How Do I Decide If It Is Better To Buy A House Than To Rent?

Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].

Question from Lee in IA: Hi Brian, I’m 29 years old and feel comfortable with my career path in government administration. Since college, I’ve rented an apartment. Granted, the one I’m in now is much better than my first college apartment. Actually, I’m pretty happy with my two-bedroom unit near the city center. Still, my parents and several friends (mostly married friends) are pushing me to buy a house. They say it is the grown-up thing to do. They have me thinking about my decisions, but I do like having the freedom of not being tied down to a house. I can call the landlord whenever there is a problem and if I want to move to a bigger place next year I can. Should I be listening to others that are telling me that it’s time for me to buy a house and settle down in one location?

Answer: Hello Lee. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column sharing the financial reasons for buying a house, even at a high price. That column is a lot about the financials. Not only your ability to close a purchase but also long-term financial goals. But there is more to homeownership than that. Maybe you have other reasons for buying a home and maybe there are reasons why you want to continue renting. Please read that previous column about the financial reasons but in this column, we’ll explore some non-financial reasons why continuing to rent may or may not be the right choice for you.

Along with being the American Dream, having your own street address comes with satisfaction and pride. But it can also come with some extra costs, and it always comes with required maintenance. On the non-financial side, have you ever thought about having a dog and needing a yard for the dog? Have you ever wanted a garage for your car and a place to tinker around with a hobby? Even if you don’t have any near-term plans to marry and have children, there are plenty of non-financial benefits to buying a home.

In fact, a National Housing Survey by Fannie Mae found that the top three reasons why Americans find value in owning a home have nothing to do with the financial side.

  1. 91% feel secure, stable, or successful owning a home.
  2. 70% feel emotionally attached to the homes that have kept them safe over the past year.
  3. 51% call homeownership a “key part of their life”.

And there are other non-financial reasons…

For many people that have been renting for several years, there is a yearning to have the freedom to make renovations that you can make as a homeowner but not as a renter. As a homeowner, you can do almost any renovation ranging from painting polka dots on the walls to knocking out a wall to make an extra bedroom big enough for a pool table. As the owner of your own home, you can do whatever you’d like.

You have more privacy. Have you ever had apartment neighbors that were wild and noisy lovers? Or maybe they had a habit of rocking the thin walls with arguments every Friday night at 2 in the morning. There’s more to the privacy of your own home than just peaceful silence. It could be that you and a girlfriend want to do some nude sunbathing in a fenced backyard, or any of dozens of other reasons for more privacy.

Don’t worry, be happy. Homeownership can go a long way towards your emotional security. Just feeling like you are connected to a settled community can lead to a better overall quality of life. Maybe it’s about boosted self-esteem, or another survey found that many homeowners felt an improvement in their overall health after owning a home.

Lee, there are plenty of non-financial reasons for buying a home, but let’s also look at reasons why you might prefer to continue renting.

You must or want to move often. It could be that your job requires frequent moves, or it could be that you are tired of the city you are in and want a change. It’s much easier to get out of a lease than a mortgage.

Maintenance is about more than just the cost. You might have a strong preference to spend your weekends doing what you want rather than mowing a lawn. You probably also like the convenience of calling a landlord to find an emergency plumber to fix a burst water pipe on Thanksgiving while you go to dinner with friends and family. One of the biggest perks of renting is that you never have to worry about surprise repairs.

Maybe you’re in a super expensive homeowners’ market. This is mostly financial, but it can be a good reason to remain a renter. It may not apply to you but if you were in a very expensive market like San Francisco, renting is probably the cheaper option. Until it’s not. If you’re going to stay in an expensive market for a long time, you’ll likely make out better buying.

Lee, make up your own mind between renting and buying. Don’t let others tell you that it is the grown-up thing to do. Being in control of your money and happiness is the right thing to do but that doesn’t mean it has to be about buying a house. At age 29, you should be starting to think seriously about your long-term future. Many people do find homeownership the best long-term choice. However, homeownership isn’t the best choice for everyone. Just be sure that you give both renting and owning thoughtful consideration at your age.

Please comment with your thoughts about being a long-term renter or homeowner.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].

Ask Brian: How Do I Decide If It Is Better To Buy A House Than To Rent?