Is Home Really So Sweet?

Home Sweet HomeSo I’ve been living in the same apartment for five years now. It’s not unusual for me to remain in the same place for that long if not longer, even though I did do more than my fair share of moving in my 20s. Indeed, in February 1995, I moved into my 6th apartment in Halifax since September 1987, but then I stayed in that place for 10 years and my 7th place was one storey down in the same building for the three years up to my move to Montréal. So, frankly, I haven’t given serious thought to moving from my current pad …until about a few weeks ago.

In September 2012, I wrote about how the old woman who’d been the super of the building for decades left. She was replaced by a middle-aged woman from Cape Breton who, I’m afraid, didn’t live up to expectations: this September, we learned that the owner hired a property management company and she was replaced by new supers a few weeks later. What’s more, for the last month, I’ve endured major noise as the apartment directly below me is being gutted and renovated.

That’s only one of the numerous projects that have been undertaken: the garage has been hosed down to an inch of its life, the front of the building has been landscaped, “emergency plumbing work” requiring the water supply to be turned off a whole day was completed, and minor repairs were done in my bathroom to stop water from leaking downstairs which, I’m told, has probably been happening but left unreported for years. What’s more, the west side of the building — fortunately I’m on the east side — has been plagued with a resurgence of bed bugs. The furnace will be replaced before winter and apartments are going to be renovated as the tenants vacate.

In the six weeks or so since the company took over, more work has been done to the building than in the five years I’ve been here. I spoke to the workmen on a few occasions and they’re clearly intrigued by what’s been happening (or, more precisely, not happening) around here because, as they put it, the whole place is in sad, sad shape. My bathroom is considered shot, but it’s difficult for them to gut it while someone is living here. I expect the rent will start going up considerably and, considering all the work that’s being put in, it’d be quite justified …except that it doesn’t look like I’ll be seeing much in the way of improvements in my own apartment. What the people at management companies like this one don’t get is that, except for real emergencies, tenants tend not to rock the boat even if they see things going south if it means the rent doesn’t go up, which mine hadn’t until last April.

As a result of all of this, I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should move. It’s ironic because things are finally looking up for this place and I had been thinking of doing some improvements of my own once out of debt as I am now. But now I’m wondering if it’s even worth it.

What’s discouraging, however, is looking at the cost of rent in Montréal these days. When I first started toying with the idea of moving here in ’99, rent was amazingly cheap; now the prices have caught up with other major Canadian cities (except Toronto and Vancouver which remain very expensive). It’s starting to look like the odds of my getting another two-bedroom around the price I’m paying now that’s not in a neighbourhood I’d feel isolated or unsafe are pretty slim. For roughly the same price, I’ll probably have to settle for a one-bedroom apartment, which I’ll consider provided that it’s large enough to create a comfortable yet separate area for my office and includes a garage space.

I find $1,000/month in rent paid by one person is getting to be a little bit much. Rent is not like a mortgage where you have something to show in the end. My rigorous approach to budgeting in the last two years has shown me that I can afford $1,000 and still put some money aside for emergencies. But I’m considering finally joining a savings-matching program for retirement contributions that my employer offers, so I’m worried the combination of the two will get me to cross that line where I’ll have no wriggle room left even though participating in such a program is a sound investment.

Should I consider moving in a part of town I wouldn’t like as much but where the rents are better? Should I consider getting a roommate? Neither option turns me on, and a huge part of me feels I shouldn’t have to be considering such options.