When making the decision either to rent or buy a place to live, there are two broad categories of factors that must be considered. The first and most obvious category represents the financial aspects of your decision. The second category is a set of personal and emotional factors, which are more intangible but play an important role in the decision to rent or buy. Here, we look at the financial factors, including the initial and ongoing costs as well as the long-term pros and cons of owning your home.
Examining Your Finances
The first step in the decision-making process is to determine whether or not you can afford to purchase a home. Issues to consider include your ability to make a down payment (generally between 5% and 20% of the home’s purchase price) and pay closing costs (which may be an additional 5%). These costs are likely to exceed substantially the initial payment and security deposit that would be required if you were renting instead of buying. Of course, having enough money to cover the initial purchase of a new home is only half of the battle. (To learn more about the home costs, see Mortgages: How Much Can You Afford? andThe Home-Equity Loan: What It Is And How It Works.)
Before moving into your new home, you’ll need to put some thought into how much it’s going to cost you to stay there after you take up residence. Many financial experts suggest that your monthly mortgage payment not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income and that your total monthly debt payments not exceed 36% of your gross monthly income. If you go beyond these limits, you may run into trouble because, in addition to paying the mortgage each month, you have to factor in home maintenance. From carpet to window coverings, new appliances to a new roof, everything costs money and nothing lasts forever. Renting may be a little easier on the pocketbook because it provides a fixed-dollar cost for monthly expenditures, which are paid simply with the rent. Besides perhaps increasing from year to year, the rent remains steady. And, if maintenance issues arise, the landlord pays for the repairs. Instead of spending your money on a new roof, you can invest it or spend it as you like.
If you’ve done the math and can afford to make the initial purchase and service the ongoing debt, the next factor you have to decide is whether this purchase benefits you financially. A rent-controlled apartment in New York City, or a place in a suburban location outside of a major city, quite possibly charges a month’s rent that is significantly less than a monthly mortgage payment for properties within the city. Of course, even if the monthly cost of renting is less than the cost of buying, there are long-term financial considerations that must be taken into account.