I’ve been trying to write this post for awhile, partly because I am lazy but mainly because I found (and still find) it difficult to articulate my thoughts on the subject.
The more I get to know the people I work with or the friends we make here in New York, the more I find that I (and to large extent Leah as well) am very different to all of them. So what is the issue? Well, the issue is multi-facet and it boils down to the following questions:
1. City vs. Suburban/countryside
2. Apartment vs. House
3. Rent vs. Buy
As you can see, although they are all inter-related there is no single defining issue that you can pin point. So let me tackle it one by one.
City vs. Suburban/countryside
I was born and grew up in one of the most crowded and cosmopolitan city in the world, Hong Kong, and therefore I take for granted many things of a city. Be it the good attributes such as convenient shops, great public transport, diversity of cuisine, etc., or the bad ones like lack of space, noise, smell, etc. I took them as they are.
So I was baffled that despite there are many people wanting to live in a large city, there are equally many people who want to move out into the countryside. Granted many people move into the city to have a taste of city life and find it wanting, but I am puzzled when people who were born and bred in the city also want to move away.
Their reasons are all very valid. They want peace and quiet, they want fresh air, they want more space to live in, they want better school for their kids, etc. Obviously that’s what they want, or they think they want, but why do they all think everyone want the same thing? You can imagine their puzzlement when I revealed that I am much prefer living in the city over the countryside.
I don’t want peace and quiet. Noise doesn’t bother me. Growing up in Hong Kong with heavy traffics and construction constantly in the background means my brain just filter the noise out. The lack of noise, on the other hand, bothers me. To me, that signifies lifeless-ness, idle-ness, and I hate that.
I don’t need fresh air. It is so overrated! Of course, apparently city air leads to more illness such as asthma. Wrong, asthma may be triggered by air particles but it is not caused by them. In fact, nobody knows what is the cause. The leading theory is that asthma is caused by hyper-hygenic environment during pregnancy and infancy. This lowered the child’s immune system to all the nasty particles, bacteria, virus, etc.
I don’t want more space to live in. More space just means more space to clean and tidy up. More space for me to accumulate stuff that I no longer need. More space that someone else can live in.
I do want better school for my kids but just because city tends to have lower proportion of good school doesn’t mean there isn’t any. The flip side is that my children will grow up having experienced all the variety of life a cosmopolitan city can offer, instead of the idealised suburban version of American life. But I am read to concede this point to the country folks. And this leads directly to my second issue.
Apartment vs. House
None of the people I know wants to live in an apartment in the city. None. Count it, zero, nada, zilch. All I need is a living room to watch TV/DVD, a kitchen to prepare food, a dining area/room to eat and entertain friends, a bedroom to sleep in, and a bathroom to clean up. Perhaps, at a push, a study room for my books and computer which also acts as guest room. So a two bedrooms apartment is about right for me. Accounting for a child and its own room, three bedrooms apartment is more than adequate. A front lawn and a backyard are just areas that I need to maintain but derive no pleasure from. City park serves the same purposes. Garages are for cars that I don’t need since I can take the public transport. Oh I forgot that garages are for storing stuff you no longer need and have long forgotten about.
Of course since we are talking about properties, we have to debate about the issue of how to acquire them.
Rent vs. Buy
By now you probably can guess that everyone I know want to buy a property, whether they can actually financially able to afford or not. Many (if not all) of my friends and Leah’s friends back in the U.K. own properties even though they are probably earning less than we do. And of course they have to have a decent size house so the only way they can afford it is either a) “borrow” a substantial amount of down-payment from their parents, b) take out a 100%, 40 years mortgage, or c) buy the biggest house they can afford with their 100% mortgage, i.e. very small house, and bitch and moan about not having any money. Actually, all of our U.K. friends bitch and moan about lack of money. But then they have their house so they can spend time there instead of going out, can’t they?
All of my U.S. friends are either bought a property already, actively looking to buy one, or renting currently but desperately trying to buy one. To them, renting is throwing money away. Sure, I don’t get to keep the apartment eventually while I have to pay rent every month. But renting gives me options and freedom, I don’t have to find a buyer before I can move. I just have to give my notice to the landlord. This freedom leads to more job options to me and Leah. If, for example, tomorrow a very attractive job offer is made to me but requires me to move across the country to the west coast, we will have very little problem doing that in two or three months. Pack up, move out, travel to new city, rent an apartment and move in. If I own the apartment, I can move to the new city while trying to sell the existing apartment. Can you imagine the nightmare and the expense? No thanks.
Eventually we will buy a property but it would be on our terms. It would be in a city that we would stay for a long while (10+ years) and only once we have saved enough for a large down-payment (35+% if not more) so our mortgage payments will be relatively low.
In the end, it is all about values and priorities. What I don’t like is people’s tendency to impose their values and priority onto me.