Friday, November 13, 2009

Living Small, Paying Rent

It's no surprise that many people are rethinking the wisdom of buying a house. Property values are always supposed to go up, but the last few years have proven that assumption wrong. I don't know why anyone needed proof again; housing prices have dipped precipitously in the past. But, we seem to have a collective short memory when it comes to the unpleasant realities of the financial world.

The benefits of homeownership are familiar to most of us: you can build substantial equity if you stay in your home long enough, you can remodel to suit your tastes, you may get some helpful tax breaks, and you can enjoy feelings of stability and being a part of your community. On the other hand, you're responsible for all the maintenance bills, you can't just pick up and move if you feel like it with thirty days notice, and if your personal financial situation alters dramatically for the worse, you could end up losing your home to foreclosure, a truly unpleasant reality for many people right now.

I was always a believer in the flexibility of renting, so becoming a townhouse owner about ten years ago was a big step out of character. Fortunately, the Los Angeles housing market was just emerging from a slump, so prices were favorable for buyers. Also fortunate is the fact that the property has appreciated enough so that even in the current horrendous marketplace, it's remained a solid investment. Best of all, it's been a great place to live. But, being the kind of person who ponders, probably too often, the road not taken, I sometimes wonder how renting would have changed some of the choices that were made over the last decade.

One couple who chose to rent rather than buy are "living happily in 380 square feet" along with their nine-month-old son, Thurston, and Charlie, the dog. Kelly Breslin and Ryan Conder have furnished their miniscule apartment fashionably and functionally. Conder owns a men's clothing store; Breslin makes ceramic art, obviously not at home.

Looking at the photos in the LA Times article about them, I wondered what it would be like to live in such close quarters. My answer: not a joyful experience (okay, I phrased it more emphatically than that).

Could you do it?

(c) 2009 Cynthia Friedlob
Photo credit: Mark Manalaysay


victoriasc said...

that is amazing. my husband and i live in 700 sq ft and have already made the assumption that we'll have to move to a bigger place if we decide to have kids! this couple gives me hope that it's possible to stay where we are... certainly sounds tough, though!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Two people in a 1500 square foot townhouse, with both of us working at home, is very comfortable; he's upstairs, I'm downstairs. It would be pretty uncomfortable in a smaller space.

It helps that Ryan Conder, the husband, works away from home, but the family must have a high tolerance for no privacy.