Sunday 26 March 2017

Forget the stigma, it's good to rent

HAving spent the first 25 years of my life in a rented house I can never quite understand the reluctance of people to rent.

Okay, so you don't OWN your house -- but the truth is that until a mortgage is fully paid off a person doesn't, in fact, own his or her own home. The bank or building society owns it.

Paying off the loan is a process than can take up to 30 years. So the argument about rent being 'dead money' doesn't really hold up. If you are renting you are, in fact, paying for a commodity -- four walls, a roof and possibly a garden -- for as long as you want it.

A case could be made for living within one's means by paying as you go, instead of investing in what our grandparents called 'the Never-Never', and carrying the burden of a €300,000 plus debt for years.

My experience of renting -- and I have rented three times during my life so far -- has been nothing but good.

My parents came down to Dublin from Belfast in the 1930s and hadn't the money for a deposit on a house, so they looked around for a house to rent, which was quite common practice in those days.

They wanted a newly built house and it had to be unfurnished. (This, to my mind, is one of the most important things when renting. As soon as you put in your own furniture, and hang your own pictures on the walls, the house becomes your home, and whether it is rented or not is immaterial.)

I wasn't aware of any stigma attached to not owning our own home. Our house was lovely, well kept, well maintained. Joey, the handyman employed by our landlord, was our saviour whenever anything went wrong. He painted the outside of the house every few years, checked locks on the windows and doors and coped with the very occasional plumbing problems that occurred.

Our landlady was also from the north, a forthright businesswoman who took a great fancy to my elegant mother and gave her the job of choosing a name for our new road, taken from a list of four Ulster castles.

The friendship between the two women became very strong over the years.

So important were my family to our landlords that when their only daughter ran off and married a Dutchman, she came to my father's place of work and begged him to break the news to her parents!

My next experience of renting was after 30 years of marriage. Our house had become too big for us, after the children moved away, and we decided to sell and buy in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

We sold at the start of the boom for an acceptable, but fairly modest, price and then discovered, to our horror, that nothing was, as yet, being built in Greystones.

In danger of having no roof over our heads I frantically contacted my auctioneer friends and they gave me the name of a young man -- a builder -- who had just bought a house that he worked on, and which he now wanted to rent out.

What a lovely house that was! Our young landlord, Paul, was one of the early Celtic Tiger cubs who decided to invest in property. He ended up owning several houses, all of which he let out.

This house, also, was new and in tip-top condition. Everything worked to perfection. We brought our own furniture and paintings. Only the garden was poor -- levelled, but badly sown with grass. We were fond of gardening and we put a shape on it. (A law introduced a couple of years ago specifies that the landlord is now responsible for the garden.)

We lived in that house for a year, waiting, all the while, to get some place to buy in or around Greystones. No luck. Zilch!

We accepted defeat, moved back to Dublin, having spent a happy year in Wicklow and bought an apartment.

Fast forward 13 years and we decided to have another shot at Wicklow. This time picking Kilpedder, beside our daughter. We tried to sell our apartment, but had no luck, so ended by renting a lovely bungalow in Kilpedder and renting out our apartment, until such time as the market would improve.

It didn't, as everyone now knows, and we had no option but to return to Dublin. Wicklow, it appears, is not for us.

Thinking over it all, "physician, heal thyself" seems to apply. After 30 years as a property writer I should have known better!

But one thing was proved to us -- we had nothing but good experiences from the exercise of renting. We got on well with our landlords. They kept the houses in good nick, as did we. We didn't bother them and they didn't bother us.

As a nation, we have bad memories of having landlords. But the number of renters has been slowly rising over the past couple of years -- through immigration and due to fluctuations in the property market. Maybe we are ready to let go of the past.

Irish Independent

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