The Great American Myth: Everyone Should Own a House

One of the greatest myths in America is that everyone should own a house and if you don’t you are wasting money. There are times when owning a home makes financial sense, but there are also times when it does not. All to often people jump into purchasing a home because they think it is a good idea but they do not stop to consider the whole picture.

I can hear it now “But Cipher, didn’t you just say in your last post that you are looking to buy a home?” Yes, I did say that, however, what you need to know is I looked at the market and considered the costs before making the choice. In my last post I talked about some of the basic costs associated with the initial purchase of a home. Now it is time to dive in and talk about some of the costs associated with renting vs. owning a home.

Costs Associated with Renting

The cost of renting is often times straight forward. The renter pays an agreed upon sum that is dictated in the lease. The price is locked in by the lease, some places have laws about how much the landlord can raise the rent from year to year.  

 In many cases the maintenance of the property is the responsibility of the landlord. The renter of course takes care of small things like replacing light bulbs and the occasional Liquid Plumber, but in my experience, there are not a lot of maintenance costs.

Some common costs to rent are:

  • Rent
  • Deposit
  • Utilities (sometimes included)
  • Renters Insurance (optional but a good idea)
  • Parking Spot Fee
  • Pet Fee

The place I am currently renting actually has most of the costs rolled into one fee. I pay rent and insurance; the utilities and parking are included. I did have to put down one-month deposit at move in.

Depending on the landlord it can sometimes difficult to get your whole deposit back. Because my job requires a lot of moving, it made the most sense to rent from an economic and flexibility standpoint. My costs are predictable and I never had to worry about selling my home while trying to switch jobs.

Story time: My brother rented for several years and he kept hearing people say he was “throwing away his money” by renting. Interest rates were low and the mortgage payment would be a little less than his rent payment. Sounds good right. Well, not so much.  

Soap box time: You are not throwing away money; you are exchanging it for a roof over your head. There is value in this transaction.

The thing that my brother failed to consider when deciding to buy a home was everything he would have to do and pay for to keep the home in good shape. He purchased an older home so it should come as no surprise that there were maintenance issues. Yes, the mortgage was about $150 less per month than his rent, but when the roof started leaking the several thousand dollars needed for repairs was not so easy to come up with. Even without big ticket items like a roof, there were several sneaky expenses that more than made up for the $150 “savings.”

Read on and you will see some of the costs my brother failed to consider.

Costs Associated with Ownership

The cost of owning a home is not as straight forward. The mortgage is fairly easy to predict if you have a fixed interest rate. However, if the property value increases significantly that can have a huge impact on property taxes, which will increase the escrow portion of the monthly payment. In addition to these basic costs home owners need to consider maintenance fees and repair costs. Even in newer homes, if you don’t pay attention to preventative maintenance small issues will build into big issues eventually.  

Some common costs to own are:

  • Mortgage
  • Home Owners Insurance (required)
  • Home Owners Association Dues
  • Lawn Care
  • Maintenance Costs; preventative and repairs
  • Property Taxes
  • Interest Costs
  • Utilities

As you see some of the items are the same, but there is a difference in cost. Renters insurance is fairly inexpensive but homeowner’s insurance is usually more. No matter where you live one usually pays utilities but as my brother learned electricity for his apartment vs. house was noticeably more. In the apartment water and garbage were included but he paid these costs for the house.

Where I live home owners associations are very common. One friend pays about $95 a month, another pays $150, and on the extreme end a coworker pays $650 per month. In each price point there are amenities that come with the fee. Many people don’t think of this monthly cost when deciding if renting vs. owning is better. They think mortgage vs. rent.

Don’t even get me started on having to take care of a lawn. First you have to buy all the equipment, then you actually have to take care of the lawn. Or you end up paying someone to do it for you. In either case, you are still paying for upkeep that is included in many rental options.

Interest is another major expense. I have discussed this before from different perspectives. When someone asks you what you paid for something, we often give the sticker price. What we fail to consider is the amount we pay for the privilege of borrowing money.

Here is a little math for the average home price in America. Yes, I know the amount can vary greatly from state to state and even city to city.

Home Price: $266,700

Average Interest: 4.40%

Average Length of Loan: 30 Years

Interest Paid: $214,091

Estimated Mortgage Payment: $1335

Total Cost of Mortgage: $480,791

Did you really pay $266,000 for you home. NO. You paid so much more and unless the prices more than doubled most people don’t make money on houses. They are great to live in, especially long term. But a house is not a great investment. According to business insider, the average rate of return for a house is 1.3% compared to 3.375% on other investments.

Back to the soap box: you are not throwing away money when you rent.

Final Thoughts on Rent vs. Buy

Some additional things I considered when making the rent vs buy decision. Where I live a metro station is being built; the cost of homes are high but when the metro line goes in the prices are expected to jump about 20%.

I am tired of renting apartments, many of the townhomes or houses for rent are only available for a limited lease. Most people are holding onto their property so they can sell when the metro comes in. This means I will have to move again in a year or so, which is not ideal.

It does not make sense to rent now and buy after prices jump, I would probably be priced out of the market anyway. But the biggest factor is the area I now work in has a lot of jobs opportunities so I should be able to stay put for an extended amount of time. With all costs considered, now looks to be a good time to invest in a home vs. renting.

I am not saying people should not buy homes. If it makes financial sense within a well-developed budget, by all means purchase a home. For me, the timing, the budget, and the willingness to be responsible for a home has led me to make the choice to purchase.

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