- Median asking prices per square foot for all rentals advertised on Zillow.com
- Estimated rental value of a typical residence within a given city (including owner-occupied properties not available for rent)
- How much each community's median rental value has increased or decreased over the past 12 months
- Each market's "break-even period," an estimate of how many years of homeownership it takes before buying a place costs less than renting
Bang for Your Buck score: 27.26 (out of a possible 100) Boston makes Zillow's list despite some of America's highest median home values because renting there is even harder on your wallet than buying a place. The median Beantown rental lists on Zillow lists for $3 a square foot, or nearly three times the $1.02 typical nationwide. Only New York and San Francisco rentals cost more. All told, Zillow estimates that Boston properties have a $2,404-a-month median rental value -- the seventh-highest level among major cities and almost double America's $1,293 median. Hub rental values have also risen 6.7% over the past year -- or more than triple the 1.9% U.S. median, as well as the sixth-highest annual increase among big cities. On the plus side, Boston has a 3.33-year break-even point for renting vs. buying. That's above the 3.1-year U.S. median, which Zillow researchers interpret as a positive sign for the city's renters.
Bang for Your Buck score: 26.92 The typical property in this community some 30 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles carries a $2,179-a-month rental value, the 11th-highest among America's largest cities. Santa Ana's rental values are also growing at 4.21% a year, or more than twice the U.S. norm. Similarly, the median Santa Ana rental lists for $1.68 a square foot, well above the $1.02 typical nationwide. "Santa Ana is an expensive market for renters," Gudell says. The 329,000-population community also has a 2.76-year break-even period for buying vs. renting. That's below the U.S. median -- bad news for tenants.
Bang for Your Buck score: 26.9 This Twin City has few twins when it comes to costly rental markets. That's because the typical Minneapolis residence has an above-average $1,451-a-month rental value. Rental values are rising at 4.92% a year, or more than twice the U.S. median. Minneapolis rentals also list for a median $1.59 a square foot, or more than 50% above what's typical nationwide. Add in the fact that the city has a below-average 2.45-year break-even point for buying vs. renting and you'll find that leasing a place there is about as much fun as swimming in Lake Minnetonka in January. "Minneapolis is one of those markets where it's so much more expensive to rent than to buy that if you're going to stay there for a while, you should buy," Gudell says.
Bang for Your Buck score: 18.79 Gudell says this Miami-area community is a bad place for tenants because South Florida's foreclosure crisis has driven hordes of locals out of their houses and into rentals, pushing up rents even as home prices fell. "A lot of families were displaced and ended up having to rent," she says. As a result, Hialeah properties have an above-average $1,555 median rental value today -- and that's growing at a hefty 5.14% pace per year. The typical Hialeah rental also lists for $1.35 per square foot, or about one-third above what's typical nationwide. At the same time, local home prices are so low that you'll break even by buying instead of renting in 225,000-population Hialeah after just 1.72 years. That's the seventh-shortest period for any major American city.
Bang for Your Buck score: 14.84 The Magic City is anything but magical for renters. Gudell says that's because Miami, like nearby Hialeah, has high rents and low home prices as a result of America's foreclosure crisis. "The South Florida region was hit incredible hard and had tons of foreclosures that they're still dealing with," she says. As such, the median Miami residence has an above-average $1,811-a-month rental value -- and that's rising 5.91% a year, or nearly three times the U.S. median rate. The typical Miami rental also lists for $2.24 a square foot, the eighth-highest price for any big American city. Lastly, Miami has a below-average 2.09-year break-even point for renting vs. buying, a bad sign for tenants. "For a lot of people, it would pay off to buy a place in Miami rather than rent," Gudell says.