Homeownership and Transitions Abroad

Last week I published an interview with Cliff Chestnut, who owns a home in my home town of Portland and has been renting it out for the past decade while he has been living in Spain. He’s not the only person I know who owns a home but makes frequent trips abroad: Some of my dad’s neighbors have rented out their home during extended trips to Argentina and Kenya. I don’t own a home, but am hoping to purchase one in the near future, and I think it will make trips abroad easier.

There are a number of bloggers who argue that owning a home isn’t worth taking on debt, and that it’s better to continue renting. While it might be best to rent if your life is still totally up in the air, owning a home puts you in a much more powerful position than renting – and in the long term, it is cheaper. Owning a home can also make trips abroad, both long and short, easier and cheaper. Here are some things to think about:

Subletting

When we went to China last spring, we were able to sublet our apartment. However, we had to ask our landlord for permission (which she could have denied). We didn’t want to be on the hook for paying five months of rent when we weren’t actually living in our apartment, but we also didn’t want to move.

If you own your own home (whether it’s an apartment, house or whatever), you don’t have to worry about that. If you’re gone for a year, you just rent out your house for a year. When you come home, you don’t have to frantically look for a place to live – you just set it up so that the people who are renting leave as soon as you get back. If you’re traveling abroad for a limited amount of time (less than two years), you can rent your place out as “furnished” and you won’t have to either put your belongings in storage or get rid of them.

It’s possible to sublet in some circumstances (if the landlord agrees to it, or if you live in a place like NYC where some landlords are required to let tenants sublet). But if you own a home, you don’t have to worry about getting anyone’s approval: You just do it.

Stuff

If you own more than a suitcase full of stuff, moving abroad generally means either finding a place to store everything or getting rid of it. I like the idea of minimalism, but there are also a lot of things that I enjoy owning and use often but would still not want to take with me abroad. My cooking equipment comes to mind, for example. Some furniture would fit into this category as well.

If you have to move out of a rental to move abroad, you have to totally purge all stuff or pay for a storage locker (which I’ve never done). If you own a home and are renting it out while you’re done, no big deal. Store the stuff you don’t want the renters to use in the attic or basement, leave the rest in place. When you come home, not only to you not have to find a new place to live, you don’t have to worry about buying a bed or pots and pans.

Short-term sublets

Planning a trip for a weekend, a week or two short months? If you’re a renter, you subletting for a weekend might land you in trouble. If you’re a homeowner, it probably won’t (although it might still be against the law in your city, you should check!). Renting for a month almost certainly will be fine if you’re a homeowner. That provides a great way to offset the cost of trips abroad or weekend trips camping, because you can often break even on the accommodations. When we lived in Paris, we were able to find subletters whenever we traveled, and we generally made as much or sometimes more from the subletters at our place as we paid for a place at our destination. I generally use  Airbnb both for finding subletters and for finding a great place to stay where ever I’m going!

Location

The only caveat to all of this is that if you want to rent out your home, the location is quite important. If you live in a place with a low vacancy rate and lots of tourists, you will have no problem renting out the place for a week, month or year. If, however, you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, you might have a problem. So if you’re planning on renting out your place in the future, location really is key.

If you own a place here in Portland, you will not lose an iota of flexibility. In fact, you will be more flexible than if you were renting: If I wanted to move somewhere, I would need to wait until the end of my lease. If I owned a home, I could rent it out next week and be on my way.

I have other reasons for wanted to buy a house, like wanting to plant a more permanent garden, get more pets (I already have three chickens) and make changes to the home as I see fit. But the flexibility homeownership provides when it comes to taking long-term trips abroad is actually one of my primary reasons for wanting to purchase a home.