Rent or buy? Here’s how to decide in the current real estate market

Choosing whether to rent or buy has never been a simple decision — and this ever-changing housing market isn’t making it any easier. With surging mortgage rates, record rents and home prices, a potential economic downturn and other lifestyle considerations, there’s so much to factor in.

“This is an extraordinarily unique market because of the pandemic and because there was such a run on housing so you have home prices very high, you also have rent prices very high,” said Diana Olick, senior climate and real estate correspondent for CNBC.

By the numbers, renting is often cheaper. On average across the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S., a typical renter pays about 40% less per month than a first-time homeowner, based on asking rents and monthly mortgage payments, according to

In December 2022, it was more cost-effective to rent than buy in 45 of those metros, the real estate site found. That’s up from 30 markets the prior year.

How does that work out in terms of monthly costs? In the top 10 metro regions that favored renting, monthly starter homeownership costs were an average of $1,920 higher than rents.

But that has not proven to be the case for everyone.

Leland and Stephanie Jernigan recently purchased their first home in Cleveland for $285,000 — or about $100 per square foot. The family of seven will also have Leland’s mother, who has been fighting breast cancer, moving in with them.

By their calculations, this move — which expands their space threefold and allowing them to take care of Leland’s mother — will be saving them more than $700 per month.

‘You don’t buy a house based on the price of the house’

“You don’t buy a house based on the price of the house,” Olick said. “You buy it based on the monthly payment that’s going to be principal and interest and insurance and property taxes. If that calculation works for you and it’s not that much of your income, perhaps a third of your income, then it’s probably a good bet for you, especially if you expect to stay in that home for more than 10 years. You will build equity in the home over the long term, and renting a house is really just throwing money out.”

Mortgage rates dropped slightly in early March, due to the stress on the banking system from the recent bank failures. They are moving up again, although they are currently not as high as they were last fall. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 6.59% as of April — up from 3.3% around the same time in 2021.

But that hasn’t significantly dampened demand.

“As the markets kind of bubbled in certain parts of the country and other parts of the country priced out, we’ve seen a lot of investors coming in looking for affordable homes that they can buy and rent,” said Michael Azzam, a real estate agent and founder of The Azzam Group in Cleveland.

“We’re still seeing relatively high demand” he added. “Prices have still continued to appreciate even with interest rates where they’re at. And so we’re still seeing a pretty active market here.”

Buying a home is part of the American Dream

The Jernigans are achieving a big part of the American Dream. Buying a home is a life event that 74% of respondents in a 2022 Bankrate survey ranked as the highest gauge of prosperity — eclipsing even having a career, children or a college degree.

The purchase is also a full-circle moment for Leland, who grew up in East Cleveland, where his family was on government assistance.

“I came from a single-mother home who struggled to put food on the table and always wanted better for her children … it was more criminals than there were police … It is not the type of neighborhood that I wanted my children to grow up in,” said Jernigan.

The new homeowner also has his eye on building a brighter future for more children than just his own. Jernigan plans to purchase homes in his old neighborhood, renovate them and create a safe space for those growing up like he did.

“I’m here because someone saw me and saw the potential in me and gave me advice that helped me. … and I just want to pay it forward to someone else” Jernigan said.

Watch the video above to learn more.

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