Sunday, April 7, 2013

Where I Live and Where I Want to Live

For the seventh day of my 30 Days of Blogging, I've decided to contemplate a topic suggested by my friend Sandy:

Talk about where you live and where you want to live. You decide if that means city, neighborhood, apartment versus house, or something not quite as tangible as real estate.

Where I live now is the first place I have ever lived in that was not with my parents and was not a residence hall; my first "grown up" apartment. I lived on campus for all four years of college, and when not on campus I lived at home. After college, I moved back home for a semester, and then I went to be a hall director for several years, so until the age of thirty I had never lived in my own place.

I found this apartment online after I was hired but before I actually moved to Tennessee. I searched Knoxville apartment guides and reviews, and narrowed it down to three places that seemed to be in decent parts of town, had monthly rents in the budget that I worked out for myself, weren't too far from campus, and seemed nice. I emailed the three finalists, and this was the only one that wrote back. Not only did they seem welcoming, but they emailed pictures of the apartment, sent me floorplans, and called to see if I had any questions. When they faxed the lease, we made a phone appointment to walk through it together, point by point, and then agreed that I would sign in person when I reached Tennessee.

When I got here, after my friends who helped me move left, I had no idea what to do. I unpacked the kitchen and my clothes, but I had very little furniture. When had I needed it? Hall director apartments come furnished. I lived here for over a year before I hung anything on the walls, because I was terrified that I would lose my security deposit or get in some sort of trouble if I put nail holes in the walls. After all, I'd just spent seven years at two different schools doing damage assessment at the end of the year, and billing students for paint chips, nail holes, and anything else they'd broken. It wasn't until I renewed my lease that the agent at the office was like, "You know, you can paint if you want. Or hang things up. Really, it's fine."

I'd also never lived somewhere that I didn't know the people around me. We always met our neighbors in army housing fairly quickly, usually the day that we or they moved in. When my parents bought a house, the neighbors came up the driveway with a bag of freshly gutten creek fish (muckies, I think they were called) shortly after move in. In the residence halls, I met all of the neighbors because it was my job to meet them, know them, and help them grow, but here only the people in the apartment complex office knew who I was or where I was from. I guess I was misled by years of watching "Melrose Place": I assumed that all of the neighbors would know each other and be in each other's business and occasionally try to blow up the laundry room or shove each other into the pool. I think I lived here for at least six months before I even ran into a neighbor for long enough to introduce myself, and all of the people who lived here when I moved in have since moved on.

Which brings us to the second half of the question: Where do I want to live?

I always want to live in an apartment, or something similar, like a condo or maybe a townhouse. I do not, ever, want a house with a yard. Houses seem fraught with trouble. I'm always hearing from friends about hot water heaters and flooding basements and property taxes and lawns that need mowing and septic trouble and termites and plumbers, and I've seen dozens more haunted house movies than I have haunted apartment movies. If something breaks here, I call the office, and a maintenance man takes care of it. I don't have to search contractors on Angie's List or adjust my budget for the month. I just make a phone call, and eventually my problem goes away. Several friends have pointed out that I'm not building any equity, or making any money. I'm just making some landlord rich, and I could have a house for what I pay a month in rent, but this doesn't bother me. I'm not having kids. Who would I leave a house to? The landlord can have my rent money.

Still, someday I might want a loft, maybe. A big, mostly open space with lots of bookshelves and a nice kitchen. I'm not sure when that "someday" is, as I am already close to 40 and have made no moves to work on this, but maybe someday. I don't need a tremendous amount of space, but I would like for it to be a little roomy. I live in an apartment that's too big for one person now and I like it. It doesn't need a yard, but maybe a balcony? I don't sit out on my porch a lot, but I feel like I might more if it was a balcony, because then I could just leave the door between inside and outside open, something I can't do now because I live on the first floor.

As for where I would want this imaginary loft, I would have to say in a city. Not a big city. I might go insane if I had to be around crowds all day every day, but on the other hand it might be nice to live somewhere that I didn't have to drive. One of the things that I love about DC is the easy public transportation system, but the same thing in NYC made me feel claustrophobic and jittery. A city the size of Knoxville or Albany or someplace like that might be nice, or a more sprawling, less crowded city like Los Angeles. (That sounds weird, I know, but LA feels spread out even though it has way, way more people.) It would have to be a city in the South, as I no longer feel like I can tolerate the horrors of winter, but there is the drawback that so much of the South is homophobic and terrible, so I guess it has to be a liberal Southern city. I might consider the Southwest, but the scorpions are a discouragement.

Also, someday I think I want a glass topped range.

And maybe a fireplace.


Donna said...

You could get a husband (or just a boy) to take care of a house and yard. That's what I did. ;)

Rod Roscoe said...

It's 2013... have a husband AND a boy.

Liz said...

Joel, I've had the same lecture from relatives about owning versus renting and I don't see the advantages either. Like you, I have no desire to deal with maintenance, and I don't buy the message that real estate is a sound investment. Equity isn't liquid - sell your house and you still have to buy someplace else to live, right?

In our rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, pocket-sized condos start at half a mill and a place the size of ours is well into seven figures. So we hunker down in our rent-controlled co-op, invest the money we don't spend on paint and property taxes and bank it toward our retirement.

Justin Bower said...

Unless you're in a rapidly appreciating area, you're unlikely to save much by buying over renting. You might get a little more space, but you'll pay for it. Even after deductions, we still pay more in taxes and repairs and such a year for the house (on top of the mortgage) than we would for renting, or close enough that it negates much of a benefit. And we're locked into a 30 year mortgage instead of a one year lease. However, that being said, I think there's something to be said for learning to do your own maintenance. LA doesn't just seem spread out, it is spread out. It's a product of its developmental was built for the car, like Houston. Unlike its eastern counterparts, it rode to prominence in a latter age. Believe me, as someone who lives in a 620 square mile City, it has distinct disadvantages.