Goldilocks Housing

Edited Photo. Source: Flickr - Robert Young

I'm a fan of renting. Plain and simple. Not only do I believe over the coming decades an invested renter will be financially much better off than a homeowner (mostly due to the stretched economics of the housing market). I believe that renting leads to choices that drastically improve lifestyle efficiency.

I call the big one Goldilocks Housing. You know... not too big, not too small, just right?

The Long Haul House

When a person buys, they are best off buying a house where they will stay in for a long time. Remember: flipping, upgrading, or downsizing is for suckers. Turning over real estate is pretty much only good for the middlemen. Real estate floggers especially. But also your mortgage gal, your lawyer, your surveyor, the property inspector, your municipality, your province, and others who make a living off the trading of real estate. It's an expensive commodity to play with.

So people tend to buy as much house as possible. A house you can raise a kid or two or three in, a house you can entertain a million guests in, a house with a big backyard for the kids (and grandkids), a house that's cool enough to make your peers envious, and a house that mom and dad approve of.

This, however, leads to huge inefficiencies. The average household in Canada has around 2.25 persons. Yet the average newer house is around 2,000 sq.ft.! That number doesn't include finished basements, so it's likely that total finished space is even higher.

Thinking about the future means most couples will buy large 3 or 4 bedroom houses. But... in an average 60 year adult life, only around 25 years are likely to have more than two people living in the place full time.

Trading houses is a good way to transfer your wealth to the smiling folks on bus bench ads, but buying a forever house means you have way too much house for as much as 2/3rds of your adult life. You're paying too much to heat, electrify, furnish, maintain, and upgrade space you don't need.

Trading Costs A Lot

If you choose to change houses at these different stages of life, you are also behind. It means you will sell a property at least twice and buy three times. While buying typically can cost about 0.75% of the property value, selling costs upwards of 5% all said and done. The average SFH sets you back $632,000. Buying costs $4,700 and selling costs $31,000. Apartments cost $353,000, so $2,600 to buy and $17,000 to sell.

If you buy an apartment, sell the apartment, buy a house, sell the house, and finally settle into another apartment, your inflation-adjusted strict expenses based on current prices is nearly $60,000! Not being able to invest those trading costs in a Balanced Portfolio, could make you $146,000 poorer from the time you're 25 and buy that first apartment to the time you're 55 and sell the house and move back to an apartment.

By the time you're ready to retire ten years later that $146,000 is worth $265,000. At the 20x Rule, you threw away over $1,000 a month in reliable portfolio income because of real estate trading costs alone. That nearly covers the difference in monthly rent costs versus the ownership costs of a paid off house!

Renting = Flexibility & Frugality

As a renter, I can move at very low costs with very low risk. Provided I reasonably take care of the place, I get my rental deposit back guaranteed. The utilities are already hooked up and, if I stay in the same general area, my utility account moves seamlessly from one address to the next. If not, they go to my last bill and remainder gets directly deposited back into my checking account.

Provided you're not already addicted to chipboard (I was), you can be really efficient in your choices when renting. First a 1-bed apartment. Upgrade to a two bedroom eventually for guest space or when the first kid comes into the picture. Maybe move to a reasonable sized house or duplex when more kids come. Then effortlessly downsize when they're off to college or otherwise on their own feet.

Every change comes with very minimal costs. Maybe $1,000 for direct expenses per move and that's it. I'm not heating, electrifying, or furnishing unused space. And maintenance requirements and upgrade temptations are not my problem.

If my place gets a little ugly over the years because of landlord neglect, I can move. Or at least suggest moving to try get the landlord to invest in his revenue property.

If you are a good, long-term bill-paying tenant who keeps the place in decent condition you'd be amazed at what your landlord will do to keep you there. Good landlords know vacancies and bad tenants cost them lots of money! If it just requires a simple investment in their own property (which they'll probably have to make anyways to attract good new tenants), chances are they'll make the necessary improvements to keep you happy and keep your good rent checks coming in.

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