January 29, 2011

Rent versus Buy, Take 117

Trulia has yet another view of the perpetual Rent versus Buy debate, and they’ve got lots of colored bubbles to help.  Bubbles are great.  They lead to high housing prices and if you own the house, you get to paint it any color you want (as long as you don’t live in a fascist HOA community).

imageThe map at right is from Trulia’s Rent vs Buy tool.  The rent ratio is calculated by comparing the median list price of a 2 bedroom condo or townhouse listed on Trulia to the average monthly rent, for the 50 largest cities in the United States.

You see the problem right away, don’t you?  2 bedroom condo or townhouse.  Excuse me, but who the heck wants to buy a 2 bedroom condo or townhouse?  Maybe some of us have to (if we want to own anything), but for those who can buy a single-family detached house, the ratio we want is the cost versus the rent of a three bedroom, two bath house with a yard.  Those are difficult to find in San Francisco, and almost nonexistent in New York City, but for everywhere else, such a thing is not only possible but highly desired.

So who cares if Trulia says San Jose has a price to rent ratio of 15 (which puts it right over the line for the BUY column)?  That means BUY don’t rent the condo.  The question is whether to buy the house, and they aren’t helping with that decision.

Here are Trulia’s Rent vs Buy numbers for some cities of interest.  Remember, under 15 means buy, over 20 means rent, and in between, it depends.  Maybe that means live somewhere else.

City Avg List Price Avg Rent Price to Rent Ratio
Fresno $90,446 $936 8
Sacramento $152,696 $934 14
Oakland $278,245 $1,625 14
San Jose $298,621 $1,691 15
Los Angeles $491,055 $2,460 17
San Diego $396,409 $1,670 20
San Francisco $774,728 $2,996 22
Portland $307,858 $1,145 22
Seattle $461,330 $1,546 25
New York City $1,383,612 $3,538 33

The biggest surprises on the full list?  Omaha, at 26 and Fort Worth at 30, although Trulia notes the Fort Worth sample size was insufficient. These numbers don’t show whether attached housing is seen as a city norm or not, and if not, at what discount does attached housing go for compared to detached.  I suspect the odd results for Omaha and Fort Worth are for that very reason.  There may be so few attached units that the results are meaningless.

So where does San Jose fit on the scale of urban to suburban?  Given the name of this website, perhaps San Jose house price rent ratios are in the thirties.

Comments (33) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:05 am