NEW YORK (MainStreet) That is the urban question: should I rent or should I buy?
Flashback to 2007 and the answer - from just about every expert - was rent, moron, because real estate is hideously overpriced.
Then the crash came, home prices tumbled by 50% or more in many areas and, suddenly, the obvious answer became: buy, because you will never again see home prices so low along with mortgage interest rates that are at historic 3% lows.
But now home prices have crept up by 10% to 20% or more, 30 year fixed rate mortgage interest rates are closing in on 5%, and so now what?
"It really depends on how much risk you are willing to take on," said Jed Kolko, chief economist at real estate website Trulia.com. His opinion: buying today is not "as good" as it was a year ago but, in much of the country. it's still the smart move.
Call today's market a case-by-case situation, where answers vary by specific location and also by individual needs.
Note: in just about all of the country a mental commitment to stay in the new place for at least four years is needed. "If you are not planning on staying put, renting will make a lot more sense," said Kolko.
Another reality: in at least one urban market already, the buy side has gone sour as bidding wars have lifted prices to dizzying heights. San Francisco wears that bullyseye.
"We have a lack of inventory and a surplus of technology companies that are doing well," said Leslie Piper, an expert with realtor.com who also is a real estate agent in the Bay Area. "Buyers have a lot of cash."
Other places where Trulia suggests that buying "is a tougher call" include San Jose and Honolulu.
Those are the outliers, however. In much of the rest of the country, buying still is the obviously better choice per the numbers from the economists.
How this analysis works is simple.
Trulia explained its process in a statement: "To compare the costs of owning and renting, we assume people get a 4.8% mortgage rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan with 20% down; itemize their federal tax deductions and are in the 25% tax bracket; and will stay in their home for seven years. Under these assumptions, buying is 35% cheaper than renting nationwide, taking into account all of the costs and proceeds from buying or renting over the entire seven-year period."
At SmartAsset.com, the site uses different algorithms and focuses on how many years it takes a buyer to be wealthier than a renter. All in, said site founder Michael Carvin, "we tell around 15% of our users to rent, not buy. For most others, right now, the economics of home ownership are strong."
Especially, added Carvin, in some specific areas. His poster-child for the best place to buy is Chicago, where in 2.75 years the home buyer is ahead of the renter. Tampa is his next favorite, where it takes just 3.0 years for the buyer to be ahead of the renter.
The best place to buy in Trulia's numbers: Detroit, where buying a home is 65% cheaper than renting. Almost as attractive as Cleveland (54% cheaper to buy) and West Palm Beach, Fla (52%).
You are curious about the towns where you actually want to live?
Trulia has those numbers. New York is 21% cheaper to buy, Los Angeles is 21% cheaper to buy, Boston is 29% cheaper, Phoenix is 33% cheaper and Washington, D.C. is 31% cheaper.
"It's definitely a very attractive time to buy," said SmartAsset's Carvin, who added: "The opportunity cost of capital is very low," meaning that there are not many better places to stash cash than in a house or condo.
Might the real estate market crash yet again? Indeed, it definitely will. But probably not soon. Added Kolko: "Some people did not believe real estate prices could go down [before last decade's big crash]. Now they know they can. But people still want to buy. In our surveys, 94% of renters 18 to 34 want to buy."
"If you have a longterm perspective, you will definitely want to buy," said Piper.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet