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I Hate Suburbia, Therefore I Rent

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I recently spent about $3,000 on an Apple (AAPL - Get Report) MacBook Pro with a Retina display. Several friends objected to the purchase, arguing that it's just a computer and you could spend a third of that -- or less -- and get something that does the same thing.

In theory, that's true. The $1,000 Sony (SNE - Get Report) Vaio computers I have been buying up until now did what I needed them to do. They computed. However, they were lacking, relative to the Apple experience. I live on my computer, so why not put factors like form, ease of use, amenities and style over function?

I bring the same attitude to the rent versus buy decision. (See part one of this series, Buy a House or Rent an Apartment? That Depends On..., where I discuss several other factors that influence the debate).

Along similar lines, I pay a premium to live where I do. I did it in San Francisco. I do it now in Santa Monica. I could get the same or better housing in terms of space and such if I opted to live elsewhere. But as with the Vaio-Macbook Pro comparison, that would erode the quality of my experience -- my quality of life.

I don't pay rent for shelter. Instead, I pay for the location and all that it provides.

If I buy a home it will be in my current neighborhood. Given the price of real estate here and the cost of entry into the buying process, that might take awhile, if it ever even comes. And if and when I buy a home, I won't be paying for shelter. I'll be paying for the location, but the property will be, in theory and hopefully in practice, a growth and income investment.

I would not be comfortable doing anything other than purchasing a two-to-three-unit income property -- one where I live in one unit and rent out the remaining dwellings. Without others offsetting or, in an absolutely ideal situation, covering my mortgage payment, I'm not sure I want to be a property owner.

It's an interesting pair of prongs. I'm 37, and there's no way I want to commit myself to a mortgage payment of several thousand dollars a month -- that I have to pay out of pocket -- for the next 30 years. At the same time, I want an income property because I don't want to pay a couple thousand in rent every month for the rest of my life either. Both scenarios make me anxious.
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