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.
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!
I’ve never owned any kind of property… and I doubt I ever will… so much hassle, responsibility, and a darn tie. Who needs that?! 😉
Yes to all three! I especially think that there is a cultural shift going on these days towards renting. I know that they are commonplace in Europe, but just look at the growth of car shares like ZipCar and car2go, even in a car-obsessed culture like the US. It’s a sign of things to come.
Europe… it depends …. it’s not a culturally/socially/economically homogenous region by any means. In the UK and Spain, it’s very important to people to own property. In France and Germany, less so.
Travelling and holidays are quite important to Europeans in general, though. Many Germans will go off to Malaysia (or some other far-away destination) for four weeks every year, but contend with a modest rented flat.
I’ve often thought that the pathetic amount of vacation time the average US employee gets is very good for the domestic economy. It stops people from leaving the country, and makes them spend all their money on BIG THINGS, like houses and cars.
If you’re American and you want to travel outside the US, you’ve got to either be a college student with well-off parents or retired. On the other hand, the US is a big country and there’s lots of fantastic stuff to see there, so it’s less tempting to cross the national border.
Note to self: befriend someone who already owns great summer cabin (pay them back in wine, conversation, and purposefully ‘thrown’ board games).
This is a very good strategy! (I especially love the “purposefully thrown board game” tactic!)
The “summering” by the water is the basic life-style where I live here on the east coast of Florida. I actually live on an island, “beachside” as it is known, and every day throughout the year is a perfect day to go to zee beach. There are some exquisite natural wonders that offer renting cabins etc. like the blue spring or down in the keys. I am grateful to actually live right across the street from the sea (don’t own the little shack, we rent it). However, dreams of living on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, those glorious scenes you have out there….oooo what a dream indeed. Beautiful and informative entry. Excellent, cheers,
Thank you for your comments, Autumn Jade! I guessed that you must live close to the ocean b/c of all of your beautiful pics and beach scenes, and what a joy to live across the street from the sea. Thanks for reading and I loved your last post about how you came about your long-eared roommates. Very entertaining and adorable! Thank you for stopping by!
Haha I am so glad you enjoyed it! They are quite rambunctious wee creatures indeed.
A pleasure, indeed. Cheers!
I think it is much better than owning a vacation home. Vacation homes are good for building family traditions that are usually associated, as you well point out in your article, with a homogeneous and local background. Us immigrants build our own version of traditions and they never fit the standard. Even if you had the money to buy a nice place, would you like to get stuck with maintaining it during the winter months? Besides, you can’t go anywhere because you must look after your vacation property.
We have rented from vrbo.com before and have enjoyed it. A word of caution: rent early ahead of the high season. Prices change significantly. For instance, a cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes, CO during low season can rent for 150 tears/night or less. Near 4th of July, their highest point, it can reach $350/night.
Renting carries less financial commitment, less maintenance responsibilities, and allows you to save the big bucks for vacations around the world every now and then.
Totally agree with you. I think each family has different traditions of what “summer vacationing” means, and for some, that means weeks up at the family cabin with relatives and lakeside swimming. For others it might be a trip abroad every 3-4 years to visit relatives back in the motherland. I also find it interesting that growing up, we must have made half a dozen 15-hr flight trips to Asia to visit relatives. But never once did our family consider visiting any other continent, or spending the summer in “nature.” Now with all the convenience of renting a cabin, everyone can experience “nature” at a relatively affordable price.
I reckon renting is the way to go. I lived in a nice house, close to the beach because I rented, something I never could have done if I bought a place! And yeah I agree with the person that said about befriending someone who already has a holiday place!
I did buy a house. The dream of owning a home was probably ingrained in me when I was growing up in USSR, where we couldn’t have real property. But I made sure we bought a house that is very affordable, because we do like our travel and staying at nice places, and eating nice food! There is such a thing as being “house rich, cash poor” and I think it’s just irresponsible and absolutely not worth it.
Thanks for the reminder that we can (and ought) to buy property when it makes sense, and certainly property that is w/in our means. Totally agree that being “house rich & cash poor” is irresponsible and detracts from your quality of life.
If under $1000 a week rental allows me (twice) to live in a multi million beachfront property, why bother to buy and slave the next 25 years for the bank? This may be the mindset of most people and is indeed logical but most Asians are brought up believing that owning a house is a security. I am seriously thinking of selling my house and travel to wherever I want to be and not worry about cleaning my pool, maintaining my garden, clean the gutters and the list goes on and go. Why be a slave for the bank? Food for thought. Thank you so much for sharing, American Tai Tai.
Thank you for commenting. Yes, I think many of us have been trained/brainwashed into think that investing in our own homes has been and will always be a “good investment.” But since the credit crisis of 2007/8, I think many of us have learned our lesson and that just like other investments, housing (like everything else) is never a sure thing.
hahaha…great post! totally agree about the idea of renting rather than buying! sometime it’s a much better choice! 🙂
Thanks cartoline! I think renting totally makes sense in certain cases, but so is responsible long-term buying. But definitely with vacation properties, renting is the way to go. Thanks for reading!
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