Alex Friedman is a 31-year-old content creator and serial entrepreneur. She’s founded three startups, sold one, and most recently was the entrepreneur in residence for TechStars’ (a startup accelerator) music program, before she decided to take a sort-of hiatus after a close friend of hers passed away.
Friedman grew up in Southern California and moved to Austin, Texas around five years ago, so she’s joined the wave of people complaining about Californians moving in, she joked. She’d been thinking about buying a house for the last few years, and in hindsight, she should’ve bought during the pandemic when mortgage rates were in the two and three percents and home prices had yet to explode, Friedman said. At the time, she hadn’t been in Austin that long and doing it all on her own in the midst of a pandemic and in a new city was intimidating, to say the least.
Calling from a boat in Qaqortoq, Greenland, where her hiatus had taken her, Friedman told me that the houses she saw during the pandemic were almost dilapidated, and yet still had a line of people waiting outside to see them, offering all cash and even to wave inspections. Things have slowed down, Friedman explained, but she’s still seeing houses that need a ton of work, going for more than $800,000 and $900,000, which is much higher than Austin’s average home value.
“At that point I realized, this isn’t even worth the money,” Friedman said, adding that she and her partner live in a luxury complex near downtown in a 1,700-square foot, two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom townhome for $3,500 a month. “It is larger and much nicer than anything that I could get if I bought.”
Although Austin’s home prices are down around 10% from their peak, they’re up more than 40% since March 2020, the onset of the pandemic—at the same time, mortgage rates have more than doubled since their pandemic lows, and together, they’ve deteriorated affordability. Still, in Friedman’s case, she could afford to buy a home in Austin, where the average home value is $557,292, but she just doesn’t see the point in doing so. Her income isn’t the problem; last year she made over $300,000, Friedman said, (giving a ballpark figure as she didn’t feel comfortable sharing an exact amount).
“I can afford a house, the thing is, I just ran the numbers and realized it wasn’t the right thing to do,” for her, she said.
Her income rose quite significantly in the last few years, Friedman explained. As an entrepreneur, there’s times when she’d make a lot of money and times when she wasn’t making a lot, or any at all. Still, even though her income has increased, Friedman doesn’t think it’s worth it to buy a house, at least for the time being. For one, any house that’d fit her standards (in terms of location and house size/type), would require a mortgage with a much higher monthly payment than what she’s currently paying in rent. Let’s say she were to take on a $650,000 mortgage (on a house that’s over $800,000, which is on the lower-end of what she’s seen), with a 30-year fixed rate at 7.5%, Friedman’s monthly payment would be $4,475 (not including taxes and insurance). That’s nearly $1,000 more than what she’s paying now for her luxury townhome filled with all kinds of amenities.
“The house that I want, the house that genuinely checks all those boxes, is so outside of my price range right now,” Friedman said. “I’d rather live in a luxury apartment complex where I have my gym and I have my pool…and I feel safe and I feel secure, and I don’t have to fix anything.”
She knows that she can buy a fixer-upper or house that simply doesn’t meet her standards, but she’d rather spend her money on traveling or save up enough to retire early. And let’s face it, she’s not struggling to pay her rent. Friedman isn’t the only high earner choosing to rent instead of buy: take this couple earning $275,000 a year, renting in San Antonio, Texas because it allows them to live in the neighborhood they prefer, or this founder earning over $200,000, renting in New York City because she can’t afford to buy a home in her ideal location. The question is, will the old adage that renting is practically throwing your money away, whereas buying is an investment, hold true for much longer, particularly among high earners with even higher standards?
“I don’t feel like I would buy a house unless the perfect house presented itself to me, or it was a deal, like I was able to get something that was so awesome at such a good rate that I couldn’t say no,” Friedman said, “because I’m really enjoying this idea of flexibility, I’m enjoying the idea that renting makes my life a lot easier.”
When Friedman was younger, she thought she’d have a house with a picket fence, but it doesn’t seem to make much sense to her now. Because she’s renting, there’s no responsibility, or better said, much less responsibility than owning her own home. Friedman doesn’t have to worry about property insurance or property taxes, which are higher in Texas than most states. Still, she wants to stay in Austin; she even attributes much of her growth to living in the city, particularly because of its growing tech scene.
“What makes sense for me is being flexible and having someone that’s able to come and fix my sink for me whenever it’s needed at a moments notice, being able to travel, and being able to kind of curate my life the way I want to live it without a ton of tethering responsibilities, like a permanent home,” Friedman said.