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Deciding to Rent or Buy

17 May 2017

Posted by Darren Kincaid

apartments in West Columbia, SC

Despite the fact that home mortgage interest rates are near record lows, only 65.4% of Americans own homes. In fact, home ownership in the U.S. is at its lowest level since 2004, when 69% of Americans owned homes.

Of course, home ownership can eat up not only your free time, but your money as well. Is owning a home worth the hassle? To find out, let’s look at it from three angles: taxes, costs, and quality of life.

Are there still tax benefits to home ownership these days?

Back in the days of 8% mortgage interest rates, you were sure to get a generous mortgage interest deduction on your tax return. Add that to the property taxes, and you’d get a nice tax reduction. But what about today, with average national interest rates at 3.46%.

For median housing costs, you’re looking at a total standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly of less than $7,000 a year. So there’s no tax benefit here. A single person’s standard deduction is $6,100. So the net income reduction is $900. Even in a 25% tax bracket (plus 5% for state), that only saves you about $300.

Do the financial benefits outweigh renting?

The biggest consideration when deciding whether to rent or own is how much of an increase you will face in your monthly costs?

Remember that when you own a home, you also need to pay for homeowners insurance, all your utilities, as well as maintenance and repairs. Average those costs out over the year to figure out how much you will be paying a month on top of your mortgage (after paying routine bills, set aside at least $100 a month for future inevitable repairs).

How will it impact your quality of life?

Finally, we come to real meat. Truly the American dream. Or…

Do you need to devote every weekend to doing all the yard work and fixing things around the house? You could have someone cut that lawn. You still have to do the big things like trimming the growing trees and bushes, replanting the bulbs and plants, and fixing the sprinkler heads the gardener’s mower broke.

And of course, there’s the to-do list along with rising water rates. Then there is the painting and roofing to do, as the winds and erratic rains wear away layers of your paint, siding and roof. When you rent, the landlord takes care of that: You can leave for the weekend and forget about it.

Of course, when you own a home, you may have a community association’s covenants, conditions and restrictions (or CC&Rs) to deal with. You can’t paint your door that color; your Christmas decorations are too bold; your lawn needs tending; too many cars are parked out front. Things like that don’t seem to matter as much when you’re renting.


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