One Couple's New American Dream: Rent, Don't Buy

Earlier this year, Mark and Joanne Cleaver faced a decision: buy or rent. In normal times, their decision would have been easy.

But these are not normal times.

"We would lose money if we bought now — even at today's market rates," Joanne says. "Frankly, condo prices would have to go down a good 30 percent more to overcome the negative effect of the transition and transaction cost."

Mark and Joanne sold their home in Milwaukee — a home they owned for 28 years — and moved to Chicago. The couple, both in their 50s, relocated for her job. And they decided to rent an apartment overlooking Lake Michigan.

"It was a tough decision," Mark says. "You have kind of the emotional baggage of wanting to continue to own a house — the 'American Dream' theory. The flip side of it is, you kind of get to give up the baggage of all the maintenance cost — and all the maintenance time that goes along with it."

"Our front porch collapsed on our Milwaukee house," Joanne adds. "It was, like, $22,000 to replace it, just to get back to having a front porch. That's a lot of money to get hit with just to be able to walk up to your house, your front door."

Mark says that when he writes his rent check every month, he thinks to himself, "This is worth every penny."

"It locks my cost in every month," he says. "I have no surprises. Utilities are included. Parking's included. I write my check, I'm done for the month. It's a wonderful feeling."

While the Cleavers are enjoying the conveniences of renting — a staffed pool, a workout room, maintenance workers — they still haven't ruled out buying again. "We'll continue to go to open houses and take a good look and see if there's something there that really absolutely hits on all those cylinders," Joanne says.

And so far the Cleavers say there is only one downside to renting: "We do miss the ability just to go out into a backyard and grill," Mark says.

But they say it's a compromise they're willing to make.

"And when winter comes, and I'm watching everyone else doing their snow shoveling and snow plowing," says Mark, "I'm going to be smiling."

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