Off The Press

August 5, 2014

By Neil Pierson

To rent or to own? That is the question

Neil Pierson

Neil Pierson

My wife and I are considering buying a home in Seattle, the prospects of which are both exhilarating and a bit terrifying.

First, let me preface by stating that I wouldn’t be a first-time homeowner. I’ve done it before, and while there’s a sense of satisfaction and freedom, it’s far from perfect.

To some degree, I think, apartment living has spoiled me. I like being able to call maintenance every time we find mold or the sink clogs, and know that we’re not going to have to sell a body part to fix the darned thing. Homeowners don’t have that peace of mind – something breaks and you’re in trouble, unless you have a good warranty.

There are two major reasons why we’re likely to leave Renton for Seattle. First, my wife loves the city. She grew up in small-town South Carolina, which might make you wonder why she doesn’t prefer living on a cotton plantation next to the ol’ general store and Waffle House. Well, she doesn’t. She likes the energy of a big city, its proximity to every service and entertainment venue imaginable. And most of her close friends are there, too.

That’s not to say I don’t like the city, because I do. But I also realize that if we want to go to a Mariners game or take the kids to Golden Gardens Park, we’re a reasonably short drive away.

The second reason for moving – and owning – is a much more pressing concern. In case you haven’t noticed, the real-estate market is exploding again. Many people point to the growth of high-paying, high-tech jobs at places like Amazon as the reasons for skyrocketing rents and home prices.

There’s something to be said for that: Our rent has increased by 13 percent in less than 18 months. It’s fair to say most people aren’t getting 13 percent raise every year.

I’m not going to begrudge the people who have the money to pay for apartments in and around downtown Seattle, but most middle-class folks are being priced out of middle-class living. My wife and I aren’t poor, yet we can’t afford $1,441 a month, the average rent for a Seattle apartment in the second quarter of 2014. That rate represents a $333-a-month jump over the last four years. Yikes!

One of the best things about owning a home and having a fixed-rate mortgage is the fact you’re not at the mercy of the market. Locking in a lower payment sooner, rather than later, is the way to go, because most projections don’t see prices stabilizing in the near future.

Amazingly enough, moving to Seattle might actually give us a greater sense of safety, too. Within a one-mile radius of our Renton apartment, there are 10 –TEN! – registered sex offenders. We’ve called police several times because of suspected domestic-violence issues with our neighbors.

It’s enough to make you want to buy a home, a good security system, and a shotgun for good measure.

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