Being that my wife and I have lived in 31 homes in our 35 years together, it's safe to say we have some rental experience. Our friends call us gypsies. My mother called us crazy. Technically she called me crazy, but I consider my wife to be guilty by association. Our daughters used to get excited each time we moved. After a few moves, moving annoyed them. These days they just watch with wonder to see where Mama and Papa are moving to next. Whether we are gypsies, crazy or just restless souls, we have some rental stories.
Our first rental was $120 per month in Elmore, Alabama. If you're wondering what it was like, well… it was $120 a month in Elmore, Alabama. That should more or less paint the picture. On the other hand, we were young, in love and the house didn't really matter all that much. It was full of passion and excitement and that's pretty much all we cared about.
Our first fantastic rental home was in Aviano, Italy. Ironically the rent was also $120 per month, but it was spectacular. French doors in our living room opened up to the street. When we stepped outside, the foothills of the Alps sat less than three miles away. The view took our breath away. Our Italian neighbors were wonderful and we named both our daughters after their children. We had a wine-man. You know, like Americans had milkmen. He delivered wine straight from the vineyard to our home once a week. Life was good. Everything Italian is good.
From there we moved to Germany and lived in base housing at Ramstein, Air Force Base, which is technically renting. In Germany we had a neighbor who was what you would today call, "Batshit Crazy." She made our life miserable for an entire year and a-half. Such is the life of a renter. Right?
A few years later we found ourselves in base housing at Loring, Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine. It was damn cold, but only from October to June. Cold or not, we have some fantastic memories of living almost on the Canadian border.
Skip ahead a few more years and we rented a furnished home in New Hampshire. It was big enough and creepy enough to host a Stephen King horror story. When you walked into the front door there were stuffed pheasants and other small critters sitting on a mantel in a dusty dark room with paneling on the wall. We still laugh about the time some woman knocked on a window late at night and just about gave my wife and daughters heart attacks. To this day, we have no idea why she went to the living room window and didn't knock on the front door. Maybe Stephen King would know.
Decades later we rented a home in Anguilla, British West Indies. What can I say other than it was the Caribbean and we took the bad with the good, but it was mostly good. The driveway had boulders sticking out of the ground so far they almost scraped the bottom of the car when pulling in or leaving the driveway. One day I paid a couple hundred dollars to have our water cistern filled (which is how we got water). The next day I got up to take a shower, except there was no water. The cistern had cracked and during the night, all the water I had just paid for, leaked out into the ground. Welcome to the Carib! Most importantly, our front porch overlooked the Caribbean Sea. Whatever home discrepancies existed were quickly forgiven when we stepped outside.
We rented a big fancy house in St Kitts and it had a huge porch and a beautiful metal roof. It looked like a postcard. What we hadn’t considered was that homes in the islands are not insulated from the weather or the outside noise. We found out right away that when it rained hard it sounded like a train running through our bedroom. It was particularly pleasant at 3:00 A.M. But the rain was not as startling as the monkeys screeching in what sounded like blood curdling agony as they chased each other across the roof at 3:00 A.M.
I moved to a different home while my wife was back in the states for a few weeks and I got in trouble when she came back and saw the home I rented. Her three-inch diameter decorative candles sitting on the end-table had melted and were leaning over, looking as if they were dying from heat exhaustion. Needless to say, we had an a/c guy at the house within an hour of her being blasted by sweltering heat when she walked through the front door. He whipped out his handy-dandy digital thermometer and announced that the temperature in our living room was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. That will definitely melt candles! We also had a nosey old neighbor who made hourly reports to the landlord. I presume most of his reports went something like, "Dey home now. Nuh ting happening... again." Our stay in that house was short lived. From there we moved to a nicer home and got robbed twice. What can I say? It's island living.
My family and I have owned and rented quite a few great homes over the years. It warms my heart to know that we have made wonderful memories in almost everyone of them. Our best rental memories are definitely from Italy and Anguilla. Our worst was a high-end, high-dollar, highfalutin condo in Naples, Florida. The condo was beautiful to the eye, but it was cold and damp and impersonal. Worse than that, the neighbors were colder, damper and more impersonal. It was one of the only places we have ever lived that we regretted moving to. Ironically it was the most luxurious place we had ever rented, which leads to the old adage, “Don't judge a book by its cover,” unless of course the cover is overlooking the Alps or the Caribbean Sea.
So, here’s some advice from a well-seasoned rental-bum. Almost without exception, a home, whether a rental or owned, is what you make it. With that said, stay within your budget, hope for the best and be ready for the worst. Last but not least, always remember if it’s 105 degrees in your living room or if you have monkeys on your roof, you can always move.
We're renting a townhouse in downtown St Petersburg these days and thinking about buying another home. St Pete is a great city! I'll keep you posted. I’m sure if we move again, I’ll write a blog about my wife packing and cleaning and then cleaning and unpacking one more time. It will be the 32nd time she has done it.
B.M. Simpson, author and seasoned renter