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Published on 3/6/2018 2:14:01 PM
You don't have to own a house to enjoy living in it
A few months ago, we moved into our 15th home in 36 years of marriage. As we shortlisted places for renting, we ticked off two mental lists. One held things we desired, such as an island in the kitchen; the other held improvements over the earlier house, such as a covered patio, rather than soil that turns win rain. We have resolved to be renters for life. There is more to that decision.

It is not as if we did not invest in property at all. Eighteen years ago, we succumbed to the desire to have a place of our own. Every weekend was spent house hunting. If we liked the space, the view was bad; if the windows were large, the neighbourhood was crowded; if all else passed muster, the price was beyond reach.

After relentless search and a compromise about the locality, we bought a house. The loan was bigger than what we had budgeted for. But we were egged on by the desire for ownership. The husband had to commute; but the kids could walk to school and my office was a 10-minute drive on the new Palm Beach Road that had come up.

In a year's time, the kids moved school. They went to the KFI schools for the awesomeness of the educational model. It was a residential school and they moved out of home too. Free of the need to be close on hand for the children, I changed my job. So began the painful commute to a demanding job that left me with little energy.

Thus we moved out of our own home into a rented apartment. The struggle to let out the house was awful. People found fault with every thing. They had their mental lists about how big the bathroom should be, or how comfortable the kitchen. The house has since remained mostly locked and intermittently rented, each episode requiring elaborate repairs, painting and cleaning.

We paid off the loan earlier than planned. But that did not give us joy. We were keen to sell it off, but the elders in the family thought that the house was lucky. In their minds, my new job, the husband's promotion, and the kids' accomplishments at the new school, were all attributable to the house and its inherent lucky charm.

We remained happy renters for many years after that. We lived in houses that faced the sea; that provided awesome views of the skyline; that woke up to temple bells; and that were plonk in the middle of the market streets. Each time we moved, we gave out stuff to relatives, friends, household staff and such. We began to enjoy these episodes and soon learned the joy of uncluttered living.

But the bug bit us again, and this time the house was bigger, more expensive and even more elaborately done up. We thought after 30 years of working, we were finally settling down into something like a final destination. In three years, work took us elsewhere, and we were back to cajoling renters to give our beautiful flat a chance.

We now know that employees like us have to be mobile. A farmer who benefits from his work on a cumulative basis, a businessman who has to build his customers and networks, a practicing professional who has to develop loyal clientele, perhaps benefit from investing in their houses and staying rooted to one place.

People like us, who have to move where the job takes us, are so burdened by ownership. Houses become obsolete too soon. Our tenants ask for new bathroom fittings, new tiles, new floors, new electric fittings, and new paint ever too frequently. What once looked like an independent row house in a leafy neighbourhood soon becomes an old fashioned house with tiny rooms that is too elaborate to rent, and too small to buy at the same time!

Repairs and maintenance never cease. We suspect it is more when we live in it, rather than rent it out. But tenants can be demanding and can ask for an entire pane to be replaced when a tiny crack appears in a corner. We decided that it makes sense to be the tenant who makes the demand, rather the landlord who has to take a break from work to get things done.

To those who are aghast that we pay a rent and get "nothing" in return, we can only feel sorry. They know not what they say, for they are blinded by the desire that every rupee they pay should become an asset. The freedom that renting offers is worth every rupee. We would not have made the strides we made professionally, if we weren't ready to pack and move. And we are convinced that the world now belongs to the renter.

Those fondly constructed holiday villas are now listed on Airbnb. In cities, service apartments are available to simply move in with a suitcase of clothes. We suspect that the overzealous investment in property that has resulted in too many locked and unused homes will give way to the need to earn some income.

Since our time and energy was spent on our work, rather than worrying about the colour of the wallpaper that will come up behind the TV such that viewing pleasure is not diminished, we have accumulated savings. Our investments will happily pay for the rent and we can move as we desire, anywhere we wish and anytime we like. The rent is an expense in our books, much like the grocery, phone and utilities.

What we also realise is that we can optimise for our needs quite well. Instead of owning a house in an assisted living community, or living in a big house that has now gotten empty, or carrying the burden of memories and sentiment in a dilapidated house, we can rent a small apartment when we age. We now live in a house that holds a garden that I tend to; and I know we can rent another when my back is bent with age, where I can watch the trees and birds from my window, as I read my books.

Since our dream home happens to be one whose contours keep changing as we live our lives, we remain happy renters. Someone else is worrying about the paint, the fixtures and the views. One does not have own something to enjoy it. What joy!