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How to Transition from Homeowning to Renting

Many boomers are turning into tenants, so here are tips to enjoy the switch

You’ve always owned your home — at least since that first tiny apartment years ago — but now you’re ready to leave behind the joys (and hassles) of owning property to become a renter. Join the crowd.

Over the next decade, some five to six million downsizing boomers will sell their homes and sign rental leases, the National Association of Realtors says.

The organization makes that prediction even though the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America recently declared that retirees who own homes tend to fare better financially than those who rent.

I think about all this every time I mop the foyer in my building, high on a windy hill in San Francisco, Calif. Oh, it’s not my building; I just rent one of the six units in it. Apparently, after living in someone else’s place for five years, I still haven’t shaken off some of my old homeowner behaviors. And so I mop.

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If you’re planning to become a tenant, the transition isn’t that difficult. Here are tips from boomers who already relish renting:

Pony Up the Rent Early

When I decided to sell my condo and move to an apartment, I asked a friend who is a longtime landlord how to form a good working relationship with the person who owns the building where I now live.

“Never pay the rent on the first of each month,” she said. “Pay it two or three days early. That makes a landlord happy.” A longtime renter agrees. “There have been several front-office managers at my complex over the years,” she said, ”and I get along with them because I always pay on time and I make few requests.”

I, too, try not to bother my landlord. I also send him a handwritten note every year on the anniversary of the date I moved in, thanking him for welcoming me and for allowing me to live in my wonderful apartment. Full disclosure: I have also sent him prints of sunset photos taken from my living room window and every November I give him a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread.

(MORE: When It’s Better to Rent, Not Own, a Home in Retirement)

You think that’s going too far? One renter I know voluntarily raised her own rent a bit every year.

Ask Permission to Make Changes

What if you want to paint every room indigo or knock out a wall or swap out that hideous wagon-wheel chandelier in the dining room? And would it be OK to plant some tulips out back?

The answer is: Maybe. Ask first.

One reason that renting is easier for us older adults than owning is that we do not feel compelled to make changes. A woman who says she periodically considers painting her apartment has yet to follow through. “I have thought about it, but since I can’t decide on a color, I just live with the neutral beige,” she said.

Living With Limits

When I owned my own home, I had salmon-colored walls, chocolate-colored walls, caramel-colored walls — and for a while, a bright red wall in my kitchen. Now I live surrounded by pale, cream-colored walls, and that’s just fine. At my age, I find that the color of my walls does not define the quality of my life. What a relief!

(MORE: When Living With Strangers Makes Sense)

One renter did introduce some natural color outside her rented duplex. “I put some flowers in a front bed, and I keep a small garden of container plants on the back porch,” she said.

Bonus tip: One way to learn to live with a countertop that isn’t granite (the horror!) or a bathroom that’s not so pretty-in-pink tile from the ‘70s is to stop watching home renovation programs on HGTV. Instead, be grateful for any counter space, choose towels that are ABP (anything but pink) and whenever you walk through the door into your studio apartment, say aloud: “I love the open concept!”

Take Care of What You Don’t Own

Nobody asked me to mop the foyer or sweep the back stairs or pick up litter in front of the building. But taking pride in my rented space and treating it as if I were the owner is a sign of respect for the property owner, for my wonderful neighbors and for the place itself.

So I change burned-out lightbulbs, put fresh batteries in the smoke alarm and install new furnace filters as needed. It’s easier to do these things myself, rather than bother the landlord.

“I have always done home repairs, so I often fix small things for myself if it is faster than calling the landlord,” said a renter who sold a four-bedroom home and has never looked back.

Home maintenance, as every homeowner knows, is never-ending. Fix the leak in the downstairs shower and the front stair banister goes wobbly. The new roof looks great, but too bad about that deep crack in the driveway. Stain and seal the deck and — wait — are those termites?

Count Your (Rented) Blessings

When you rent, you immediately are relieved of the stress that comes with owning a home. When the water heater starts dribbling on the laundry room floor, you call the landlord. When the kitchen faucet springs a leak, you call the landlord. When the building needs to be painted, the landlord deals with the painters — and then foots the bill.

“I love that I’m not responsible for major repairs and I like having the yard taken care of,” said a renter. “I was surprised how much I like that!”

Other advantages to renting include:

  • You can live in a neighborhood where home prices are above and beyond your budget.
  • You have the freedom to move to a new neighborhood, a new city or even a new state.
  • Your offspring will not have to sell your place when you’re gone.

Decide to Be Happy Now

As in so many instances, you get to decide how difficult the transition from owning to renting will be. Regardless of the circumstances — even if you are temporarily between mortgages — if you find yourself in a situation where someone else owns your living space, focus on the advantages.

Some of those advantages may seem small to others, but one couple who made do with a narrow driveway for decades now rejoice that their rented home boasts a special treasure: a two-car garage.

Do you have your own tips on going from owning to renting? Please tell us in the comments section below.

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