Vancouverite Julie Hommik has moved five times in seven years. Sometimes her furniture fits in her new place and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why she and her spouse rent their living room furnishings.
It started a few years ago, when the couple were living in a one-bedroom apartment in the city’s east side and “had cobbled together a few pieces of older furniture, but we wanted to make the place feel like more of a home,” recalls Ms. Hommik, now 34.
They toured furniture stores and were shocked by how expensive everything was, so she did some homework and found a business called Plenish, a Canadian furniture subscription company. The pair ended up renting a sectional couch, a chair and a coffee table.
“It was a way for us to get something for our living room that we probably wouldn’t be as comfortable buying upfront because we also didn’t know how long we were going to be staying in that apartment,” she says.
The rental economy is seeing a significant upswing across the globe, and more companies are hopping on board. It’s becoming a way for people to have the lifestyle they want. And experts say it might just be saving money, time and contributing to a less wasteful society – if done properly.
According to a report by the World Economic Forum, 64 per cent of consumers who choose to rent items – from clothing to laptops – are between the ages of 18 to 38. Fifty-seven per cent of these consumers chose to rent because it allowed them to test items before purchasing, while only 11 per cent considered it because of the environment.
But keeping furniture out of the landfill was the main catalyst behind the launch of Plenish back in 2020, explains its founder Chang Li.
“We want to get away from fast furniture. For us, we are trying to create a shared economy and this furniture can be used in multiple homes,” says Mr. Li. “The two pain points we try to solve are the money and time spent on buying items and the waste when those items no longer work for you.”
There’s also the option for subscribers to rent-to-own, so if they like a piece they can buy out the remaining amount. For example, a person pays $400 over 12 months for a $1,000 couch that they now want to buy. To do this they simply pay the remaining $600 and it’s theirs.
“And if the furniture gets damaged, we try and replace the parts and reuse it,” says Mr. Li. “Normal wear and tear is expected, but if there is structural damage, we will change the fixing cost. It’s really a case-by-case situation and less than one per cent of our customers deal with any fixing costs.”
While renting furniture, cars and appliances have been the mainstays of the rental economy, these days there are some much kookier – albeit useful – items for lease.
Caskets might be one of the most notable because it’s an expensive item that doesn’t see the light of day for more than a day or two. While some might find this concept unpleasant, it makes a lot of sense, especially for those who wish to be cremated and, no, the casket is not “reused” in the way one might think, according to Toronto-based Mount Pleasant Group, a funeral service company that offers this service.
According to the company website, “[The caskets] are specially designed with a removable interior container that is only used once – this is the only part that comes into contact with the body and remains with it through cremation.”
Even people are for rent now. Rentafriend.com allows users to find platonic buddies to accompany them to all kinds of events. In New York City, urbanites can rent a Mom who will offer maternal advice and provide home cooked meals for about $40 an hour.
The possibilities for this market seem endless, but is it always a good idea to rent? Not necessarily, explains Millennial money expert Jessica Moorhouse.
“The easiest way to determine if you should rent or buy an item is by asking yourself: ‘How many times will I actually use this item?’ " says Ms. Moorhouse.
“For example, I’ve been seeing renting clothes become a lot more popular. For day-to-day clothes, this doesn’t really make sense since you’d likely save substantial money by buying the item outright and re-wearing it often,” she explains. “But if there’s a special occasion, such as a gala, photo shoot, or even wedding, when you’re likely to never wear that item again and it’ll just be sitting in the closet for years collecting dust, would you rather rent that item for 24 hours for $200, or spend $2,000 and still only wear it once?”
But renting can be a slippery slope, cautions Ms. Moorhouse, especially when people are renting expensive items they can’t otherwise afford in an effort to “keep up with the Kardashians.”
“In general, when you rent, you are paying more,” she says. “This may not be true if it’s just a one-off rental and you don’t want to own the item. But I’ve seen it where people rent furniture or electronics and they keep paying rental fees, and in the end they would have paid significantly less than if they’d simply bought it.”
During the pandemic, Ms. Hommik and her husband moved again, to a two-bedroom place, as they were both working from home and needed the extra office space, “but our sectional [couch] blocked the deck door,” she recalls.
So they got a new one delivered, “and I didn’t have to deal with getting rid of the old one on [Facebook] Marketplace,” laughs Ms. Hommik.
“If we needed other things, I would look at [renting] again just because there’s the financial piece and the ease of returning it,” she explains. “But I think the main piece is that you get to try something out and you can return it knowing that it’s going to be rehomed.”