Can't Afford to Buy Now? Fall in Love With Renting Again


renting-match  (Luis Carlos Torres)

There comes a point where you just need to be a homeowner. Maybe your landlord's been hassling you. Maybe your rent doubles each year. Or maybe you realize you're not 23 anymore, and your small and dingy apartment isn't going to cut it any longer.

For me, all of those things worked in unison like a sign from the real estate gods: "Buy now! Be a grown-up! Homeownership is the key to happiness!" So I headed online to pre-qualify for a home loan. And then I'm pretty sure I heard the Internet laugh.

Apparently, the housing market is hard on millennials, and I am no exception. I am so not financially ready to buy a house.

So, in addition to crying over the housewarming party that wasn't meant to be, I also had to come to terms with my life as a renter -- and, hopefully, find a way not to hate it.

Here's how I managed to fall back in love with renting.

Change your approach to apartment hunting

If I was going to like renting, I was going to need a new apartment. But nothing I looked at for rent compared to what I'd seen for sale. This was doomed!

I decided to make a list of everything I liked in houses, so I could zero in on what was missing and try to scout out my dream pad more strategically.

That's when I realized what really made my heart go boom boom wasn't the big things -- it was the little details. Hardwood floors that weren't cheap laminate. Appliances born after me. Nuanced architecture. But I just wasn't finding those things in your run-of-the-mill apartment.

Then it hit me. I was going about this all wrong.

In a decade of renting, I'd found my rentals by driving around or refreshing my search on Craigslist every hour. This time, I took a different approach. I called a Realtor.

And then magic happened.

She emailed me a list of rentals I'd never seen before -- rentals owned by Realtors or posted on real estate websites.

Fall in love (or at least like) with your landlord

Living in a competitive rental market, I've always seen finding an apartment as a sort of fight to the death. Open houses were my Thunderdome. Many renters enter; one renter leaves. I was too busy trying to beat the other renters to care much about the landlord.

Basically, if the landlord was wearing pants, which didn't always happen, and was willing to take my money, I was willing to give it to him.

But in this new spirit of changing things, I decided to really do my homework.

I started asking questions. Tons of them. Were they full-time landlords? How long had they been at this? What was their maintenance policy? Why did the previous tenant leave?

I've always thought those were silly formulaic questions, and any landlord would be able to talk their way around it. But I was wrong. By asking, I got a feel for who the landlord was -- and I felt a whole lot better about signing a commitment and forking over my money.

Focus on renting's perks

Of course, the "ownership" part of "homeownership" can be reason enough to make you grateful to keep renting. Soon after moving in to my new pad, I got to see the flip side of having all those beautiful architectural details from a bygone era.

While old properties are adorbs, things also tend to break more. If I were the homeowner, that would be my problem. But I'm not, so nothing is my problem! Hooray!

Just this week, my landlord sent someone to winterize the lawn, repair a smoke detector, replace an expensive part in my heater, and change a light bulb I couldn't reach.

It probably hasn't been a great week for my landlord, but all I had to do was send one email. #winning.

Take your time

It was hard not to shout "gimme, gimme!" when I saw a cute place.

But snap decisions put me in terrible situations before, so I practiced some restraint, simply thanked everyone for their time, and said I would be in touch.

And that gave me time to see things for what they were. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

And it worked. By shrugging off the Thunderdome, I had more time to find an apartment -- and a landlord -- I could stick with until I'm actually ready for homeownership.