More Americans than ever are renting instead of owning a home. About 37 percent of housing units in the U.S. are occupied by renters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, and homeownership rates are the lowest they've been in the last 50 years as of the second quarter of 2016.
But many renters are actually in a position to buy. In the 35 largest housing markets in the country, nearly 14 percent of renters have high enough credit scores and incomes to afford a median-priced home in their market, according to a recent study released by real estate information company Zillow.
The report notes that San Jose, California, has the largest percentage of renters who have the credit and income to purchase a median-priced home at 35.6 percent, followed by San Francisco at 26.8 percent.
If that many people can afford to buy, why do they continue to rent?
Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist at Zillow, says that while the survey addresses a renter’s ability to cover a monthly mortgage and other housing costs, that doesn’t mean he or she has the savings for a down payment.
And in markets like San Jose and San Francisco – some of the most expensive for rentals in the country – that poses a problem. “When they’re paying so much in rent already, it’s really hard to save up for a down payment,” Terrazas says.
But it’s not just their bank accounts that are keeping renters from buying. A separate study by Zillow released this month shows about 50 percent of renters in San Francisco and New York have little confidence in their ability to afford to buy a home in the future, with almost as many renters reporting the same doubts in Seattle, San Jose and Boston.
Whether you’re saving for a down payment or you never thought you would have the funds to purchase a home, you should take a careful look at your finances. If you can afford to own a home in your market, consider these arguments for remaining a renter or becoming a homeowner.
The Argument for Remaining a Renter
A home purchase is a serious investment of your time and money, so if you’re at all hesitant, it may be best to wait. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider whether you’re ready to leave your rental.
Are you enjoying the luxury amenities of your apartment community? It’s far more common for apartment buildings to offer a variety of amenities and services – from pools and gyms to package delivery and pickup – than in previous decades, notes Brandon Hedges, a Realtor and co-founder of Barker Hedges Group Re/Max Results in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you enjoy those amenities and would miss them living elsewhere, you might as well continue taking advantage of them.
“They’re not the kind of ratty apartment [that buyers are] coming out of where they’re happy to be in a home. They’re already in a pretty nice place now, and it’s sometimes hard for them to find a home that has those features,” Hedges says.
Are you ready to make a big investment? Purchasing a home is the biggest investment many people will make in their lifetime. If you’re not ready to make such a significant decision, it may be best to remain a renter.
How long do you plan to stay in the next place you live? Investing in a home requires a few years to prove profitable. This gives you time to build equity in the home and for the property to appreciate in value, as explained by David Weliver, founding editor of consumer finance site Money Under 30, in a statement about the buying-versus-renting dilemma.
Weliver notes a person in his or her 20s may be particularly apt to relocate for a variety of reasons: “Career and romantic opportunities have pushed most people I know (including myself) to relocate at least once or twice.”
Will your home needs change in the next few years? Even if you’re ready to settle in one place now, you should take your future needs into account. If you can see yourself starting a family within three years and wanting to live in the suburbs, the one-bedroom condo you can afford now may not be ideal.
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The Argument for Buying a Home
Aside from the potential to save money when rental rates creep higher than monthly mortgage costs, don’t forget that buying a home is a way to build equity and wealth, as a property will typically appreciate over time as you maintain standard upkeep and care for it. If you find yourself leaning toward homeownership, ask yourself these questions.
Are you in a market where owning is cheaper than renting? Zillow’s report noted that of the 35 largest U.S. markets, Houston and Indianapolis have the smallest percentage of renters who can afford to buy, at 6.8 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively. In these cases, the small percentage is primarily caused by a more affordable housing market, allowing those who can afford to buy to actually purchase a home and leave renting behind.
“People who are in a position to buy and want to buy probably already own a home,” Terrazas says.
Are you ready for new responsibility? For many, deciding to leave a rental and buy a home comes with a readiness to work on improving and maintaining the property.
“You’re ready to start tinkering on the kitchen sink, and you’re ready to start mowing the lawn – or you’re financially ready to hire a plumber,” says Whitney Nicely, a millennial real estate expert and investor in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Do you want to be a real estate investor eventually? If your goal is to be a real estate investor, you should start now. Particularly for millennials, Nicely notes it’s best to start putting a stake in the market sooner rather later because the process of real estate investment is easier once you’re able to build momentum.
“I don’t want the millennials to wake up one day and say, ‘I need to go buy five or six rentals,’” Nicely says. Instead, you can begin building a portfolio by purchasing your first home to turn into a rental when it comes time to upgrade.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.