I arrived home last night to the unwelcome sound of rushing water.
The hose connecting the water supply to the tank on my toilet had burst during the day, dumping hundreds (maybe thousands?) of gallons onto the floor, then through it, and into my basement. The vinyl floor, the bathtub, and the six-inch-high plastic molding created a waterproof seal in the bathroom that prevented the water from soaking through the walls to the rooms on other side, and my hundred-year-old house has conveniently settled in such a way that the first floor slopes toward the bathroom, confining the water to the bathroom itself and the narrow, fir-floored hallway outside it. As far as I can tell, the water mostly drained through the hallway floor. It's too soon to tell how the fir flooring fared (though it looks okay at the moment), but for now, the upstairs damage appears limited to the rug in the hallway.
The basement is another issue. Much of the basement has floor drains to accommodate water that occasionally seeps in with the winter rains, but there's one finished corner with a bathroom, kitchenette, and carpeted bedroom that I use for storage... and that's where I found as much as five inches of standing water. It's not like there's water damage to anything I use, so my monetary loss is minimal, but it's a fucking mess, and it's going to be a race against time to clean everything out before the mold sets it.
Regular readers will know that this flood was somewhat my fault. Last weekend I finally took on the awful task of replacing the wax ring on my toilet, only to be forced to replace the gasket and seals in the tank after it leaked on reassembly. It's not that I did anything wrong, but in retrospect, I guess I should have replaced the aging flexible water hose too, which, either weakened by jostling, or perhaps subjected to higher pressure when I turned the water back on, gave out a few days later. Now I know.
Ah, home ownership. The American dream.
I've been there since 1997, so it's not like the house has been a terrible investment, even after the real estate market collapse. But it sure can be a pain in the ass. Earlier this year my hot water tank broke, creating a less dramatic flood along with the unanticipated expense. The rest of my appliances are a decade or two (or four) old, the exterior desperately needs painting, and my century-old steel pipes are succumbing to sclerosis. It's a bit anxiety provoking.
The point is, home ownership isn't everything it's cracked up to be, and certainly isn't for everybody. I don't regret buying my house, or struggling to keep it after the divorce. But when my daughter moves out in a few years, I intend to trade down. And depending on the housing and rental markets, it wouldn't bother me to never own again.
I know that runs counter to the American dream—this aspiration toward home ownership that's been driven into all of us. But the truth is, historically, home ownership isn't generally a spectacular investment. Forced savings, perhaps, but outside of a well-timed real estate bubble, there are many better ways to invest your money. Had I put my down payment into Apple stock, for example, I wouldn't be repairing my own toilet. Few millionaires do.
The biggest advantage to homeownership is stability. With a fixed rate mortgage, you don't have to worry about your landlord raising your rent year after year, or selling your home out from under you. On the other hand, as a renter, when an appliance breaks or a pipe bursts or the roof leaks, it's not your problem. At least, financially.