Who says you have to pick between renting an apartment or buying a house?
Today’s guest post comes from a great friend of mine. Mike Calvo is well-known to the blindness community. He was the investor behind the SeroTalk Podcast Network. He developed an affordable screen reader to compete against ridiculously expensive alternatives, and today he works at a company poised to redefine the way major companies and government agencies handle document remediation.
In this post Mike explores a convenient middle ground between choosing to live in a rental apartment and buying a house. Believe it or not, buying a house does not always make sense. Renting a house is a perfectly viable option, but who can you trust to make this a smooth experience?
Take it away Mike!
A Better Way to Live the American Dream
By Mike Calvo
How does the American dream go? You go to college, get a job, get married, have 2.5 kids, and settle down in your comfortable house behind a white picket fence, or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. And hey, for some people, maybe life really does fall in place that way.
For a lot of Americans though, particularly blind and visually impaired ones, things may not always work out so smoothly.
The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 dealt a financial blow to everyone. I was no exception. I was starting to wonder whether homeownership would ever make sense again.
Fast forward more than a decade. Life has moved on: great kids, new challenges at work, new wife… I have been blessed to expand my family. It’s only natural my thoughts would turn back to that conventional dream we all grew up aspiring. I wanted to create a home that could accommodate my new safe haven. And that’s when I started to come to an interesting realization.
Homeownership is a Lie
Okay, hear me out. I am not suggesting investing in a home is always a poor idea. There are benefits to claiming your own piece of property, but the sales pitch rarely speaks to how that property ends up claiming you.
Buying a home is likely the largest investment you will ever make. In a perfect world, the value of your home will grow, but as the value of your home increases, so will the taxes. It happened to me, and the situation became such that the taxes alone ruined my monthly budget.
People do not fully account for the maintenance cost associated with owning a home. In Florida, after owning a home for fifteen years, you will have to replace the air conditioning, a major renovation that will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. If you stay in that same house for twenty years, you will have to replace the roof, another major cost that can easily run you $30,000. Experts estimate the cost of maintenance alone can equal 1% per year of your home’s value. And, I can tell you, that is underestimating maintenance costs.
Let’s assume your home is worth $300000. That means that, according to the experts, you will spend $3000 in maintenance costs over a year? I wonder if these experts accounted for replacing a roof or replacing the HVAC. This does not account for renovations you will eventually want to make to upgrade your house. A pool can run you 30K. A new kitchen or bathroom can run you 20K Easy. Is it any wonder people have to take out a second, or even a third, mortgage on their home?
All this pleasure after we go through the humbling and frustrating process of buying the home in the first place. You pay anywhere between 2 to 5% of the home’s value in closing costs. There’s home inspection, title search, title insurance, and if you can’t come up with 20% in down payment, there’s mortgage insurance. It could easily take you over five years just to recover those expenses.
The Home that Isn’t a Home
After a divorce I lived in a series of apartment homes. They were decent places I could come back to at the end of a long day and rest my head, but despite the space and amenities, it felt hard to call these places home. I was surrounded by neighbors on all sides, above and below. I still had to deal with property managers and increasing annual rent fees.
I guess I became accustomed to the change. Many of us do, but the breaking point for me came when the apartment building I happened to be living in shut down the gym and swimming pool in response to COVID-19. I fully understand why they had to do so. It did not change the fact I no longer had a place where I could exercise, but okay, fine. You get past it for the greater good, but my building also stopped providing full maintenance services. If there were issues with my place, the property managers were no longer able to fix even the small stuff.
I was stuck in a small apartment with no place to go. I needed a house and fast!
Even under the best of circumstances, renting a privately owned house presents a unique risk. You can either rent from someone who used to live in the house they are now renting, or you can rent from a developer who only sees you as a return on their investment. In either case, if the property becomes a liability, or increases in value, there is nothing stopping them from selling the property out from under you with nothing more than a 60 day notice.
Welcome to Invitation Homes
Invitation Homes was put together by an entrepreneur, Dallas Tanner, out of Arizona. As of 2018, Invitation Homes is the largest single-family rental housing owner of all time, public or private, with 82,000 properties in 17 Sun Belt cities and a portfolio 58% bigger than American Homes 4 Rent , its nearest competitor.
At a glance, people could rush to the assumption this is no different than slum lords who swoop in and capitalize on a desperate situation, like 2008, but stay with me a moment.
Invitation Homes did not target less favorable areas. Their strategy runs the gamut. You can opt to rent anything from a one bedroom apartment to a palatial home with all the bells and whistles, but in all cases you can count on great curb appeal, good schools, and safe neighborhoods.
They say it’s not possible to have your cake and eat it too. My friend, at the risk of sounding like a chirpy salesman, I’m telling you this is one case where conventional advice is dead wrong. I finally found the sweet spot where I can come home to a comfortable place that truly feels like home, minus the financial burden. I signed a two-year contract that protects the scope of my lease, and it’s a contract that would remain standing even if ownership were to transfer to another management company. Best of all, now that I’m in the Invitation Homes system, if I ever decide to leave this property, I can easily move into another Invitation Homes property without another round of financial approvals.
Here’s the unique angle to Invitation Homes: They maintain a standard I would personally use if this property were my own. Upon move in we were given a full walkthrough and orientation to the property and the Invitation Homes experience. We found some small maintenance and cosmetic issues, an before we knew it an army of people descended on the property to make things right. I wanted to make minor renovations to better accommodate my needs. I work from home, and now, especially during COVID, I can’t really go to the gym. They gave me permission to do a few things to make my place homier, and even put me in touch with contractors I could evaluate for the job. They did not insist I use their contractors, but I wound up using them anyway given how well they competed against other bids and lived up to the high standard Invitation Homes has set. With the exception of lawn care, I have also tapped into their network of service providers to tend to other general maintenance issues.
My Experience as a Blind Customer
Invitation Homes has invested time and effort in developing a fully accessible process that makes me feel like a valued customer. That should be a given and part of any good business practice, but as a blind consumer, they have also made me feel like an equal in all my interactions with the company.
I set out to apply with the company just like any other customer . As someone involved in the assistive technology industry, I wanted to test the system and see how far I could get in the application process before I had to call for customer service. I have my moments of cynicism, but much to my surprise, the electronic process was fully accessible as an applicant, and it continues to be accessible as a tenant.
From our first interaction with Lixandra Silva, the customer service has been phenomenal. In fact, our first point of interaction occurred on a Sunday morning. Who would have thought the representative would bend over backward to help out a random guy on a Sunday morning? Lixandra worked with us to find a property with the amenities we wanted for our family. She set up a virtual tour of a property she thought would be a great fit. I was charged a holding fee, and shortly thereafter I was entering the security code to my new home, all without ever having to interact with anyone in person.
People like Angie Bonner, portfolio director; GALE love, Customer Service Representative; Javier Martinez, Resident Orientation Advisor; Carrie Cox, Assistant Portfolio Manager; Janet Boergers; Dave Hutchinson; and the hundreds of people on the Invitation Homes staff were our new family. Well, not really, but they certainly made it feel that way.
Was our home perfect from Day 1? People who bank on perfection are too apt to be disappointed. The team responsible for turning the property had missed a few things. Invitation Homes was almost excessively apologetic. And as I said before fixed the issues quickly.
Throughout all my dealings with Invitation Homes, their representatives have never been anything less than prompt and courteous. My blindness has never been a cause for delay. I shouldn’t have to emphasize the point, but too many blind tenants have shared horror stories where they have encountered condescending or demeaning staff who cannot comprehend how a blind person could do something as responsible as entering into a long-term real estate contract. I am grateful to Invitation Homes for just treating me with the same respect they would treat anyone else. Their service empowers me to focus on being a father, a husband, a happy family man who can turn his attention to other pressing priorities. I want to encourage other blind people to feel empowered to claim their piece of the American dream without the traditional hassles.
It’s incredible to me how such a large and complex operation can deliver customer service with such granularity. In Florida alone they own and manage thousands of homes and this is just one of sixteen markets throughout the United States.
It’s a sad fact of life that most people will only feel compelled to write a review of a company when their experience is negative. I don’t want to minimize anyone else’s story, but I do want to counterbalance any derogatory reviews with my own experience which has been absolutely unparalleled. Considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic, Invitation Homes deserves extra high praise for going well above and beyond anything I could have ever expected. It is without a doubt the best rental experience I have ever enjoyed in the over 35 years I have been living away from my parents.
I am a sucker for logistics, I marvel at the dynamic range of it all. Invitation Homes provides a home for thousands of families. Each family is its own island. Each family is a beautiful blend of celebrations, sorrows, achievements, and challenges. So many stories unfold every day behind the four walls of each of these homes. My family has now joined this expansive network of families. Life has a way of testing your resolve. 2008 was the start of a bad time in my life, but now, thanks to Invitation Homes, worrying about the best way to capture my piece of the American dream is no longer a lurking concern.
If this was the honeymoon phase, I feel confident the marriage will be incredible.
And there you have it. After reading that review, I’m a little bummed the company does not serve my area. I don’t mind my current apartment building, but I confess I do miss the freedom to blast my music and wander around my backyard at my leisure.
What about you? Have you bought a home? Any regrets? And if you’re still renting, have you decided this is the best option for you? Sound off in the comments!