Creating a home
When it comes to creating a home, does it matter whether a property is owned or rented, or are there other, more important, factors at play? Deana Luchia reports.
If you own a place, do you feel it is more of a real home than if it were rented?
I used to think that buying a property would make a difference, which is why, after several years of renting, first in Lija, and then in Mellieħa, I decided to buy an apartment in Sliema.
However, four years down the line, I’ve realised that ownership has little to do with those feelings of home, as my apartment, while lovely, while ticking all the boxes when it comes to location, light, space, yard size, et cetera, has not made me feel any more ‘at home’ than places I have rented.
Home, for me, is wherever my children and dogs are. It has nothing to do with whether I pay rent or a mortgage. Yet many of us do spend an inordinate amount of time searching for something we feel will be an ideal home, or dream home. Yet, if renting or owning has no actual bearing on what constitutes ‘home’, what does?
Adele Sant lives with her family in a large and pretty detached house in Mosta. Prior to this she has also lived in rented accommodation, including apartments elsewhere in Malta, and a house when she and her family lived in Belgium.
“When it comes to having that ‘at home’ feel, the difference for me is less about owning or renting and more about whether a rented property is furnished or unfurnished,” says Adele.
“When a property is already furnished, you’re living in surroundings and with furniture that are not necessarily in your style, or to your taste. Furthermore, when you rent furnished, you have to be cautious with other people’s things, more cautious than you would be surrounded by your own possessions.”
That feeling of living in someone else’s home, of not entirely relaxing, is all the more apparent when you have to do a detailed inventory, and then account for every mark or scratch.
“When we lived in Belgium,” says Adele, “we had parquet floors and we obviously had to be very careful. It was a nightmare trying to keep the floor from getting scratched. We also had to contend with a detailed report that checked the house from top to bottom and we knew we would be charged for every mark on the paintwork.”
Much better, says Adele, to have an unfurnished property. “You’d have lots more of your own things around,” she says, “and the furniture would be yours and of your own taste. You’d be sleeping in your own bed and your own sheets. Having your own things is what makes a place a home.”
As does working on your property, which is something people are understandably less inclined to do when they don’t own it. “If you don’t know how long you’re going to be living in a place – even with a contract there are always ways to get out of it – you don’t make long-term plans for a property. And I think lots of people don’t look after a rented place because they reason that they don’t own it.
“In Belgium I spent two years doing up the garden, doing a lot of work, turning it into a proper garden. When we left, I regretted all that hard work. It was a waste, really.”
For Karla Lethbridge, who owns and lives in a smart townhouse in Sliema, the difference between renting and owning are marked.
“There is a difference in terms of homeliness. You can put your mark on a property you own, you have the freedom to alter it, you are responsible for its maintenance, so you do things properly. When you’re going to be there for a long time, you naturally invest in the upkeep of a property.”
Karla rented before buying, living in furnished properties in Mosta and Vittoriosa. “They were lovely properties and they did feel like home, but in a different way. Our house in Sliema feels more homely.” That said, Karla would rent again, as it’s not just the ownership of a property that makes it home: time also plays a role. “We’ve lived here for two years now and I think you have to grow into a property.”
Having lovely things in your home matters too, not in the material sense of accumulating expensive furniture and paintings, but simply having items that you love. “It could be something you pick up at a market, something small that you know will work perfectly in a particular space. Some things just work towards creating a homely feel,” says Karla.
For this reason, neither Karla nor her husband has rushed into buying things to fill up their house, choosing instead to buy things that they really like, when they find them.
And then, of course, there are those intangible things that turn a house into a home. “I do think,” says Karla, “that the time spent in a house, the experiences you have in a property, the memories you create, whether you feel happy and comfortable in it – these all make a huge difference.”