Trading My City Shoebox for a Suburban Mansion: Why I Chose to Rent a House

When the question isn’t whether to rent or buy, but whether to rent a house or an apartment, here are some things to consider.

Unless I win the lottery, I’m probably going to be a renter for life. I suppose that’s the trade-off for residing in the beautiful and temperate, but obscenely expensive, Bay Area. For years, I lived in apartments — first with a roommate, then on my own, and then with my husband. Eventually, the pull of having outdoor space led us to rent a house in the ‘burbs, a fact that simultaneously evokes horror and jealously in my city-dwelling friends.

From a leasing standpoint, there’s not a ton of difference if you rent a house or an apartment. But there are some other things to consider if you’re thinking of making the switch.

How much it costs to rent a house

Obviously, depending on where you live and how big your rental space is, your rent is going to vary. In my case, by moving outside the city, I was able to upgrade my digs without upgrading my rent. But there may be other associated costs that come with living in a house.

Utility bills. The bigger the space, the more it costs to heat. Plus, you may be on the hook for gas, water, garbage, and other fees. Though apartment renters sometimes pay these fees as well, they’re often split between the tenants or covered in the price of the rent.

Appliances. Something to consider when renting a house or apartment is whether the appliances are included. Houses usually come equipped with washer/dryer hookups, but not necessarily the washer and dryer themselves. In our case, they were provided, but we’re responsible for replacing them if they break down.

Extra stuff. If you upgrade to a bigger space, chances are you’ll need more stuff to fill it. If you now have a guest bedroom, you’ll likely need a guest bed or futon. If you have a backyard, you’ll absolutely need a hammock. And if you have a sports-loving spouse, you may decide you want a second TV. It adds up.

Cars. I spent years in the city without a car. Once I moved to the suburbs, however, there was no way around it — I needed a set of wheels. And with wheels come maintenance, car washes, and insurance. But this is where houses have apartments beat (at least around San Francisco): parking. Not only can I park for free in my garage, but I also don’t have to worry about getting a street-cleaning ticket if I park outside the house. For some renters, this can save hundreds of dollars each month.

What features you’re looking for

We all have different requirements when looking for a home. I wanted no shared walls, a second bathroom, and a backyard … all within close range to public transportation. But that meant I had to give up living in the city with all its tantalizing restaurant options and easy-to-walk-to bars.

Whether you’re buying or renting, you’re pretty much always going to have to compromise on something. So make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves and then determine if you’re more likely to get those items with an apartment or a house.

Location. If you live in a major city, it can be hard to find houses close to the action (at least affordable ones). So, if you like to be in the center of things, an apartment may be the way to go. But if you have a family or a disdain for crowds, the suburbs ain’t so bad. And Costco is SO much easier to get to!

Space. Along with square footage, consider what else the space provides. Do you need a workshop or home gym? Then look for a house with a garage. Are you sick of unintentionally eavesdropping on your neighbors? Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to shared walls. Just remember, the bigger the space, the more there is to clean!

Amenities. Different properties have different amenities. You’re not going to find a 24/7 doorman in a single-family home. Likewise, a large apartment complex may come equipped with a gym or well-maintained communal spaces. For me, a house provides privacy, which is the most important amenity of all. Choose what’s best for you.

The emotional toll

We love our house. Our furniture fits perfectly, I’ve landscaped the backyard, and we’ve developed relationships with our neighbors. But the fact remains that it’s not our house. If the owners decide to sell, we have to pick up and start over again somewhere else. I never felt that way in my apartments —they always seemed temporary no matter how long I actually lived in them.

If you’re looking for a place to lay down roots, but can’t afford to buy, a house is a nice option. Just talk to the landlord first to see what their long-term plans are for the home. Is it an income property or are they simply biding time until the market improves? If you like a change of pace every few years, it may not matter, but if you’re looking to grow attached, know ahead of time what you’re getting into.

Renters insurance

And when you do find the perfect place, make sure you’ve got the perfect renters policy to go with it. Whether you choose a house or an apartment, your renters insurance can go a long way in protecting the stuff that fills it (and even the stuff outside of it).

Happy house (or apartment) hunting!

Related links

8 things to look for when apartment hunting
7 ways you could be violating your rental lease

3 Responses to “Trading My City Shoebox for a Suburban Mansion: Why I Chose to Rent a House”

  1. Joe
    January 17, 2014 #

    "Unless I win the lottery, I’m probably going to be a renter for life. I suppose that’s the trade-off for residing in the beautiful and temperate, but obscenely expensive, Bay Area"…true, but not everyone wants to live in or near a mega city like San Francisco or New York. In fact, I would never want to live anywhere near either of those places. "beautiful and temperate" also comes with earthquakes, traffic, and crime. I myself have a paid off home, will never pay someone else's mortgage, and the amount of money I saved by doing this will ensure I'm comfortable for the rest of my life. It's a shame that renting and "borrowing things" on credit (because if you owe the bank, you don't truly OWN anything) has become the new American norm. So before you decide to RENT anything, whether it be an apartment, home, car, or that new gadget you just can't live without, realize there is another option. It's called security, peace of mind, and true freedom. And those are things that you really can't put a price on.

  2. GregB
    January 26, 2014 #

    Joe is completely right, I have never made tons of money but living well below my means, doing without, fixing instead of replacing, paying extra principal on house I can afford, and saving for emergency and retirement, I know this the only way to live.

  3. Marc Denoyer
    April 22, 2014 #

    All that is mentioned, is true. Thanks a lot for sharing this since it is really helpful for anyone who is going to buy a new house.

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