Why Bother Owning When You Can Rent?

Now that it’s officially summer today in Seattle, we’ve entered into the season where Seattleites flock to sun worshipping activities near the water on their boats, or pack off to their various cabins in the islands.  As someone who grew up in an immigrant family in Eastern Washington, I had no concept of certain Pacific NW summer rituals such as spending the week “at the family waterfront cabin in the San Juans” or “boating.”  Perhaps if you’re on the East Coast, there are similar concepts of summering out in the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard or Newport, etc.

Growing up, our “summering” consisted of hanging out at home and eating junk food, fighting over the TV, trips to the public library, and sleeping in.  Classy, right?  If we were lucky, a family road trip to visit relatives in the Bay Area would be in the works, but there was never a “family cabin” by the lake or in the woods.  My parents grew up in major metropolitan centers in Asia, and so in our household “the woods” were always viewed as solitary, wild, and filled with scary creepy critters that might fancy you as dinner.  Besides you might easily drown swimming in a remote lake with no lifeguard around.

Cottage on Lake att

Besides these summer activities were frankly much too blue blood and virtually unimaginable as well as economically unobtainable for an immigrant kid like myself—like most winter sports such as downhill and cross-country skiing.

But the summer after my junior year of high school, a friend invited me to join her and some other friends for a few days up at her family cabin in Idaho near Hayden Lake.  I was finally initiated to the concept of “summering” at a cabin by a lake.  It was lovely, peaceful, and quiet.  And somehow someone managed to get their hands on lots of booze, which made for even more fun.  Never mind that Hayden Lake was formerly the headquarters of the Aryan Nations, and I was always the only colored person I saw on the drive up to the cabin, and around in town.  But it was still a lot of fun.  Did I mention the booze?

This past week I was with a group of friends and we were talking about the exorbitantly high barriers to entry if you were to purchase a cabin today here in the Pacific NW.  Like all real estate, our timing is off.  And those of us who don’t already own those waterfront cabins have to buy them at today’s prices.  So unless you inherit those puppies, it’s pretty much out-of-reach expensive for most people these days.  Especially since many of us at the tail end of Gen X and Gen Y have trouble buying our own homes these days, much less entertain the thought of owning a second vacation home on the water.

A friend in our group confessed that she and her husband were naively sucked into the peer pressure culture of what a “successful Seattle family” looks like: and that family has a cabin in the islands to retreat to on the weekends.  She and her husband duly purchased a cabin.  But when they did the math later, they calculated that the monthly cost of purchasing, financing, and maintaining their tiny cabin could have bought them a month-long stay at the 5-star Hotel Ritz in Paris…. My friend implored her husband to immediately sell the property, which they did.

For those of us who were simply born in the wrong generation to inherit beach homes, or are the wrong color to “summer” properly, have no fear.  There is an attractive alternative to owning vacation properties: Renting at vrbo.com—or if you’re under 40: airbnb.com.

I know that especially in residential housing, there’s always been a stigma in our country towards renting rather than owning, but it makes sense to do the math.  Sometimes in certain cities, it makes more sense to rent rather than to own your primary residence.

And certainly in the realm of vacation homes, renting is clearly the superior option when it comes to flexibility and minimalizing cost and responsibilities for those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to inherit a share of the family cabin.  Besides, as an owner, what if the septic tank or the plumbing goes awry in your cabin?  You are responsible for fixing it and paying for it.  But if you’re just renting the cabin out for the weekend or the week, you call the owner, and they have to come and take care of everything for you.

What’s not to love about renting a summer cabin?

The idea of renting affords flexibility and minimal responsibility.  Yes, you don’t get the cache and satisfaction of saying that you “own” the place, but who cares?  You can enjoy summering in an island cabin with minimal cost and responsibility and maximum flexibility.  Why not?

Besides, if renting (oh sorry, “chartering” is a classier, nautical word, isn’t it?) is good enough for superstars like Beyonce, Jay-Z and family, I’m pretty sure it’s a good enough option for you and me.


Happy Summer Solstice, and Happy Friday!