Why Does Every Tenant Have One of These? Buying HDTVs vs. Paying Rent . . .

by | BiggerPockets.com

This was the second year in a row that I braved the Black Friday/Midnight Madness sales at my local retailers. I used to laugh at people who do this, and I still think it’s ridiculous to wait outside Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving. I also have to admit that it’s kind of fun.

Walking around the store with my (deeply discounted!) soon-to-be-purchases, I noticed that pretty much all of my fellow shoppers had at least one huge box in their carts. One box marked “Sony”, “Panasonic,” or another huge electronics firm. In other words, one gigantic widescreen TV.

My guess is that pretty much every apartment resident in America has one of these billboard-sized monstrosities. Certainly 90% of mine have had them. And since probably a third of my tenants have had rent issues over the years, that means about 30% of my tenants – probably 30% of yours – have blown money on a widescreen TV that they then did not have for basic housing.


Now if you, my fellow landlord, have a widescreen, that’s no skin off my back. You don’t owe me rent. But most of the landlords I know lead modest lives relative to their financial situation. I have what used to be considered a fairly large TV (32”), but it’s five years old, not a widescreen, and makes a funny whining sound for the first few minutes after it’s turned on.

Actually, the story of how I got it is kind of funny. Back in 2004, my old TV broke under mysterious circumstances. My mother and my then-four-year-old son blamed each other. Personally I think my mother did it.

That same week, I had a heating emergency on one of the coldest nights of the year (in Somersworth, NH, that’s pretty cold). I drove up there and worked for about three hours with the heating guys. When all the tenants were warm (and watching their widescreens), it was about 10 p.m.

I had planned, that night, to go TV shopping. The New England Patriots were on a playoff run and I didn’t want to miss any of the games! But at 10 o’clock, all the stores were closed except one – Wal-Mart.

I got in there 15 minutes before they closed and picked out my TV – not the biggest one, but still pretty darned heavy. Somehow got it out to the car. Brought it home. Heaved it up the stairs to my door and slid it, in the box, into the living room, so my wife could look at it (still in the box) while drinking her morning coffee in about five hours. I did not have the energy to open the box or set it up.


It really doesn’t bother me when I go to a friend’s house and see a 52-inch Sony Bravia ($1189 at Amazon).  It does bother me when I see this in one of my apartments.  The TV cost more than a month’s rent.  Therefore you will get no sympathy from me when you look up from watching it to let me know that you can’t pay this month’s rent.

Tell you what, I’ll trade you.  You give me the Sony.  I’ll give you my five-year-old Sanyo that makes the whiny noise.  You get to stay in the apartment for another month.  Next month, get a job or we’ll see what else you have to trade.

Of course, there is a way to get a widescreen without paying $1200.  You can rent it!  It costs about $100 per month and you’ll never own it.  But, tenants, be careful – if you tell me I can’t have the TV because you’re renting it, I’ll be even more annoyed.  Why are you spending money on that when you can’t afford a roof over your head!

The Widescreen Rule

Recently my wife started doing most of the apartment showings.  I let her know a few of my rules, one of which is that every prospective tenant has a widescreen.  (Another is that only 60% of prospects show up for their appointments, but that’s another story.)

This weekend she showed to a very nice woman who liked the apartment a lot.  She was planning where things would go, which is always a good sign.

“We’ll put the sectional over here, and right here we’ll put the” – wait for it! – “widescreen.”

Photo: blakespot

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  1. Brendan – Man, I totally feel you on this one! I was going to write an article for Cyber Monday about the same thing. One of my old section 8 tenants was always late with rent and eventually stopped paying her portion. She lived like a pig, yet had the most beautiful big screen TV, every video game system, great clothes, etc. People just don’t have their priorities correct.

    Of course, when the time comes to evict, it is the big bad landlord who is at fault. Until the sense of entitlement fizzles (not going to happen) from some people, and some semblance of personal responsibility is fostered (not going to happen), I don’t really see this mentality changing anytime soon.

    It is a sad state of affairs, if you ask me!

  2. @Mr. O’Brien, Thanks for posting up this article. It needed to be said. Reading this reminded me of friends that owe money and pop up with a new toy or take a mini vacation. Makes one burn sometimes. HUBRIS was a word you made me go into the dictionary for. I learned a new word tonight, lol. Thanks

  3. Annually, this time of year, SmartMoney and all the other personal finance magazines that give frugal/prudent money saving advice all through the year seem to lose their heads and they all give advice buying these high-end large electronics purchases. Many times I need to do a double-take, close the magazine and check the cover to be sure I’m not reading Professional Stereophyle or something.

    Every year, for the past 3 or 4, they’ve all indicated “now is the time to buy, they’re not going to get much less expensive” with regard to TVs, and then the next year, they say the same exact thing. Newer/better technology, less expensive – typical for technology in general.

    We still have our Sony 32″ console TV with a good old glass picture tube in the family room. My parents owned a TV repair shop back in the 70’s/80’s, they repaired this behemoth and the owner decided not to pick it up – so it became our wedding gift…17 years ago! It still works like a champ, and though my wife hits me up to get a new TV to replace it about twice a year, I tell her “when the console dies”. I always worry that one night I’ll come home from work to find a baseball bat smashed through the picture tube!

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