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Buying real estate continues to be cheaper than renting in the vast majority of major U.S. cities, according to a quarterly rent vs. buy index from real estate search and marketing site Trulia.

The index compared the median list price and the median annualized rent on a two-bedroom apartment, condominium or townhouse in the country’s 50 most populous cities. According to the index, the cost of buying was less than renting in 37 of the 50 cities (74 percent) as of July 1, 2011. About the same share, 78 percent, favored buying over renting in Trulia’s last index report, released in April.

Trulia defines total costs of homeownership to include "mortgage principal and interest, property taxes, hazard insurance, closing costs at time of purchase and ongoing (homeowners association) dues and private mortgage insurance, where applicable. It also includes an offset for the tax advantages of homeownership, including mortgage interest, property tax and closing cost deductions."

"Many aspiring homeowners are on the fence about renting and buying in today’s market. Should they take advantage of falling home prices and low borrowing costs, or should they continue to rent until the economy stabilizes?" said Ken Shuman, spokesman for Trulia, in a statement.

"Price alone should never be the sole factor in deciding to purchase a home. Instead, buyers should first ask themselves if they plan to live in the home for at least seven to 10 years, could make monthly payments on the house, and have enough cash in the bank for a down payment and an additional six to eight months worth of mortgage payments.

"If you can answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, then the cost of buying a home definitely outweighs renting in most cities."

A price-to-rent ratio of 1 to 15 means that it’s much cheaper to buy than to rent in a particular city. Las Vegas, Detroit, and Mesa, Ariz., most favored buying among major cities.

Top 10 cities to buy vs. rent:

Rank  City State Price-to-rent ratio
1 Las Vegas Nev. 6
2 Detroit Mich. 7
3 Mesa Ariz. 7
4 Fresno Calif. 7
5 Arlington Texas 8
6 Sacramento Calif. 8
7 Phoenix Ariz. 8
8 Jacksonville Fla. 8
9 San Antonio Texas 10
10 Tulsa Okla. 11

Source: Trulia

A ratio between 16 and 20 means that it’s more expensive to rent than to buy, but buying may be better than renting "depending on personal circumstances, such as one’s tax bracket," Trulia said. Any ratio above 20 indicates that owning is much more costly than renting in a city.

According to the index, renting was much cheaper than buying in six cities: New York; Fort Worth, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Seattle; San Francisco; and Kansas City.

Top 10 cities to rent vs. buy:

Rank  City State Price-to-rent ratio
50 New York N.Y. 36
49 Fort Worth Texas 32
48 Omaha Neb. 27
46 San Francisco Calif. 24
47 Seattle Wash. 24
45 Kansas City Mo. 22
44 Portland Ore. 20
43 Los Angeles Calif. 19
42 Boston Mass. 18
41 Memphis Tenn. 17

Source: Trulia

Most foreclosure hot spots saw their price-to-rent ratios drop in the first half of this year, with Detroit seeing the biggest decline, at 39 percent. Miami, however, was an exception. "A mini buying boom created by foreign investors and foreclosure freezes have caused (Miami’s) price-to-rent ratio to jump by 112 percent: from 6 in January to 13 in July," Trulia said.

#

City

State

Price:Rent Ratio

July 2011

Price:Rent Ratio

January 2011

% Change

1

Miami

Fla.

13

6

112%

2

Phoenix

Ariz.

8

8

1%

3

Las Vegas

Nev.

6

6

-7%

4

Tucson

Ariz.

13

14

-10%

5

Mesa

Ariz.

7

8

-11%

6

Sacramento

Calif.

8

13

-17%

7

Fresno

Calif.

7

11

-32%

8

Detroit

Mich.

7

12

-39%

Here’s an interactive graph from Trulia that illustrates how cities compare on the rent vs. buy index over the last six months and includes foreclosure and job market data:


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