Land’s End: Sharing Space

The uneasy task of turning your home over to renters

The first house we lived in when we moved to Orange County was a half-century-old rental overlooking Victoria Beach. It had a spectacular view and knotty pine walls, and the family that owned it hadn’t remodeled since the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Dreaming of bargains, we asked our landlord whether he’d considered selling.

“Don’t even ask,” he interrupted. “My grandmother used to cook me breakfast in that kitchen. On that very stove. Pancakes.” 

All righty, then. Excuse us for asking. So we backed off. We didn’t want him to go looking for other tenants, and we didn’t want him to be angry—though he lived elsewhere, we saw him all the time on our street. Secretly, though, we wondered how attached he could really be to a home that, in some ways, had been out of his hands for a long time. How could he turn Grandma’s house over to a succession of strangers if he was really sentimental about the place?

This was before the 2008 crash, when everyone was remodeling, and down the street, a shack not unlike our rental was being redone by a family of five. The plans were spectacular, and I could only imagine how eager the owners were to finish construction. Their kids were young, and for months, they’d been crashing with relatives and using cheap motel rooms as base camps. This was to be their dream house—high-end stove, big garage, separate wing for the kids—but no sooner had they moved in than they began making way for a summer renter. 

“Oh, this is going to pay for our vacation,” the mother laughed, hustling kids and pets out the custom doors they’d scarcely entered. “See you after Labor Day!”

People dream about a lot of things when they imagine beach living: long walks, sunset cocktails, unmade beds with sheets that smell like Coppertone. They don’t dream of subletting their beach house to other people. And yet, once they get here, they discover beach people do it all the time. 

They do it even if they don’t have a second home to go to. They do it even if they’re the kind of people who make visitors use coasters and leave their flip-flops outside. When we moved from that rental, we never imagined anyone but us in our own, much more modest dream house. Then, one day, to our amazement, there we were, hanging a “For Lease” sign.

The decision came over us gradually, like high tide at a picnic. The kids grew up. Work forced us to travel. Selling didn’t make sense. Neither did staying. Neither did shuttling back and forth constantly to an empty dream house. One friend, then another, asked whether we’d considered holiday rentals. We found ourselves wondering how hermit crabs felt, scuttling from one shell to the next. For the first time, we imagined sharing our shell.

Anyway, now a succession of strangers has been coming and going at our house. I’m not sure how I feel about it—their kids hustling in and out of our custom doorways, the parents’ SUVs parked at our curb. Sometimes I pretend they’re not there. Sometimes I hang out on the street and spy on them, just a little. Sometimes they ask if we’d consider selling, and I have to stop them. I used to cook breakfast in that kitchen, I think to myself. Pancakes. On that very stove.   


Illustration by Brett Affrunti
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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