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I, renter

I signed the lease on a new apartment yesterday, and let me tell you, it's a good time to be apartment hunting. My fiancee and I got a great deal on a place in a relatively pricey neighborhood because the market has turned dramatically in favor of the renter.

I last switched apartments in LA three years ago, and it was nothing like this experience. Almost every landlord seemed anxious. They kept asking, "So, what else have you seen out there? Anything good? Am I priced competitively?"

That's not how I remember landlords behaving. They laughed when I tried to negotiate. "Hey, I got a waiting list, bud. What's it gonna be?"

We looked around for two weekends. There were For Rent signs everywhere, but we didn't see many apartment hunters. The place we chose was the only one that had a group of people waiting to grab it, and that was because the manager dropped the price significantly and offered two weeks free. She was well below the other prices we saw in the same neighborhood.

This story from Sacramento points out some of the reasons the market has turned:

About a year ago, the apartment rental market was booming because people living in foreclosed homes moved from owning to renting. But now, things are starting to slow and it's forcing some landlords to get creative.

"You have to make sure detail is there. The property is in perfect shape," said Debbie Hart of River City Management and Sales, Inc. "We were offering some move-in specials, which I normally do not like to do... it's just the economy."

And maybe more people are waiting to buy if they can ever get a loan or are staying put to ride out the economy. Hart says other people have broken leases because they've lost their jobs.

So, I was surprised to read this morning that there was an 82 percent increase in apartment building in February. I'm guessing it's probably a statistical blip. Winter building numbers can be volatile because of the weather. And the rental markets in some cities may be more robust than in others.

In case you're looking yourself, I stumbled across a new site that combines social networking (of course) and apartment hunting. Rentwiki.com has developed a vertical application with Twitter (of course) so people can tweet information about neighborhoods to each other.

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Its hard to understand how renting beats buying.Should I only use the seven year guideline,seven years of mortgage payments save more than seven years of rent receipts.Granted there are more cost to owning than renting and the pride equation is a little differcult to put a $ sign to.

Um ... maybe this is because the Fed will give up to $8000 free money to qualifying home buyers who close on a property this year?

I know, I lived in Calif, born & raised, went back 1994-2001 ... not an easy place to buy a home. But still ... $8000 incentive to close on something is no small change.

Renting is and always has been an attractive way to live. The average home buyer stays in that home, on average, something like 7 years. When homeowners sell and buy another home, they pay realtors, lawyers, lenders, county recorders, appraisers, etc., several thousand dollars. If you spread the transaction cost of moving over those 7 years, owning isn't all that attractive any more.

Except for one thing: the federal tax deduction for mortgage interest and real property taxes. These provisions implement a social policy in favor of homeownership and tend to stigmatize renting as something for poor, "urban" or otherwise shiftless people. It's time to reconsider that. One change that might level the playing field would be to permit 3/4 of rent payments to be deducted.

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