It's cheaper to buy than rent, but the gap is closing

A 'For Sale' sign stands in front of a house on May 31, 2011 in Chicago, Ill.

If you live in parts of California, or New York, or Hawaii. You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.

But, it is true.

In most parts of the country, it can be a whole lot cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent.

“Home values are still down about 13 percent from where they were at peak values in 2007,” said Stan Humphries, Chief Economist at Zillow, “pair that with historically low mortgage rates, and you have a real situation of affordability in the U.S.”

The situation for renters, on the other hand, is pretty awful.  Rents are way up. “We’re at the worse place we’ve ever been in terms of rental affordability,” said Chris Herbert, Research Director at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Demand for rentals has jumped since the recession. Herbert says today half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on accommodation.

Which might have you wondering—if it’s REALLY cheaper ... why don’t people just buy?

“For one thing, if you don’t have savings, you’re going to have a hard time making down payment constraints,” said Herbert, “and if you’re spending a lot of your income now for rent, it's going to be very hard to get that savings together.”

Also, since the housing crisis, it’s a whole lot harder to get a loan.

Right now, the difference between buying and renting is narrowing ever so slightly.

“Over the past year, rents have risen nationally almost four percent year-over-year” said Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Trulia, “but home prices have risen faster, home prices are up about ten percent nationally year-over-year.

The price gap between buyers and renters is shrinking. But housing is getting less affordable for everyone.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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