Furnishings are first to go in a housing crunch

March 14, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Services

Demographics for renters will soon change in our new economic reality. It is likely those changes will lead to a substantial evolution in the rental market itself.

Because even the so-called experts don't know where this is volatile economy is leading, it is probably anyone's guess as to how radically the rental market will shift. Yet the chances are, the future will see smaller units, even in the high-end market.

As far back as 1999, we were seeing the upper end of the income spectrum grow for renters. Now, with many top income earners joining the ranks of the unemployed, the demand for higher-quality rentals will surely increase.

Sadly, as people are forced from thier homes by foreclosure and other economic hardships, they will be forced to transfer their households into rented homes and apartments. The move will bring about a downsizing for almost everyone leaving behind a suburban three-bedroom home and squeezing into an apartment or rented condominium or townhouse.


People of all ages, not just the Generation Y, will want to live in buildings that are wired for high-end electronics. Those used to having their own laundry rooms will be on the lookout for convenient in-unit washer/dryer combinations or stacked appliances.

Small rental units are nothing new. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Multi Housing Council's 2003 American Housing Survey, rental units built prior to 1920 were a median size of only 600 square feet. Today we find that the average size is between 900 and 1,105 square feet.

One common complaint from renters about older units relates to antiquated kitchens and bathrooms. People are understandably reluctant to invest money and energy into improving a rental. Sometimes a landlord, if consulted, will allow you to add color by painting the walls, but will ask that you restore the place to its original condition upon leaving.

Live/work lofts that are rented without being completely built-out may be less costly, but demand a cash outlay for equipment. Of course, our European cousins seem to have a head start in tackling this dilemma. They take their kitchens with them -- often with cabinetry and equipment that looks like those shown in the photo.

IKEA and dozens of other European companies make mobile storage cabinets and work centers. Other live/work situations provide very basic bathrooms and kitchen appliances but little else.

Another challenge for those who leave behind a home is what to do with the furnishings that filled a three-bedroom house. It is advisable to carefully analyze how much it costs to store possessions and try to separate one's self from the emotion of loss. Anyone who has been through a divorce and forced sale of a home understands that sad feelings flare when moving is not your idea.

However, it is useful to take a hard look at one's "stuff" and determine if it has enough value to incur monthly storage fees in order to keep it. Things can always be replaced in the future.

The secondhand furniture market doesn't bring huge returns. Some consignment shops start the pricing at 50 percent of retail values and lower the prices monthly for three months. If an item has not sold after three months the shops require the consignees to either donate the items to charity or pick them up.

But this situation will work in your favor once you are in a position to replace furniture. There will always be someone with things to sell and some way to locate attractive furnishings and artwork.

My advice is to first deal with the emergency at hand to lighten your load so that you will fit into the new apartment.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at

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