January 18, 2013

A Home of My Own

Sigh. I hate to admit this.
I have never owned a house.
I really hate that I hate to admit this. Re-Sigh.
What I hate more, is that having never owned a house makes me feel a bit like a loser.
I don’t think I’m alone. Oh god don’t let me be alone.

I know a few other people, mostly artists, who have never scraped enough money together for a down payment – let alone cover a mortgage. Even in this time of unprecedented, unbelievably cheap money. That bastion of adulthood - a mortgage. You've arrived...right?

Contrary to popular belief, house ownership is not an entitlement. Until the late 1940s most people in North America rented. The housing boom made owning possible. And now about 2/3 of Americans own a house – or the bank owns it while they live there. Which means a significant number of people still rent...

I went through the numbers with my husband when he came into my life. He’s owned before. He knows this whole ‘budget’ thing. He watches real estate like a red-tailed hawk on a field mouse. He hasn’t seen the market making any sense for the last number of years. So we’ve put money away…paid all our bills…and we sit patiently - okay I’m not so patient - waiting for a ‘market correction’. By the way, the Toronto real estate numbers were recently released, and sales here have dropped a whopping 19.5% over last year at this time…BUT…prices haven’t.

Steve created an excel spreadsheet with every variable and compared owning to renting (and saving/investing the difference). Yes, we save the difference – our shredded sofa is ample evidence. We do have that discipline.

On balance, it kind of balances…but…and yes there is a but…if you buy early in life…and if you pay it off, then the advantage is to owning. And there is a difference once you’ve cashed out as an owner and have to live on the money – you might be better off....

Blah, blah, blah. Money and math and business decisions...

I’m more fascinated by the feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s uneasy. That feeling like you’re being left behind at the train station while everyone heads off to vacation/beach/funland. Or there’s a party somewhere…you can hear it…somewhere…Friends have urged us to buy – saying the same thing I’ve heard over decades – jump in, or you’ll never get in – always said when things are in a frenzy.

Part of my problem is that I forgot. I mean time flew by…and sort of like having children…I forgot there might be a deadline. And here is what I hate even more. It might actually be too late. There is an encroaching deadline on this…why buy something that I have to commit too many years to paying off…years that would now take me wayyyyy beyond retirement (assuming I were to live a fantasy life and actually retire)?

Buying now just doesn’t make sense to me…it doesn’t make sense. And I shake my head loose, and my shoulders and my arms…as if I’m starting afresh – pushing away the propaganda that says my life is not successful without a house in my name. And trying to live in the spirit that works hard not to follow the herd…

I know. I know… renting…

…the house isn’t ours, the things we’d improve aren’t really in our power to improve. We share the basement laundry with our landlady (as lovely as she is)…so she has to come briefly through our apartment to get to the basement. The century-old place is nowhere near sound proof or insulated. Personal conversations have to be whispered, no one is dumb enough to come over without a sweater – unless we’ve had the oven on for a couple of hours.

And yet, my life is actually better without a house right now. My quality of life is quite high compared to previous years – I can travel…I can sit here and write and don’t have to worry about next month's rent. We put a lot of money into the food we buy. We have a stove, a fridge, and a counter…and our overhead isn’t that high. We live close to the subway system, in a fantastic neighbourhood. And if we lost an income, as we did late last year, we’d be okay. Because we didn’t buy. It bought us some freedom. On balance…not a bad deal.

And when I look at it that way – I haven’t been left out of the party – in fact, I can host the party.

Which brings me in a long, roundabout path to New Year's Eve. We had 8 people at our dining room table. We’ve ritualized the many-course dinner over the years. It started with homemade paté, thanks to Andy, and prosecco. When we gathered around the table, we started with lobster and shrimp rolls. Then a salad – simply green, scattered with toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds with a lemon dressing. In between various friends kindly got up to wash the dishes…and dry them…while Nicole and Jean Paul’s dog Connor (dear Connor) joined in and tried to help by eating the scraps that had gone into the compost bin…and then…on to the next course.

We ate pork loin roast – stuffed with apricots and prunes and smothered in a Madeira wine/molasses glaze served with a mashup of rutabaga and carrot, and steamed green beans with garlic and ginger. Then coq au vin with rosemary roasted potatoes. Then flourless chocolate cake, thanks to Nicole. And the cheese plate? We never got there. But the dishes were all clean.

We barely got to the champagne at midnight. Some of us just had cups of tea and were lolling on the furniture wobbling our way into a standing position to wish everyone a happy new year. Oh my god we laughed and talked and yammered and yawed…we laughed so hard. What a great way to bring in 2013. I love my friends. Feeding them ‘til they hurt was my way of showing that.

No, we weren't in our house...but we were definitely home. 

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