Monday, May 25, 2009

Real Estate: A Measure of Success?

I rent. And I like it.

When my AC needs a new HEPA filter, or when the neighbor's sprinkler repeatedly ruins my car wash – both of which happened this week – I don’t have to deal with it. I make a call and it’s someone else’s job to fix it. Not to mention that at any moment, I can move!

However, over the years, I’ve had a nagging sense that because I own a business, I should own a home. My two business partners own their residences and my 22-year old employee just made an offer on a condo. And many of my entrepreneur friends and corporate executive-types own homes – and we all live in Los Angeles, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country.

Owning real estate exudes fiscal responsibility, maturity and realizing the American Dream. Really a measure of how well you’ve made it in the world. Does this mean I have not?

And is this concept still true? In this time of decreased home values, massive foreclosures and borrowing more than we can afford, is owning real estate as sexy as it used to be?

Most people I know are still on the ownership bandwagon:

“Real estate is still the best investment you will ever make.”

“Renting is like throwing money down the drain.”

“I’m in Escrow!” (heard three times this week)


But last weekend I spoke to someone who's on my side of the fence. A successful set decorator for feature films, she has owned a home for a few years. She bought in an “up and coming” area – which fortunately came up as hip – and isn’t upside down in her mortgage or in over her head. But finances aside, she brought up a point that hit home for me; one that went beyond status and into obligation.

“As a single woman, owning a home is that much more of a commitment. You only have your self and your income or savings to rely on. If the plumbing goes out, or the tree falls over, I am the only one around to take care of it. And this additional responsibility can be overwhelming at times.”

She knew her house was a great investment and she truly loved her home, but she often wondered if owning continued to be the right choice for her. And it made me feel so much better: Who wants to be responsible when the pipes need to be snaked, the weeds need to be plucked and the termites take up residence? Certainly not me. At this point, I feel I have enough on my plate in remembering to leave a key for the housekeeper, water my plants and check the mail (note to self: remember to do these things asap).

It has taken me three years of contemplation, an economic downturn and one late night chat with a friend to realize that owning real estate is not the powerful gauge of achievement that I once obsessed over. For some it is a smart choice, and for others not so much. So I will continue to own my business and rent my home.

And hopefully, one day soon, the truly important things in life – like being kind, honest, and gracious with your time and talents - will be the first things I/we think of when contemplating the measure of success.


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