it. He does.

And that rent is never going to go down. It is just going to keep going up. That won't happen with a mortgage payment. And you are probably excluded from neighborhoods where the best schools are because there are fewer rentals there.

My husband and I have been in the same house for 30 years (that's not going to happen anymore, either), and when I think about all the money I have sunk into the place to keep it up, I feel almost faint. That new front porch was the equivalent of a trip to Paris.

We are not going to sell the house to fund our retirement, but what might that retirement look like if we'd put all the money for repairs and upgrades and taxes into savings?

That would have taken discipline and a lot of young people live only in the moment. But couldn't my company's 401k have been the same kind of forced savings vehicle those mortgage payments have been?


And couldn't we now just pick up and move to a cute place at the beach?

Life decisions like this used to be made for you. School, marriage, house, kids. In that order. Now it is all a la carte. Optional.

These young couples will figure out whether it is time to buy, I am sure. My ambivalence and I will just try to stay out of the way.

Although I may mention that thing about the porch and the trip to Paris.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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