Still renting? It adds up
Why renting may not be the cheaper alternative after all
It’s an age-old quandary that millions of Americans confront every year: Should I rent or should I buy a home? Admittedly, it’s not always easy to decide.
The choice on whether to own a home or to rent one is subject to much debate, and people on both sides of the argument have no shortage of reasons why their decision is the right one. But if we’re being honest, we have to assume that the primary driver is financial, and that those who propose renting a house, condominium or apartment think that renting is simply the cheaper way to go—at least for now. Are they right?
Renting vs. owning: Reality check
If you’re just starting out in life as an adult, then sure, renting makes a ton of sense. After all, you need time to build up credit, save money for a deposit and get serious about making those monthly mortgage payments. But for everyone else, the case can be made that renting a home doesn’t add up in the short or the long term.
In today’s economy you might be surprised to learn that owning a home can save you money right now and over time. Let’s take a look at some of the key reasons why you might want to hold off signing that rental lease and look into buying a home in 2022—and beyond.
The zero-equity truth of renting
When looking around for a place to live, it’s easy to be swayed by the lure of simply plunking down a modest security deposit and first month’s rent. Problem solved, right? There are no interest rates to worry about, the transaction is not particularly complex or time-consuming and there’s really nothing that will leave you in suspense beyond a routine credit and employment check. It’s straightforward and simple. To many home hunters, it has appeal.
But here’s the thing: While you may be “saving” money upfront by foregoing a serious down payment and side-stepping a monthly mortgage, you aren’t doing anything to build equity. And without building equity, you’re just treading water as a renter.
Buying a home and building equity
In simple terms equity is the difference between the fair value of your home and what you owe on the outstanding balance of all your liens—or what you owe on your mortgage. If your house costs $300,000 and you put 20% down ($60,000) and have been able to pay back $20,000 thus far, your equity is $80,000.
But of course, equity isn’t strictly about the sticker price of your home; as we said above, it’s about how much it’s worth in the marketplace today. That means a professional will need to evaluate your home and issue an appraisal. And as we know, a home’s worth can rise and fall depending on the state of the marketplace.
This affects your equity, too. But there’s no option for equity when you’re a renter—unless you’re talking about building up your landlord’s equity. Yes, your monthly rental payments help increase your landlord's equity but do nothing to establish your own.
As you can see below, if you’re a renter this is how much you may be paying toward your landlord's mortgage.
|Rent / mo. ($)||3 Yrs. ($)||10 Yrs. ($)||15 Yrs. ($)||30 Yrs. ($)|
Beyond equity: Other advantages of owning a home vs. renting
Equity isn’t the only reason why owning a home may be advantageous to you. There are a number of compelling reasons to consider taking the plunge of homeownership rather than continuing to rent, including:
- Potential tax benefits accorded to homeowners
- You aren’t captive to a landlord who can suddenly raise your rent
- You can decorate/renovate your home any way you choose
Potential tax benefits accorded to homeowners
There are some very interesting tax-related reasons to purchase a home. While it’s recommended that you always check with irs.gov and your specific state for the most up-to-date information, we’ve highlighted some of the more prominent tax breaks below:
- Property taxes: You can deduct real estate taxes paid on your home up to $10,000 at the federal level ($5,000 if married filing separately). Some states may allow you to deduct the full amount.
- Mortgage interest: Homeowners are allowed to deduct home mortgage interest on the first $750,000 ($1M if the mortgage was secured prior to December 14, 2017).
- Deductions on home improvements: Major home improvement repairs can be used to decrease gains you may assume when you sell your house—that’s down the road. In the shorter term, should those repairs be financed through a HELOC, a home refinance or other loan, you may be eligible for deductions. Additional federal tax deductions also exist for energy efficiency modifications to your home. Your state may offer similar tax breaks.
- Capital gains: If you meet certain federal requirements, the first $250,000 of profit ($500,000 if married and filing jointly) is exempt from capital gains tax when you sell your home. This means the vast majority of homeowners get to reap the full financial benefits of having the price of the home appreciate over time.
- Income from rent: While it may not be the first thing you’re concerned with when you buy a new home for you and your family, at some point you might find yourself renting out your home. If that’s the case, you can claim your real estate taxes and mortgage interest as a deduction. You can also deduct your home insurance and any money spent on repairs.
You aren’t captive to a landlord who can suddenly raise your rent
Besides not enjoying the tax-related or equity-building benefits of homeownership, there’s another harsh reality that renters must face: They have zero control over price increases in their rent.
When you sign a lease with your landlord, you’re only locking in the monthly rent on your home for a limited period of time (typically 12 months). After that, should you choose to renew your lease, your landlord can suddenly decide to raise the rent without warning—sometimes quite dramatically. If you haven’t been looking around for alternative accommodations, you might be stuck at the last minute signing a lease for another year at a price point beyond your comfort level. And as bad as that sounds, the next year could result in yet another rent hike. That’s the unpredictable nature of renting, and another reason why homeownership puts you in the driver’s seat: greater control over your financial well-being.
You can decorate/renovate your home any way you choose
Exercising the full privileges of homeownership means having the right to determine how your home looks—inside and out. That’s a beautiful thing, and it’s not something extended to renters.
When you rent a house or an apartment you’re essentially a long-term visitor. In a sense, you’re a glorified guest in your own home, never fully rewarded the right to redo the kitchen, add a skylight or construct an outdoor patio—all things homeowners regularly undertake every year with great panache.
Even seemingly uncontroversial activities such as painting your kitchen or family room a color other than white (or equivalent) can sometimes sound alarms with strict landlords. On top of that, there are a host of hidden fees that can inflate the cost of renting. These aren’t discussed a lot but they’re there in the fine print and they can sour the renting experience very quickly.
All in all, renters need to think long and hard whether answering to a landlord is impinging on their lifestyle and shrinking their dreams. While the financial component will always loom large, you also need to think about the opportunity cost of staying too long in an apartment or neighborhood that no longer suits who you’ve become and where you want to go. For many Americans, homeownership is where dreams take seed.
You may not think you need to remodel that kitchen today, but wouldn’t it be nice to know you could if you wanted to? That’s homeownership; it unlocks choices well beyond equity or intergenerational wealth. It allows you to participate in the American dream on your terms.
Proper Rate does not provide tax advice. The consumer should always consult a tax advisor for information regarding the deductibility of interest and other charges in their particular situation.