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Why I’m renting instead of buying in a hot Baltimore neighborhood

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Many of my millennial peers say “just buy already!” — especially in a place like Baltimore, Maryland, where first-time homeowner grants are plentiful and city-sponsored vacant to values programs make it easy to purchase a starter home.

In fact, I live in a trendy, burgeoning arts district in Baltimore that is so cool the Baltimore Sun wrote an article about it and people are abuzz about how they can buy here, and soon.

Here’s my situation: I live by myself (plus one cat) in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment that occupies the third floor of a fully rehabbed row home built around 1900. Less than ten years ago, my house was vacant. In 2013, homes on my block sold for around $120,000. Now, they are worth between $350,000 and $450,000 depending on whether they’ve been renovated, and many of them around me have. I am lucky to live in a beautifully renovated home with modern industrial touches.

I could not afford a mortgage in this neighborhood right now, but renting here is accessible and exactly what I need in this phase of life.

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I’m also lucky to be surrounded by friendly neighbors, a mix of young DC commuters, lawyers, city officials, and long-time Baltimore residents. The local community association has worked with developers to ensure that, as the neighborhood transitions and experiences revival, senior citizens will not be priced out of their homes. This will be important, as the nearby Penn Station, which serves tourists and daily commuters, will soon undergo a $90 million renovation and draw larger hordes of people to this artsy block.

I live down the road from where I grew up, and being back home is important to me … for now. Baltimore works because of its relative affordability and proximity to other mid-Atlantic cities like DC and New York. It is a good place to rest and enjoy life while I settle into my career and plan my next move.

So far I have been renting in Baltimore for two years, and I plan to stay until I buy a home here or move to a new city for graduate school. Even though buying in Baltimore is accessible, renting just makes sense for now. The main reason I rent is that I want to utilize the city’s incentives, but they come with long-term stipulations that force me to consider whether I’m ready for the commitment.

A first-time homeowner loan requires that the house is to be the owner’s primary residence. I can’t apply for a loan like this in good conscience knowing there is the possibility I’d need to rent it out if I were to move. When and if I do decide to stay in Baltimore, I don’t want to miss out on the savings for a first-time homeowner loan. So, I’m waiting it out for now.

Another variable is that my partner will be eligible to receive a Live Near Your Work benefit from his employer once he is vested with his company, but moving in together is a big step that we’re not ready to talk about yet. He is also thinking of applying to graduate school, which would change everything.

Despite how lovely it would be to own one of the beautiful, artistic, and historical homes on my block — I view buying as a lifestyle choice, NOT an investment. For now, I feel lucky to have the chance to live in an artsy neighborhood, but when I’m ready to buy I will take other factors into consideration. Features like a backyard, basement, and square footage will become much more important when I sign a 30-year mortgage.

Until then, while I prepare to buy a house, I rent to try out different styles of housing in various neighborhoods. I have rented in rural areas, urban areas; in row homes (like my current home in Baltimore), in apartments, in ranchers, split levels, bungalows, and more. I love the versatility of renting has allowed me. I am able to “try on” and imagine what I want my future to be while working hard to earn opportunities and save for a home.

Bottom line: There are too many variables up in the air to justify buying right now, but I want to live somewhere beautiful that I can afford in the meantime.

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