Renting is the New Rich

Posted: November 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Misc Neuroses, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 4 Comments »

My friend’s husband swept his hand along our speckled-gray linoleum kitchen counter. “You guys are lucky,” he said wistfully. “Really.”

Why? Well, he wasn’t referring to our not-even-Corian counter top. His point was that we have the good fortune—as he sees it—to live in a 1,600-square-foot cottage. A rental. Whereas he owns a grand home in a manicured stately neighborhood. A house with a master bathroom, as well as a family room and a living room. A grown-up big boy house.

But in the past couple years he’s often grown wistful when he, his wife, and kids visit us. When he looks around at our compact living room, our Home Depot-appointed kitchen, and our children’s modestly-sized but lovingly-decorated bedrooms.

We have something that he doesn’t. Less.

It feels like the Curly Hair Straight Hair Syndrome—the thing that’ll have Paige desperate to blow-dry her curls flat some day, while Kate burns with envy over Paige’s ringlets. But this is about houses, not hair. It’s the same thing, but in bigger, more grown-up terms. We go to their neighborhood and I delight in not having to lock the car doors. I luxuriate in the adult conversation that takes place while the kids play in another room.

I admit it. I’m jealous.

We don’t see these friends nearly as much as we’d like, so when we do get together we have a lot of ground to cover. And we’ve gotten efficient about it. “The job? How’s the job? And Jeremy’s school? You still liking it?” We trade good news and worries like baseball cards. Sometimes new things are in the mix, sometimes it’s the old standbys. I’ve heard my friend’s hubbie lament their large mortgage before, but this time when she brought it up too, my concern lingered.

I mean, I know a housing crisis is raging through the country like a forest fire. But I think I’ve been naive enough to think it wouldn’t reach my friends.

And then another old friend dropped by the next day. She was on my side of the bay for a work thing, so she came over first for tea. She’d never been to our house.

“Oh your place is so cute!” she said the moment she stepped in. By her second or third remark on the charms of our Craftsman I felt obliged to point out that the place isn’t really “ours.” “We rent, you know,” I said, feeling the slightest twinge of Lowly Renter Complex.

“It’s just we were looking to buy when I was pregnant with Kate,” I went on. “And we weren’t finding anything we loved, and I was getting pregnanter and pregnanter until we finally just decided to rent. Especially since we’d never lived in the East Bay. Best to kick the tires before committing, right?”

I should carry a tape recorder around. I’d save a lot of breath on my frequently-compelled-to-utter Why We Rent Rationalization if I could just hit Play.

The part I often fail to mention is when we were looking to buy and we ran the numbers on our monthly payments, we realized I’d have to return to work right after having the baby. We couldn’t make it work on one salary. And I know myself well enough to picture myself crying in an office bathroom stall, leaking milk and lamenting that I had to leave my weeks-old baby with a sitter.

I know millions of women do this. Right now thousands of stalls nationwide are packed with weeping Mamas. And my heart—and a rumpled Kleenex—goes out to them. But if there was any way I could avoid joining their ranks I wanted to. Instead of being a slave to a mortgage, I wanted the option of staying home with my baby. If only in the short-term.

My visiting tea-drinking friend lives in a spectacular home. It’s perched high over a harbor cove with views that tourists take honeymoons to see. One whole side of their house is glass. And since I last saw the place—then a real estate wet dream—they’ve redone their kitchen, pushed out the walls. Made it even fabulouser.

I made some comment crowing over her divine place. “Well, if we can even hold onto it,” she said flatly.

The remark may well have been exaggeration, but she went on to point out the long sliver luxury car she’d pulled up in. “Oh God, that thing. It seemed like such a good idea a year ago and now it’d be impossible for us to pawn off.”

Before even covering all our catching-up bases, my friend looked at her watch and announced she needed to dash. Paige and I waved from the porch as she drove off, and when we turned around to go back inside I looked around our compact quarters with a new sense of appreciation.

“Maybe Paigey,” I said setting her down by the coffee table. “This place isn’t so bad after all.”


4 Comments on “Renting is the New Rich”

  1. 1 Mary said at 9:55 pm on November 3rd, 2009:

    Yay! Well said. Your home rocks. You should attach a third arm to you so it can pat you on the back wherever you go. Great piece.

  2. 2 The Subtle Rudder said at 5:26 am on November 4th, 2009:

    I would eat toads to be an unencumbered renter again. A craftsmen in Oakland? For that, I’d give up wine. And whining.

  3. 3 Bibbo (the one called jack) said at 11:53 am on November 4th, 2009:

    Me likey.

  4. 4 FAB said at 2:04 pm on November 4th, 2009:

    Despite your other charming talents, you have a profound and a real and well thought out sense of economics. A house is measured by its size and location…a home is measured by other and more elusive qualities…warmth, comfort, and things like being able to hear the kids from any where in the house..and not being owned by by it..don’t change..buying a house is like truning can’t wait for it to come and when it does, nothing really changes…

Leave a Reply