Editor’s Note: Inman News is pleased to introduce "House Keys," a new weekly column about homeownership by veteran real estate writer Marcie Geffner. "House Keys" offers a fresh look at today’s changing images and perceptions of homeownership through current news events and personal stories. For information about publishing this column on your Web site or in print, contact Elaine Baker: (510) 658-9252 ext. 128.
"I don’t know how you do it."
That’s the comment I heard from my friend Kristi Fojtik, 38, a single woman who has toyed with the idea of buying a condominium now that home prices have fallen back to earth and interest rates have plummeted to new lows.
Fojtik occupies a rent-controlled apartment in Los Angeles that’s much too small to accommodate herself, her belongings, her beloved cats and her aspirations of entertaining more than three guests at the same time.
So she’s considered the possibility of buying a small condominium, but so far she’s decided against it because she just doesn’t know how she’d manage it. "I don’t know how you do it," she says, having heard too many hardship stories about mortgages that reset to higher payments and homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth.
Because of course even a modest condo in Los Angeles comes with a whopping big mortgage not to mention association fees, homeowner’s insurance premiums, pay-it-yourself utilities and burdensome property taxes. There is also the nagging doubt as to whether such an investment made today will ever pay off in the future. And those financial burdens and risks can be all the more daunting for a single person than they would be for a two-income married couple.
Therein lies a considerable challenge for today’s public policymakers and real estate pros: How can homeownership be made more appealing and less burdensome for well-qualified prospective homeowners who are simply and understandably quite content to rent? And how can homes be made more affordable not just at the time of purchase but over the lifetime of the homeowner?
The tenant-friendly rent controls on Fojtik’s apartment are a factor in her decision as well. Since her rent is capped at less than half the market rate of a comparable apartment in her part of town, she wonders why she’d ever exchange a $1,000-a-month rent check for a $2,500 house payment.
But while the financial hurdles are indeed considerable, it’s not just the money that gives Fojtik such qualms and reservations about homeownership.
"I don’t know how you do it," she says, having just heard my woeful tales about a sewer line that’s clogged with tree roots, a closet door that’s stuck shut and a houseful of rooms sadly in need of a fresh coat of paint.
Because there is also the perception that taking care of a house is too burdensome and difficult for one person to manage. Never mind the house-cleaning chores; homeowners are also responsible for maintenance and repairs that encompass everything from roof to roots. How can one person cope with everything that a house or even a condo requires? And why would my friend want to give up the ease of calling her landlord and instead take on the responsibility of hiring and paying contractors to keep her home in good repair?
Not long ago, Fojtik, who earns a steady paycheck in the entertainment industry, might have been the perfect prospect for first-time homeownership along with the legions of other singles who bought their own homes.
But today, despite an amazing growth in the ranks of single women homeowners in particular, there is a perception that homeownership is just too darn hard. "I don’t know how you do it," Fojtik says as she voices her intention to hang on to her apartment because she just doesn’t know how she could take on the responsibilities of homeownership.
Marcie Geffner is a freelance real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News.
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