Today we are pleased to welcome Carolyn Lesmeister as a guest blogger as part of COMPASS’ series of reflections about renting, buying and mortgages. If you missed the previous posts in the series by Matthew DeBall and Timothy Siburg, check those out also and join the conversation.
When my husband and I finished graduate school and moved from the San Francisco Bay area to small-town Indiana, we experienced housing “sticker shock.” For 2/3 of what we’d paid to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, we were able to rent a house eight times its size. Our former apartment – in its entirety – could have fit into the formal living room, with room to spare.
It’s possible that the dramatic price drop went to our heads. The two of us rented a four-bedroom house. Our cat basically ended up with his own room. (Yes, our cat.) We didn’t need that much space, but we could easily afford it, so we went a little crazy.
Renting certainly had its perks. It let us stay flexible when we were unsure how stable our jobs were and how long we’d be in one place. It allowed us to learn that it’s hard for two people who work full-time to keep a large house clean. (The cat never did learn how to pick up his toys!) Renting kept us from being tied to a property in a place where the housing market was stagnant.
Most importantly, renting meant that when something went wrong – like when the furnace started making explosion noises and shaking the entire house – all we had to do was call our landlord and let her deal with it. We didn’t have to find a repairman, and we didn’t have to pay the bill.
The downside was that our landlord didn’t always share our perspective on what repairs were necessary. She didn’t seem concerned when we told her that small panes of glass had fallen out of one of the attic windows. As a result, I became an expert at safely and humanely removing bats from our living quarters. We had to learn to live with whatever issues our landlord didn’t fix.
About a year ago, our personal and professional circumstances required us to relocate to downtown Indianapolis. Initially we looked for places to rent but soon discovered that the monthly mortgage payments on a nice house would be less than the going rent (often for not-so-nice places) in the area. As a neighbor quipped, “It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood, but the landlords around here seem to think it up-and-came.”
So, we ventured into the fascinating and sometimes terrifying world of buying a house. We considered multiple options when we applied for our mortgage, including a community-based nonprofit that focused on loans for low-income first-time homeowners, a large national bank with some good incentives, and even the mortgage affiliate of our real estate agency. Each had its own perks and its own drawbacks … and its own qualification requirements.
The process had some bumps, but it worked out, and we bought a lovely, two-bedroom, 112-year-old craftsman style house within two miles of the city center. We downsized to a much more manageable house that suits our needs.
The nice thing about home ownership is that we have complete control over our space. We can paint, update, and landscape to our heart’s content. The downside is that when things go wrong now – like when the kitchen sink detached itself from the counter and tried to fall off – we have to deal with it ourselves. We made half a dozen phone calls before finding someone willing to try and fix that one.
We find ourselves more committed to our community, too. Buying a home – for us – means making a long-term investment in our neighborhood and our city. We care about our local businesses, schools, and community organizations, and we are investing in them even more than we did when we rented in other places.
Since we moved, the words God spoke to Jeremiah keep echoing in my mind, “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)
Renting was a great option for my husband and me when we first started out – and if we’d stayed in California it might have been our only option – but we are enjoying the blessings and challenges of homeownership in this new phase of life.
About the Author: Carolyn Lesmeister serves alongside her husband as the pastoral team for a unique rural-urban ecumenical ministry cooperative in central Indiana. She’s passionate about loving God and God’s people and is crazy enough to think that faith ought to affect every aspect of a person’s life. She strives to live that way on a daily basis and constantly seeks forgiveness for the ways in which she falls short.
This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.