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Collective Q+A: What Is ‘Home Hacking,’ and is it Right for You?

I first stumbled across Emily and Corey of Little Chicago Two Flat on Instagram early this year, after Emily left a comment on one of our posts. Of course, their handle piqued my interest, and although their account was relatively new, I was immediately sucked into their DIY adventures. Why? To be honest, they reminded me of a younger version of me and Scott! They purchased their first home last year, but instead of a city condo or single family home, they jumped into home ownership by scooping up a Chicago Two Flat in need of elbow grease and love.

Emily and Corey's Chicago Two Flat | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home
Emily + Corey’s Chicago Two Flat

Emily introduced me to the concept of ‘Home Hacking,’ a term I’ve never heard before (hi, geriatric millenial here), but I quickly realized that Scott and I have been doing the same for a decade! Home Hacking is the practice of making financial decisions that will help to lower your cost of living for the sake of financial freedom. (Owning an Income Property is an example of this.) And because we often receive questions from followers around the world inquiring about our home journey as both renovators and hands-on landlords, we thought it would be fun to hear more from Emily and Corey, who are now doing this themselves!

This is another round of Collective Q+A, a blog series focused on sharing voices other than our own to promote new ideas and encourage outside-of-the-box thinking. Today we’re sharing a longer interview with Emily and Corey to gain insight on their house hacking journey!

You can follow along with Emily and Corey on Instagram @littlechicagotwoflat, on TikTok @littlechicagotwoflat and on their blog, Little Chicago Two Flat.

Emily and Corey on the front stairs of their Two Flat | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home

If you’re home hacking with someone like a partner or family member, being aligned on your goals and practicing genuine empathy is everything.Emily and Corey

What does your personal version of house hacking look like and what do you hope to achieve?

We tend to take on a broader, more inclusive definition of house hacking. If you’re making intentional financial and lifestyle choices that lower your cost of living, you are doing some version of home hacking. In our version of home hacking, we set three guiding goals early on to keep us grounded.

  1. Increase our living space to more comfortably work from home.
  2. Stay in or close to our current neighborhood.
  3. Lower monthly living expenses and build equity to achieve more short and long-term financial freedom.

In October 2021, we purchased a two-flat in our current neighborhood. The home has a second floor, first floor, and garden apartment. By renovating the second-floor apartment and transforming it into our owner’s unit, we’re doubling our square footage and gaining a second bedroom. So, check and check on goals one and two!

Bay windows in a Chicago Two Flat | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home
The first and second floor units feature beautiful bay windows

Now, we’re working super hard to hit our third goal of achieving more financial freedom. Once we have tenants in the first-floor unit, our portion of the mortgage will cost us the same as renting a 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in our neighborhood. Then, once we update the garden unit and rent it out, we’ll hit the house hacker dream of “living for free!” In other words, our rental income should fully cover our mortgage. This financial freedom will hopefully allow us to travel more and take on some entrepreneurial projects!

What motivated you to choose a 100-year-old+ vintage home as opposed to something built more recently?

We spent about four months going to open houses and just getting a sense of our style and what got us excited. After seeing a lot of multi-family homes, old and new, and doing some research on historic Chicago homes, we couldn’t get over the idea of renovating and living in a classic brick Chicago two-flat. The two-flat is such an emblem of Chicago. It’s a part of our city’s history, permanent aesthetic, and homes just aren’t built with the same level of craftsmanship anymore. Very few people even know the phrase “two-flat” outside of Chicago.

Large dining room in a Chicago Two Flat | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home
original character still remains!

Maybe it was our love for Chicago and its history or just that we wanted the challenge of DIY renovating a 1910 home, but either way, we couldn’t be happier with the decision to go vintage! While many people are now converting these 1900s buildings into modern single-family homes, we wanted to carry on the original home hacking legacy of the beloved two-flat.

We couldn’t agree with this sentiment more! That said, a vintage home has its challenges. What has been the biggest surprise of the project so far?

Home hacking and DIY renovation have consumed our lives even more than we anticipated over the past six months! It’s been a full-time job on top of our full-time jobs. Every project turns into a bigger project. For example, renovating our bathroom, after the demo, we quickly discovered the subfloor was nowhere near level (1910 home problems). So, we spent weeks researching how to build level floors and constructing a new subfloor before waterproofing and tiling. The floor fiasco moved our timeline back, but we had to keep moving forward.

Before and after leveling floors | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home
fixing sloped floors

While we could have hired someone to help us, every decision – whether about DIYing something versus bringing in a contractor or choosing modern yet affordable light fixtures – takes a lot of effort and care when you’re on a home hacking budget. Decision fatigue is real, and we imagine it’s a different kind of stress than renovating a “forever” family home.

How have your expectations of the project differed from the reality?

Coming into July 2022, we thought we’d be 100% settled in our new home and focused on interior design. Instead, we’re still wrapping up last-minute things like installing trim and picking out handles and pulls for our kitchen. While we have a few pinned items for design inspiration, we are far from choosing our throw pillows! We’re learning that our home will be an ongoing project and something we love, change, and grow into over time. That’s the reality, and we’re much more comfortable living in transition than when we started this project.

Before view of a kitchen in a Chicago Two Flat | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home
owner’s unit kitchen before

That’s a great outlook to have. We’ve also learned that living in transition can help to spark new ideas as a project unfolds! For others that are looking to take on their own Home Hacking project, what do you recommend as the first steps?

The four most valuable things we can share are to be clear on your goals (e.g., what is YOUR version of home hacking and what are you trying to achieve?), dive into research about home hacking as much as possible, build a solid team early on, and be patient with the process! We shared some reflections about our own experience with home hacking on our blog here too.

Before and after bathroom makeover by Little Chicago Two Flat | What Is 'Home Hacking'? via Yellow Brick Home
bathroom before + after

We’re also so fortunate to be home hacking together as a team. We came into the project with a similar vision for success, and luckily, we’ve been able to adapt to change and give each other grace when we hit bumps along the way. If you’re home hacking with someone like a partner or family member, being aligned on your goals and practicing genuine empathy is everything. 

We admire your alignment with one another and can’t help but wonder: What’s next in your house hacking adventure, and/or do you plan to do this again?

The biggest thing we’re taking away from our home hacking journey is that we’re absolutely in love with this work. Even in the thick of the renovation and under financial stress, we still catch ourselves saying things like “Maybe a bungalow next time?” or “Should we build an A-frame…just for fun?” For now, we need to settle into our two-flat and design our space, but we’ll see what comes next! We honestly can’t imagine not renovating something or pursuing another entrepreneurial project at this point!

Thank you for supporting the creators that inspire us every day! You can follow along with Emily and Corey on Instagram @littlechicagotwoflat, on TikTok @littlechicagotwoflat and on their blog, Little Chicago Two Flat. You can also scroll through our past Collective Q+As right here, if you’d like!

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  • lu6.30.22 - 8:55 AM

    Can you explain the ethical decisions around being a landlord who uses tenants rent to pay your mortgage in today’s climate of astronomical rental pricing pushing people out of cities?ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.30.22 - 9:15 AM

      Hi Lu! This is a great question. By keeping a building a Two Flat, we’re allowing families the affordability to stay and live in their neighborhood — as opposed to the building being purchased by a developer, knocking it down and building a million dollar+ single family home. In addition, we’re keeping the tradition and rich history of the Chicago two flat alive.

      I can only speak to our experience, but when we renovated our two flat in Logan Square, we were adamant about keeping rent prices in line with the neighborhood so that families who have lived in the neighborhood for decades could have an opportunity to live there and STAY in the community they love.

      Of course not all landlords are aligned with this thinking, but we consider ourselves to be one of the good ones and pride ourselves on that. We’re grateful that Emily and Corey were willing to share their experience and future plans today.ReplyCancel

      • Laura6.30.22 - 9:40 AM

        It’s awesome that you’re committed to keeping rent affordable, especially in Logan Sq. We’ve lived in this neighborhood since 2005 and rent has gone wild. I’d also just like to highlight being a landlord is a part time job (unless you hire it out) late night calls for leaks, a fridge that goes out on a holiday weekend etc. are all part of the picture in offsetting your mortgage.ReplyCancel

        • Kim6.30.22 - 10:15 AM

          You’re absolutely right! We tell our tenants that they can always expect a reply within the day, if not the hour. We also meticulously maintain our units, and we never settle for less. A rental unit is still a home for someone to love.ReplyCancel

      • Bridget6.30.22 - 10:06 AM

        In all of my years as a Chicago renter (in Logan, East ukie  village and bucktown) , I always looked for an apartment that was owner-occupied or at least owner-involved. Never did I rent from a property management company. The level of attention and upkeep was (almost) always preferable to those I knew paying big rental companies. Was I helping someone pay their mortgage? Yeah, probably. Am I doing the same whenever I book an Airbnb? Yeah, probably. At least I knew where the rent money was going, and at the end of the day I didn’t care if it paid someone’s mortgage or bought a new boat as long as the landlord took care of the building. ????ReplyCancel

        • Kim6.30.22 - 10:19 AM

          I love this outlook, Bridget, thank you. For sure our Airbnb, Two Flat and garden unit offset our mortgage, but it’s also a job we take seriously and responsibly.ReplyCancel

      • Emily6.30.22 - 3:27 PM

        Hi there – Emily from Little Chicago Two Flat chiming in here! I appreciate the reflection about equity in the comments and want to echo Kim’s sentiments about keeping neighborhoods affordable for long-term residents. I worked for several years in community and economic development, helping address the lack of community investments in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods ranging from food deserts to education, healthcare, and most importantly, affordable housing. 
        One of the most significant issues our cities face is the lack of diversity in housing options in wealthy, resourced neighborhoods. Our neighborhood is full of two flats that have been converted to SFHs valued at $1MM+. By keeping our home a traditional two-flat, we’re providing another housing option on our block at a much more affordable price. We also care a lot about making our tenant unit a true home for someone. Before we bought the house, it was rented out but not owner-occupied. Unfortunately, it was treated as an investment property without love and labor! The tenant units hadn’t been updated in a decade (at least). We spent seven months renovating the home with brand new plumbing and electricity and updating a very outdated kitchen and bathroom. 
        The question of equity is always on our minds. We know we have a lot of privilege in being able to purchase a home and pursue this form of home hacking. Thanks for all of the comments and engagement! ReplyCancel

  • Emily6.30.22 - 11:49 AM

    I’m a longtime reader, so I do not say this as a sort of snarky drive-by. But I find it difficult to enjoy posts like this (and honestly the posts where you talk about being landlords) because I find the entire project of landlording unethical. I saw your response to another question elsewhere, saying “at least a developer isn’t knocking it down”… but just because a worse option exists doesn’t mean the one you’ve chosen is ok. The ideal is that existing Logan Square families can stay in their homes and build equity. What this post is offering, instead, is to swap out the investor-owned landlord properties for a sort of mom-and-pop landlord situation. From the tenant’s perspective, though, they’re still throwing money away to pay someone else’s mortgage. I doubt this will make you run to the bank and sell your income properties, but this is just food for thought. The term “income property” means you’re literally taking someone else’s income because they don’t have the capital up front to build equity themselves. Nearly every tenant regards renting as a second-best option in a world where they don’t have access to the capital they need. I don’t think being on the benefitting end of that second-best option is something to pride oneself on.ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.30.22 - 11:58 AM

      Thank you for this food for thought. We have several friends in the city who rent and love it, with no intentions to buy. They enjoy the freedom to move easily if needed, no home maintenance, no lawn or snow maintenance, etc. Definitely fewer unexpected expenses, such as a dying appliance or leaking ceiling! I appreciate what you’re saying, but it feels a bit sweeping to say that nearly every tenant rents as a second best option, respectfully.

      Also respectfully, I never meant to imply that a developer knocking down a building meant that we were taking on the second worse ‘option.’ We enjoy what we do, creating homes for others to love at a monthly payment that is fair. (Most recently, someone touring the Two Flat asked us why it was so cheap!). Removing two flats from the Chicago landscape and building SFHs, especially in Logan Square is one of many issues in the city. But I digress.

      The topic of becoming a landlord (I truly despise the word, can we think of a better one?) is something I’m asked about often, and my goal is to take the mystery out of it for those that have an interest in it.

      Thank you for your comment, and I sincerely hope our other home and DIY topics interest you!ReplyCancel

      • Emily6.30.22 - 1:52 PM

        Thanks for this thoughtful reply. I really do appreciate your other home DIY posts and have been inspired to take on more things myself due to your page. I also appreciate the pushback on my claim that nearly all renters would prefer buying. I looked it up and Pew Research has a good survey on this. Turns out 23% of renters say they would prefer to rent, even though they can afford to buy. So you’re right, there is definitely a population of people for whom renting is not a second-best option. My lingering question (no need to reply, just wanted to follow up) is what are the ethics of having a rental, knowing that 77% of your prospective tenants are only renting because they lack capital for a down payment / can’t qualify for a loan? If, like me, you think that housing should not be commodified, then the answer is “it’s not ethical.” But I would be curious in the future to see a longer form post from you guys on your reasoning about the ethics behind it. Is there a way to know for sure that you’re catering to the 23%? Is there a reliable calculation for below-market rental prices that allows for the 77% to begin saving money for a down payment that would otherwise go towards rent? Just wondering aloud here… Anyway, thanks for prompting me to look up the stats and become more informed on this topic. ReplyCancel

        • Kim6.30.22 - 2:31 PM

          When it comes right down to it, we aren’t forcing anyone to rent. We are simply offering a home to live in, to love and to enjoy. There’s always a need for housing, specifically with reasonable rent, and we offer a solution that’s less cookie cutter, more personalized. I don’t consider this unethical in any way, so we may just have a difference of opinion here.

          I’d also like to know if there’s a reliable calculation for the 77% (as surveyed by Pew Research) to save for a down payment and rent, but of course that’s a sliding scale that will be different for everyone based on their income. For example, you could certainly rent WELL below your means to get a down payment faster, or you could live more in line with your preference, knowing it may take you to longer to save. And of course it’s not all about housing, there are other things in life could be scaled back if a down payment is high priority. In our case, as the buyer, we DO buy below our means, because that is OUR goal towards financial freedom, and because we have acquired the skills over the years to save money in some cases with DIY. Just because we may be able to afford a nicer house with less fixing up, it doesn’t mean we should, have to, or want to.

          That said, I appreciate your insight and discussion!ReplyCancel

        • Becky7.1.22 - 9:19 AM

          Wanted to share some personal experience here – data is so helpful in helping us gain knowledge and human stories help with understanding. I’m nearly 45 years old and have rented 13 of the last 20 years. In each situation I rented from a person/family who lived in the same or neighboring home. Yes, in those situations I couldn’t afford to buy, but also each time was a season of life in which buying a home would not have made sense for me. Each time I’ve rented I’ve helped someone pay their mortgage and the positive experiences I had renting from people who understand life circumstances and value kindness and compassion were well worth it. During my divorce I moved into the home of a stranger with my 120 lb senior dog. Having not had that option, I wouldn’t have been able to leave a relationship that was taking a damaging toll on my mental health. Two years later, my then boyfriend and I rented a home where we said goodbye to our dog and eventually hosted our wedding reception in the yard we shared with our “landlords”. It was a beautiful day. :-) Last year we bought a house using money we were able to save while renting together for three years. All of this is to say, yes, there are absolutely ethical considerations to make when “house hacking” and, even when money is involved, there are wonderful things that can happen when people create a home for others to live in.ReplyCancel

    • fae7.5.22 - 12:39 PM

      hey, i was a renter until very recently, and i never felt like i was “throwing my money away to pay someone else’s mortgage.” i was paying for housing to an individual who owned the property. i’m not sure why purchasing a single-family home to pay a bank and hope that property values appreciate (aka increase property taxes and price people out of the community) is any more ethical than being a landlord, especially if you are living and managing a multi-unit building. apartments are good! and yeah, the IDEAL is that existing people can stay, but new people are coming to your community whether you like it or not, and they need housing, too. ReplyCancel

  • Sarah6.30.22 - 2:20 PM

    I really enjoyed this blog post and learning about home hacking! As a previous renter, I always appreciated “landlords” that were local and prideful when it came to their property. It always fostered a great renter/landlord relationship and made me feel good to know that I was contributing to someone’s personal or family goals. Can’t wait to follow Emily and Corey’s journey more!ReplyCancel

  • Kim T.6.30.22 - 2:44 PM

    Appreciate you highlighting another couple working to maintain a traditional Chicago two-flat! We are also renovating a vintage two-flat while we live in one unit and rent out the other. Maintaining a rental unit is a lot of work and not cheap, but if you enjoy home maintenance and renovation it can be quite enjoyable as a side job. We have friends that recently sold their multi-unit building that they lived in and rented out because they were so burnt out from the work involved with maintenance, so it’s certainly not for everyone. We also like knowing that we have the additional living space in case anyone in our family ever needs or wants to live in our other unit, which I believe is historically how many two-flats were used. ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.30.22 - 3:49 PM

      The history of the Chicago Two Flat is so special!ReplyCancel

  • Wendy7.1.22 - 11:21 AM

    Just wanted to chime in as a “landlord” and owner occupant of a three flat in Logan Square. We rented (from another owner occupant) in our neighborhood while we saved and found the right property for us. In the end, the only homes we could afford to purchase were multi-units as you can count the rental property towards your loan/mortgage. We work hard to be amazing landlords and keep our rent at or below the neighborhood average (which is usually set by those property managers/developers who can push prices to whatever they feel). We take pride in our home since we live here and want our tenants to have the best possible living experience. None of our tenants in the past 10 years have wished they were homeowners instead. They enjoyed being renters and have gone on to rent in other cities and states (none of them ever leave us for another place in Chicago!). In the past three years alone we have seen six (6!!!) homes on our block alone (both single family and multi-unit) torn down and rebuilt into cookie cutter million dollar+ homes by developers who outbid families from purchasing. Please don’t fault hard working people for rising rent costs. I really can’t see how it is unethical to own a multi-unit home. Chicago two and three flats are part of our city’s rich history and allow for diverse neighborhoods. ReplyCancel

    • Beth7.4.22 - 10:34 AM

      You said it Wendy. We also purchased a 2-flat in Logan Square 10 years ago as our first home, renting out 1 unit, and living in the other, because that is how we could afford to buy a home. In the 10 years we lived there, so many homes were torn down and replaced with million-dollar homes. Every meeting I ever went to in Logan where the issue of housing affordability came up, housing advocates would bring up the problem of 2-flats being torn down to make way for single-family homes and larger, luxury condo and apartment buildings. With respect, I am not sure all the commenters are well-informed on the issue. Good for you Emily and Corey!ReplyCancel

  • Julie7.1.22 - 7:02 PM

    Hi Kim and Scott, I enjoy your posts on being a landlord and especially highlighting Emily and Corey on making a smart financial decision to house hack, something that gives them income to offset the cost of their mortgage in a neighborhood they desire to live. They are also providing more rental units, which ultimately creates supply so that prices can stay more affordable than if there were fewer rental units available. My husband and I are full-time mom-and-pop landlords and very proud of our career path. We provide safe and affordable houses to responsible renters, and I have never felt unethical in our process. It was an interesting conversation my husband and I had today. All of our tenants choose (I never force anyone to rent from us) to rent and we never want their rent to be more than 1/3 of their income so they can afford their bills or save or whatever else they need/want to do with their money. Our tenants rent for so many different reason, whether they have a short term job or don’t want to do maintenance, etc, but I always encourage everyone to buy a home, because my experience is that homeownership has many great benefits. And if they can’t afford a home, buying a two flat or duplex makes owning a home more affordable. Interesting conversation for us today, as we went to fix a tenant’s plumbing issues, install a screen door, and more. This landlord stuff isn’t very sexy, doesn’t make a blog post that much fun, but there is a lot of work required to make a home for others. My husband and I are very handy, have tools, resources, and skills that most homeowners don’t have, and it helps up to manage the buildings that we own. We own cars older and worse than most of our tenants, have increased bills for material and labor to maintain our units, rising property taxes and insurance and more. What would these people in the 77% do if there were not rental properties available to them? Wanting to own a home and being ready with the down payment to purchase one next month are very different things. Are renters unethical since they choose to rent? The landlord and the tenant sign a contract and I don’t see that being unethical. This was a very interesting comment topic for me, and eye opening, as I had no idea being a landlord was unethical, or that anyone thought that way. My tenants would definitely not agree, and renting from us is probably their first best option – we provide great, safe places that they can afford. I imagine if all my tenants were to buy the properties they live in right now – 1. They would go broke. 2. The place would go to shambles because they don’t have the know how, tools, resources, savings to maintain the home. I love spending my day working on our rental properties and making our tenants happy. We call them income properties because they provide US with income. They provide us with the money to pay for the maintenance and bills, and then a little bit for my time to do all the work of managing and maintaining the rental. Maybe it’s a different outlook for other larger landlords or property management companies, but I just wanted to provide my story since we love being landlords, even that call the other month when a hot water tank busted at 9pm on the second story. I do feel like these sentiments are over the rising costs of rents in certain areas, and while 37% of the US population rents, it is interesting to wonder why people rent instead of own. I’m not sure the goal is for 100% home ownership. I love this conversation, and thanks for bringing up some interesting questions Lu, reader Emily, Wendy, and thanks for being honest and real Kim and Scott.ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.2.22 - 12:41 PM

      Julie, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments on topics big and small. You make several great points that I may have been too flustered to think of in my responses as well. Thank you for always creating wonderful dialogue within this community.ReplyCancel

  • Cathy7.2.22 - 8:44 AM

    Just wanted to say, way to go Emily and Corey! What an awesome first home choice. As fellow long-time house hackers and old-home lovers, we’re rooting you on :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.2.22 - 12:40 PM

      I’ve loved following your house hacking journey, and you’re a big inspiration to us, Cathy!ReplyCancel

  • SLG7.2.22 - 11:09 PM

    Thank you for this delightful post, Kim & Scott and Emily & Corey!
    What a fascinating discussion is unfolding here about various people’s approach to renting a home to live in, renting out one’s home to others, and/or owning a home. I’ve done all three at various points in my life, and I believe that any of them can be done ethically, or unethically, depending on a person’s approach.
    And, I’ve been reflecting recently on a point made by Ramit Sethi, a personal finance author: it’s common to say “when you rent, you’re paying someone else’s mortgage.” But no one says “when you eat at a restaurant, you’re paying the restaurant owner’s mortgage” or “when you take your clothes to the drycleaner, you’re paying the drycleaner’s mortgage” — even though those statements are just as true. Depending on their goals, some people are better off taking on 15- or 30-year debt and committing to all the maintenance expenses and phantom costs of home ownership, and others (including some wealthy people) are better off paying a monthly fee to live somewhere. I believe we mostly just need to make sure there are a variety of homes at different price points so everyone can find what works for them.ReplyCancel

  • Jen7.3.22 - 2:30 AM

    I’ve been a renter my whole adult life and I wouldn’t say that being a landlord is inherently unethical.  But I do find this kind of content and the name “home hacking” to be tone deaf (I know you did not invent this concept or name).  “Home hacking” makes housing sound like a game to beat.  Housing is not a game.  And even if it was, it’s a game that has always been, and will continue to be systemically rigged against a whole lot of people.  If you can afford the up front costs to do this, I’m happy for you.  Be a good landlord who provides a safe home, and doesn’t rent gouge.  We need more landlords like you out there.  If you get to the “dream” of “living for free,” maybe just give quiet thanks for your good fortune?  Or talk about it, but with some nuance and context.  ReplyCancel

    • Emily7.5.22 - 3:08 PM

      Hey Jen – Emily here! Thanks for calling this out – or calling us in. While we didn’t invent the term “home hacking,” I agree that housing isn’t a game and, like many other things, is rigged against folks for systemic reasons. My family lost our home after the Great Recession. It was devastating, and my immediate family never recovered financially. It’s likely the reason that homeownership carries so much weight for me personally. Had I heard the term “home hacking” at that time or read a post like this referencing “living the dream,” I probably would’ve had the same reaction. I genuinely appreciate your comment. ReplyCancel

    • Veronica7.5.22 - 7:43 PM

      Thank you— I hate this new terminology. This isn’t a hack, it’s just being a landlord, and it’s been done for thousands of years. ReplyCancel

  • Kat7.5.22 - 2:30 PM

    Just read through this comment thread and really enjoyed the nuanced discussion in the ethics of landlording. I am a landlord in a gentrifying area of a mid-sized city, and personally I think the ethics are not clear cut. On the one hand, we chose to buy in a high growth area where gentrification had already started, but it’s absolutely fair to argue that we are “part of the problem.” But to Kim’s point, my husband and I are not part of a major development or property management company snatching up properties. We use a very well respected property manager and have paid for various upgrades our tenants have (very reasonably) requested, and this was after we did a gut renovation of the house. My husband is a Latinx immigrant and strongly feels that desire to build generational wealth through real estate. I am from a very privileged white family. We are now very privileged in our own right to own multiple properties. Where we landed was here: we are arrogant enough to think that we can be more conscientious and social justice minded than most landlords, and we want to be able to rent to people who might have a harder time applying for housing in this competitive area. We also donate 10% of our monthly profits to an affordable housing non-profit that serves the same community. I honestly don’t know the right answer here, and I’m not sure I’ll ever 100% be comfortable with being a landlord, or at least won’t be as comfortable with it as my husband is (perhaps because I come from more privilege), but I also think that helping create desirable affordable housing is the lesser of many evils, especially if it enables you to donate to organizations who are addressing the issue at the city and state level with actual housing reform. No big conclusions here except yep, it’s complicated! ReplyCancel

  • Diana7.5.22 - 9:48 PM

    I am a homeowner-landlord and own a four-unit property in Portage Park, Chicago.  I am bristling at the suggestion that being a landlord is inherently unethical.  Price gauging aside, would you tell a baker it’s unethical to sell pies because there are people who are hungry?  Is being a plumber unethical because people need toilets?  Sheesh.
    I am surprised by some of the comments regarding “house-hacking”.  House-hacking is a solution, not a problem, so much so that Chicago is revisiting its zoning laws to allow for more of the practice.  In an effort to combat restrictive zoning that prices out all but those who can afford single family homes, Chicago is testing a pilot program to allow homeowners to convert a basement, attic, or garage to a rental unit.  Among the benefits are rental income for the landlord that can offset rising property taxes for long-term owners in gentrifying neighborhoods, while providing moderate housing to someone that might otherwise be priced out of a resource-rich neighborhood.  Increased population density means more customers for local businesses.  It’s a win-win-win.
    I will also echo the comments that being a landlord is not just collecting checks.  My tenants are my neighbors and we treat each other as such.  We are making a significant financial investment as well as time commitment to maintain and improve our rental units, and make our property a nice place to live.  We are also giving up the privacy that usually comes with owning a home – I have tenants living above and below me.  Where a single family home is still considered the American dream, it takes some pride-swallowing to live in an apartment when you’ve scraped up enough for a down payment on a house.  We made a carefully considered decision to invest in a multi-unit and I am proud of it every day.  My (astronomical) student loans thank us.ReplyCancel

  • Thora7.7.22 - 9:31 PM

    I think there certainly is the possibility for unethical behavior with landlords and renting (especially when renters have less power and moner), but it can also provide a way for people who for a variety of reasons cannont or do not want to buy a house. My husband got a Ph.d. and is now a college professor – we got married when he was an undergraduate, and for the first 12 years of our marriage we rented various apartments, a town home, small cape cod style homes, and the main floor of a divided house. For most of that time were were not desirous nor able to buy a house (I do wish we had bought a house in grad school, but it was very intimidating at the time). We had some very good landlords. I do think that done right being a landlord can help with diversity in neighborhoods and provide an opportunity for people to live places that otherwise they could not. I do like owner-occupied or owner adjacent (the same neighborhood, personally involved) the most, because then the owners are personally invested in the home as well. Now we have owned for five years, and although I like many things about it, we often say to each other, “The only thing worse than owning a home is renting a home,” ie, that although when you rent you are paying someone else’s mortgage, when you own you have to fix the questionable leaks in the basement and fix everything that inevitably breaks, and, and…. But it is also a privilege that many don’t get to have, and certainly I hope anyone who wants to will have the opportunity to buy when the time is right for them.ReplyCancel

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