The scene was a sidewalk café on Chicago’s northwest side, one summery evening around 2006. I’d been joined for dinner by a couple of friends, Grant and Kate, and between bites of chicken Vesuvio — or was it a chopped salad? — was enjoying the witty, intelligent repartee of my two companions.
There was a lull in the conversation, and then Kate turned to Grant, the only renter among the three of us. “So, when are you going to join us among the ranks of homeowners?” she asked, in a tone of innocent inquisitiveness.
I expected Grant to offer a timetable for a home purchase. But he instead responded as if Kate had impugned his ethnicity or scorned his mother’s good name. It was clear he was very sensitive about his renter status.
His deeply wounded reaction was a reflection of the era. That was the day and age when folks from teenagers on up were jumping at the chance to scoop up homes, put within reach by zero-down payments and teaser-rate mortgages. Some felt if you were still renting in such an environment, you weren’t part of the club. You were an outcast, a pariah… seemingly, one of life’s most pathetic sad sacks.
Judging from his response, I think Grant himself held that view.
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But, as events were soon to show, Grant was actually ahead of the times. Just a year or two later, the mortgage meltdown would throw many overextended new homeowners into foreclosure. Suddenly, renting became not just acceptable, but the hip, trendy, now thing to do. By shunning the temptation to join the home-buying binge, Grant had been crazy like a fox.
Renters by choice
Now, the housing crisis is over and mortgages are once again easy to obtain. (Well, maybe not as easy as they were a few years ago. But still, pretty easy.)
However, millions of Americans still rent, and apartment buildings and other multi-family houses are popping up all over the place. In fact, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 37% of American households are occupied by renters. And if you’re in the under-50 crowd, you’re even more likely to rent!
Sure, people may rent because they can’t save up the capital to buy a home. But others rent because that’s really what they want to do. They believe you can’t enjoy life the same way when you’re tied to your own money pit… ahem, home. And renting can give opportunities that homeowners just can’t enjoy.
There are, of course, the obvious benefits: leaving the major maintenance to the landlord, being able to move more easily to pursue a new job or opportunity, or just living in a large building nearby to friends.
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But beyond these renting advantages, there are a slew of economies that await the shrewd renter who selects the right property. A partial list of such money savers looks something like this:
Apartment building fitness centers. Joining a health club can set you back plenty. At a great number of apartment communities, though (particularly newer ones), the chance to work out comes on the house, so to speak. With your club just a few floors or in-complex streets away, you’re saving gas and wear and tear on a vehicle, too. Apartment communities lacking in-house fitness centers often give residents complimentary memberships at nearby facilities. “Gym memberships can cost upwards of $100 a month, so having your gym included with your rent is a significant savings, ” says Diana Pittro, executive vice-president of RMK Management Corp., which manages dozens of Chicago area communities.
Business centers. Outfit a home office, and you’ll shell out big bucks for a computer, printer, Internet access, desk, office supplies and far more. But at many apartment communities, a welcoming business center offers residents all those necessities at no extra cost. Moreover, home-based entrepreneurs who need to meet clients in a business-like setting appreciate the conference rooms available to residents in many apartment community business centers.
Says Barbara J. Geffen, Co-CEO of Northbrook, Ill.-based Prime Property Investors, owner of two Northeast Illinois apartment communities: “Our business centers are appreciated by a variety of our residents, from casual online browsers to professionals who work from home.”
Swimming pool. Imagine the expense of installing your own in-ground swimming pool, then furnishing it with deck chairs, cabanas, and pool cover. Oh, and not to mention a summer’s supply of chlorine and pool chemicals. Now, think of the time you’d spend keeping the pool in ship shape. It would be like a second job.
But many rental properties give residents access to well-maintained pools with all the above extras. Some of the more spectacular ones sparkle like jewels on high-rise rooftops, and the awesome view comes at no additional charge.
Grilling stations. At many apartment communities, there’s no need to invest in a grill, propane, or charcoal. The grilling station on premise is open to residents who need only show up with their favorite foods, grill, and open wide. As many renters will attest, grilling is even more tasty when it’s free.
More ways to save. These are just the start of the money savers you’ll find at a large number of newer apartment communities. Additional ones include free dog washes, car washes, on-site community rooms, party rooms and theater rooms, discounts at area stores and restaurants, cooking classes, dancing lessons, wine-and-cheese get-togethers, catered holiday parties, discounted food deliveries, and low-price premium cable packages, to name a few of the ways to economize.
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As I mentioned up top, I’m a homeowner myself. But I get a bit envious when I tour one of the amenity-laden apartment communities being opened to today’s renters. As tempting as all the above economies seem, it’s the simple, joyful, carefree lifestyle renters enjoy that is so undeniably attractive.
No wonder many people returning to renting report they feel as if they haven’t just taken on a new lease, but a new lease on life.