Renting vs owning: The best choice for a home might surprise you

By Amber Randall

South Florida Sun Sentinel

The choice of whether to rent a home or buy one is becoming tougher in today’s hot real estate market, and renting might be a better choice than you think.

The conventional wisdom is that the tax benefits of buying a house make it preferable if you can afford the down payment. When rents are high, buy. When homes cost too much, rent.

The decision becomes more complex, however, when median homes prices are as high as they are now and rents are rising swiftly, too.

Renting might be the best decision if you don’t plan to live in a home at least five years, you can’t make a substantial down payment (at least 20%) and you are unfamiliar with the area, real estate experts advise.

“I feel like the time to rent is when you can’t find a home that meets your criteria, or the homes are out of your budget and you need to bolster your savings,” said Bonnie Heatzig, executive director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman in Boca Raton, Fla.

A recent analysis from LendingTree, an online lending site, found that it is cheaper to rent in all of the nation’s 50 biggest metro areas.

The difference was the greatest in New York, where the median rent was $1,363 cheaper per month than the median mortgage payment — the biggest gap in the country, LendingTree said.

Whether the home will keep its value is a concern for potential homebuyers.

“Home values have gone up so much that the down payment may be more than you would originally put down,” said J.C. de Ona, president of Centennial Bank’s Southeast Florida Division. “If you buy now at a certain price, and the market cools down, will you get the appreciation you think you will get?”

For people who have just made a cash sale on their home in this market, the best decision is probably to rent while waiting for the market to correct, according to appraiser Charles Siebrecht of Professional Real Estate Advisors LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“Moving laterally or up in this environment will surely increase your real estate tax liability. This would seem to be an ideal time to downsize if that opportunity exists,” he said.

But choosing to rent over purchasing a home in this hot housing market doesn’t come without risks, experts said.

The demand for a home in many areas, such as South Florida, is making it increasingly difficult to find even a rental to stay in, causing rents to also spike. It may be at least another year or two before the housing market cools off enough, if at all, meaning that potential homebuyers could be waiting awhile.

“It’s better to try and buy a single-family home if you can, because people are taking whatever they can get. For rent or buying, there just isn’t enough inventory in either category,” said Thomas Grimshaw, real estate adviser with Compass Florida in Miami.

Waiting out the current housing market also runs the risk that interest rates will rise.

“The mortgage rates are very low right now from an affordability factor,” de Ona said.