Why I Returned to Renting After a Few Years of Home Ownership

Why I Returned to Renting After a Few Years of Home Ownership

When my husband and I told our loved ones we were leaving our single-family house for a much smaller rental, there were definitely a few WTF moments.

Once upon a time, buying a home felt like the next to-do in the journey through adulthood for me and my husband. We’d married, rented for a few years, and had a stable joint income—this was what was next, right? We considered renting in the downtown of our longtime city, Raleigh, North Carolina, before buying, as it seemed like a fun area to try, full of walkable restaurants, parks, bars, and grocery stores (whereas the rest of the city lives up to its nickname, "Sprawleigh")—but we decided against it as we couldn’t afford to buy there, and we felt like it was time to move on from renting. After all, many of our friends were preparing to buy, or they already had, and this felt like what was expected of two capable adults in our social circles.

And so, riding the heels of early 2021’s record-low interest rates, my husband and I bought a 1,700-square-foot ranch-style house in a postwar East Raleigh neighborhood about three miles from downtown, assuming it would be home for quite a while. From there, the projects began. We spent our summer vacation repainting the entire house off-white and green (we naively thought it would take only a few days—it took three weeks). Most Saturdays, we were either running to and from Lowe’s, setting up yet another Ikea bookshelf, or trying our best to cultivate life from the unwavering clay soil that filled our garden beds. All of these DIY projects, though time-consuming, felt like a chance to make this house our home, and we relished the independence. But as year two of homeownership came to a close, the shiny lure of owning property slowly faded into what felt more like an obligation loaded with unfinished tasks (those bookshelves still weren’t assembled, nor were the impenetrable clay garden beds any less barren), more space than we needed, and a lingering question of whether we’d made the right choice.

The spread out nature of our circuitous, sidewalk-free neighborhood didn’t help. When we ventured out for strolls around the area, walking on the curbs of busy, low-visibility streets, we’d rarely see said neighbors, as getting around this way wasn’t particularly enjoyable, or even safe. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’d both been thinking a lot more about the value of walkability and feeling a stronger sense of place in the city. We began to realize we weren’t finding those things in our quiet, car-oriented neighborhood. Plus, the nearby greenway that led into downtown Raleigh—a huge selling point for us, originally—was closed for an indeterminate amount of time thanks to a years-long public works project.

As time went on, it became clearer that though the physical space where I live, sleep, and eat is crucially important, the space outside of it—the community, infrastructure, and landscape just outside my door—is just as relevant in shaping my idea of home. My husband and I nervously began to realize that maybe that our forever home wasn’t so forever. We weren’t ready to move to a new city entirely, as we held dear our family and friendships nearby, so instead, we decided to move two-and-a-half miles down the road and did what we originally thought about: rented an apartment in Raleigh’s much more walkable downtown area.

Our sprawling, single-family house was no longer emblematic of the home environment we wanted. Was that okay?

We found a two-bedroom apartment on the edge of downtown with big windows, a big-enough balcony, and a not-too-big floor plan. We could walk or safely bike to many of our daily errands, there were nature trails a few blocks away, and my husband’s work was close by—it felt like a great fit, even if it wasn’t the expected choice, and a gift to have the freedom to make this decision, given that many people don’t have the option to even prioritize walkable neighborhoods or other livability factors. Still, even though we loved the apartment, I remember worrying if it was a step back for us, whatever that meant. What if people thought we were impulsive? Irresponsible? For many of our friends, buying a home was The Thing to do. Our sprawling, single-family house was no longer emblematic of the home environment we wanted. Was that okay?

Nevertheless, we took a deep breath and signed a lease, reminding ourselves that even if we had made the wrong decision, it was only a year. We decided to rent the East Raleigh house out for that time period as a just-in-case measure; the next few weeks were filled with a flurry of finally doing those repairs we had yet to finish, taking HGTV-worthy photos of the home during golden hour for Zillow (which, to date, I’m still incredibly proud of), and guiding potential renters around the home. A few more weeks passed, and the house’s carefully painted green walls were shrouded by moving boxes. I carried a small sense of grief with me as I prepared to leave the place we thought we’d call home for so much longer. But it was time to start nervously telling our friends and family what we were doing. Though there were confused and skeptical reactions from a family member or two, most of the time, we found that our loved ones were actually quite excited for us.

We moved into our walkable downtown rental in March, and there isn’t a week that’s gone by where I don’t think, This was definitely the right decision. Though it’s much smaller than the house we left behind, and there’s the annoyance of the unit’s greige paint that I can’t alter like I could as a homeowner, I feel more rooted in Raleigh now than ever. My favorite wine bar is three blocks away, and I love meeting good friends there after work. The coffee shop downstairs is a great spot to catch up midweek with my aunt or run into friendly faces, both old and new, also completing their coffee runs. The barista at the breakfast spot down the road is an old friend of my sister’s, and we always have a fun chat about her whenever I’m ordering a latte. The American Dream might emphasize permanence, but these little community touchpoints, however temporary they may be in our lives, have made Raleigh feel more like home than it has in the last seven years I’ve been here.

Top illustration by Shideh Ghandeharizadeh.

Related Reading:

The Unexpected Satisfaction of Leaving Behind the American Dream

10 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Home

My YIMBY Beliefs Were Tested by the Construction Project Next Door




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