I have a friend who has surprised herself by achieving protected tenant status in San Francisco. She just celebrated her 60th birthday and, because she’s lived in her apartment for more than 10 years, she gets to stay forever without significant rent increases or the threat of eviction. (By “forever” I mean until she dies.)***
Sounds great, huh? Yes. And no.
There are many aspects of the situation that delight her — below-market rent, certainty about future housing costs, ability to save money for other things, chance to retire sooner rather than later. But she also will have little or no control over her living situation — noisy neighbors, disruptions for building maintenance, potential neglect of the property by its owners, inability to make pleasing improvements to her apartment.
“When I was 33, this was a great apartment. I thought I’d stay maybe 5 years. But I might have been pickier if I’d known I was going to be here forever. I wish I had some outdoor space or an office nook, and I worry about what happens when I’m so old I can’t do the two flights of stairs.Plus I’ve always wanted a dog and they don’t allow pets. I should have bought something when I could…”
I can relate. When I think about all the real estate investments I could have made, it’s pretty discouraging. But I’m not one to dwell on the past.
Still. All you young people out there, keep in mind the delicious advice emblazoned on a birthday card I once received: “Sex and Real Estate. Get Lots While You’re Young.”
Or — better yet — just start thinking about money, saving and investing while you’re young so that, if the occasion arises, you’ll maybe have the down payment for a property. Should you decide not to buy a home (and there are plenty of good reasons not to) you can always keep the money for retirement, use it for philanthropy or spend it on years-long travel to exotic destinations.
Just remember that, if you’re lucky, one day you’ll be 60 and the view in the rearview mirror of regret will be shockingly clear.
***Technically, there are some ways she could be evicted but they are very limited. If you aren’t aware of San Francisco’s commitment to safeguarding tenants, click here. There are plenty of folks in the city who think the laws don’t go far enough in protecting tenants. But people who live in other parts of the country might read this and say something along the lines of “You mean I can’t vacate an apartment in a building I own!? WTF?”