Why We Rented for So Long
Once we hit a certain age (hello mid-thirties), we found that certain people judged and shamed our renting instead of owning a home. This was both heartbreaking and unnecessary on so many levels. First, our generation hasn't exactly had it easy in the homebuying world. If you don't have family assets or aren't gifted a home, it's hard (or impossible) to save up enough for a substantial deposit while also paying rent somewhere else. And second, demand far exceeds supply in most suburbs, which makes it all that more difficult to secure a home even after you find one you can make an offer on.
Looking at the bright side, we are so happy we rented in our city before we bought here for many reasons, not only the following:
1) we got a feel for the neighborhoods in the area;
2) we started to build a community; and
3) we had time to get to know all the down and dirty secrets our dream location was hiding.
We rented in our chosen city for almost four years before we bought our home here. I cannot overstate how much we benefited from that choice
decision mandated by our finances. Between us, we moved eleven times in the last five years. So much so, that we assumed we knew exactly what we wanted in a forever home when we first started renting here. But hindsight is 20/20, and in our case, it proved that renting before buying was the right call.
1. Getting a Feel for Different Neighborhood
When we moved here, we thought we wanted to live in the city center. In fact, we insisted that we be within walking distance of a coffee shop, restaurants, and parks near the center of town. Luckily, the only apartment we could find was located right in the heart of the city, exactly where we "needed" to be.
After having lived in the heart of the city for almost two years, we found that we didn't care at all about ANY of the things we claimed were necessities when we moved here. The traffic started to get on our nerves after a while, as did the noise coming from all the restaurants, bars and events held downtown. And being in such close proximity to restaurants and coffee was not the best for our wallets or waistlines (when taco Tuesday bleeds into hamburger Wednesday which just happens to come before anything-but-what-we-have-in-the-fridge Thursday). And we needed more living space after having our daughter, which would only happen if we moved into one of the surrounding neighborhoods.
So off we went to a rental in a completely different part of the city. Turns out, we were happiest being within driving distance of the city but not actually in it. We didn't mind having to drive to get coffee. Our priorities shifted so much after a year in that apartment, that our list of necessities for our future home didn't even resemble the list we had created less than four years prior. But we knew we wanted to stay in our city.
So there we had it, an area we could circle on a map of where we wanted to live. That certainly narrowed down our search.
2. Building a Community
When we first moved here, we didn't know a soul. It can be tough to meet people in New England. Luckily for us, we are social beings at heart, New England be damned. In fact, we were often mistaken for mid-westerners here due to our affinity for starting conversations with strangers in coffee shops, grocery stores, and on the street. My heart swells with pride thinking about the double-takes that follow our declaration of growing up in New England...but I digress.
We put the effort out there to say hello to everyone, and let the chips fall where they may. Within a few months of living here, we knew most all of our neighbors. We were friends with the baristas at our favorite coffee shop, the couples we met on walks by the water, the dogs who would routinely cross our path, and their humans. We went to a lot of open houses, and through those were able to get a feel for local real estate agents we might jive with.
We funneled our lives into our city - hair stylists, groceries, veterinarians, restaurants, retail stores, gyms - if we could get it done in our city, we made it happen. Not only did we each end up finding jobs in our city (one through a chance meet-up at a coffee shop), but we were able to get a real feel for what our lives and the life of our daughter would look like here.
Sure, there were aspects we didn't like, but we have the benefit of knowing that they exist and can react accordingly. We wouldn't necessarily have a heads up without knowing other people who had already been through it. Which brings me to...the skeletons.
3. But That Closet Isn't Big Enough To Hold A Skeleton...
Every location has dirty little secrets. That being said, if your goal is to find a forever home, you need to know what you are getting into before you get to closing day.
As an example: our town has a new type of development going in near the downtown. It is very controversial and will impact the block of homes surrounding it. But if you don't live here already, chances are you have no idea it's happening. If you buy a home on that block, would you get the heads' up that you are buying into two years of construction noise and a completely different view? And if you did, would you still pay asking?
The lawyer side of me has to beg you to do as much online research as possible on where you want to live. Get to know local zoning ordinances. Want to build a farm in the backyard? Check to see if chickens are allowed in that zone first. Want a two-car garage? Check the variances to see if you will have the setback requirements necessary to build one. Love the open space abutting your backyard? Look to see if it could be subdivided and turned into homes in the future. Spend time in the area, at different times of day - what are the noises like? If there was street parking at 2 pm during your showing, is there the same street availability at 7 pm? Take the time in between finding your dream home and the purchase and sale to learn as much about your future property as possible. You won't regret it.
4. When Renting Ahead Wasn't Possible
If you can't rent where you want to live, act like you do. It's what we did when we tried looking into different communities that were too far to visit regularly. Join local social networking groups. Subscribe to the local paper. Take a weekend trip to look at different neighborhoods in person. And if you are close enough to visit, take a trip to the grocery store. Buy a cup of coffee, visit a local retailer. That random connection you make could be the person who gives you a great lead on a home that hasn't hit the market, or could warn you about making a mistake with one that already is.
Bottom line: slow and steady sometimes does win the race...at least in the races worth winning.