January 28, 2019
100 million Americans live in homes they or their families rent.
Which means about 250 million live in homes that are owned by themselves or their families.[i]
What about you? Are you a renter or an owner? If you’re thinking about making a change, take a look at these important factors when deciding to rent or own.
The Case for Ownership
One very oft-cited benefit of owning over renting is building up equity. When one rents, the entire rent payment goes to the landlord, and the tenant does not own any part of the dwelling at all. With a mortgage, on the other hand, the payer receives some percentage of ownership after every payment (assuming the payment is going towards the principal rather than interest alone), eventually leading to full ownership of the property.
For those with enough capital to outright purchase a property, ownership is almost certainly the best decision financially: no money is paid to a landlord for a service that is consumed but non-saleable in the future. Even for those without sufficient capital, mortgages tend to offer low interest rates (compared to other loan products), and the buyer can usually justify the mortgage interest in return for eventual full ownership. Even if the owner decides to move before the mortgage is completely paid off, the equity that was built thus far can be recouped and used later.
Other reasons to own may include more privacy and greater ability to customize the property. There is also the feeling of stability that you won’t have to renew a contract or potentially pay higher rent during the next cycle when your lease renews.
One of the biggest drawbacks of ownership is the potential that the property value may decline, particularly when still under mortgage. If the value of the property goes down – possibly due to a natural disaster or a lot of foreclosures in your neighborhood [ii] – the equity that was built by the owner may decline, not the amount owed on the loan. Thus a substantial decrease in prices as happened in the late 2000s, could cause an owner to be in the same position financially as a renter – that is, with no equity to speak of.
The Case for Rentership
For those who cannot meet ownership’s capital requirements, renting is not a choice – it’s a necessity. However, even those who would qualify for a mortgage may be better off renting, especially if they insist on flexibility. Selling a property is an involved, complex financial transaction that may take many months to complete. If you’re renting and you need to move, finding a subletter (if allowed) is a possibility, and even when not, a standard rental agreement usually only lasts one year, after which the renter may decline to renew. Thus flexibility is one of the most important factors for those who wish to rent.
And while there is usually much less customization allowable at rental properties, there may be significant benefits included in rent with utilities paid, maintenance performed, and communal facilities like gyms, pools, or laundry facilities available. For owners, maintenance, utilities, and tax bills are solely the responsibility of the owner, whereas for renters, these may be paid in part or in full by the landlord. Regarding the investment side, renters do not own the property, so they do not have to worry about losing equity if the property market decreases in value.
Some drawbacks of renting may be less privacy, not being able to build equity, and the uncertainty of future rental prices or even availability. Of course, if the rent increases too much, the renter has the flexibility to leave the property at the next cycle.
So whether you’re thinking of renting or buying, before you sign on the dotted line, examine your short and long term goals, the risks you’re willing to take, and your budget.