Deciding whether to buy or rent

One of the New York Times blogs discusses whether residents should buy or own. The decision could be based on a ratio for metropolitan areas that gives some indication of whether owning or renting is a better choice:

A good rule of thumb is that you should often buy when the ratio is below 15 and rent when the ratio is above 20. If it’s between 15 and 20, lean toward renting — unless you find a home you really like and expect to stay there for many years.

While the metropolitan average is 15.1, 17 metro areas have ratings over 20 (led by East Bay, CA, Honolulu, HI, San Jose, CA, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle) and 14 metro areas have ratings below 15 (with the five lowest being Pittsburgh, PA, Cleveland, OH, Detroit, MI, Phoenix, AZ, and Dallas – Fort Worth, TX).

The blog writer come to this conclusion about the data: “It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. The country has suffered through a terrible crash in home prices, yet buying a house remains an iffy proposition in many markets.”

While this may be true, what is even more remarkable is that homeownership is still such a widespread goal. If this measure is reliable and valid (meaning that it is consistent and it really tells us something about buying vs. owning), then homeownership might never really be about an economic improvement over renting. Rather, Americans have made owning a home an important cultural value and then use economic rationales to justify their decisions.

What exactly is it that appeals to people about owning their home? They get to make their own decisions, they don’t have to pay a landlord or wait for them to take care of repairs, they get some separation from their neighbors, and overall, they feel like they have made it on their own. If renting was a cheaper option but people could still afford to buy a home, how many Americans would decide to rent?

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