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Saturday, 10 July 2010

A roof over our heads: Should we buy or rent?

PERSONALLY speaking, I have been faced with this question – to buy or rent a house – many times in my life. While I haven’t quite found a clear answer to that, I have decided to go with both. I have bought a house (or rather acquired one through financing) but am renting it out while I live in a rented premise with my family.

It is a known fact (if not compounded by our parents, and uncles and aunties) that one should, if they can, own a house. Generally speaking, renting somehow has some negative connotations. Ideally, we should buy a property early in our lives to take advantage of the longer loan financing period and if we can, try to settle the financing early.

While there may be no straight forward answer here, there are several pertinent questions we need to ask ourselves. Where do we see ourselves, five, 10, or 30 years down the road?

First, let us exclude investors from our category as they would naturally fall under the ‘buy’ status, and let us delve into the lives of the average man-on-the-street manifested in these four individuals – Robroy, Rizal, Rowena and Rossindra, who face a similar dilemma.

Robroy is 35 years old, married with two children, and works as an senior accountant. He works for a multinational company and therefore is required to travel, and at times is posted overseas for a few years. He also has chalked up some credit card debts from all the travelling, and have been delinquent in payments during his absence in Malaysia. Most recently, he was posted to New Zealand and is now considering migration.

Rizal is 30 years old, married with two wives and six children and is a businessman who owns several restaurants. His income is good, but it fluctuates, and he currently has some savings which he plans to invest. His big family helps him runs the business.

Rowena, is a 28 year old care-free person, whom after graduation could not hold a steady job, but is very happy with part-time jobs that give her the freedom to travel as she loves travelling. She has a boyfriend and plans to get married in a year or two.

Rossindra is 25 years old; she is a social science university graduate who has decided to dedicate her life helping the needy and healing the world. She is currently working under one of the Unesco projects in Myanmar. She gets paid pretty well, and with food and lodging fully provided at her workplace in Myammar, she saves almost all her salary. She recently took over the rental tenancy of her parents who live in a rented house, and is considering alternative options.

Of these four individuals, who do you think should buy a house or rent? The following represents my take, which of course, is open for discussion.

Robroy should rent, mainly because of his work commitment. His work requires overseas posting, which includes his family, especially since he is considering migrating to New Zealand. Furthermore, he has been delinquent in his credit card payments, and this may not go well for his loan financing if he wants to buy.

Rizal should buy, mainly because the nature of his income is uncertain and he has amassed some savings, which should aid in his down payment for a house. He had originally wanted to buy a house in cash but given the size of his family, he decided to buy a bungalow for which he has settled 50% of the payment while the remainder is financed through a loan. As he rents his restaurant outlets and the returns from his business is used to settle the rent, he is confident that buying a house is a much better option for him.

On the other hand, Rowena, quite clearly falls under the rent category. First, she does not have the financial ability and second, she has not quite decided what she wants to do in life. Furthermore, her part-time jobs may not provide her with a good credit standing with the banks. Her boyfriend whom she intends to marry happens to be rich.

So, naturally, if things go as planned, she may be able to solve, to some extent, her financial issues.
Rossindra, on the other hand is in a real predicament. While her position and work do not necessitate her to rent or buy a house, she is undertaking the obligation to pay rent for the house her parents stay in. She is considering the option of buying a small house and naturally, her parents are overjoyed to finally live in their own house.

Buying a house is usually, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime decision. So don’t rush into it. Take your time evaluating the possible scenarios and outcomes and of course, make sure you choose a suitable property. Whatever it is, you must try to avoid putting significant pressure on your financial status.


The writer, a business planner with SABIC Group of Companies says: I would rather my parents choose my house than choose my wife.

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