“Lessons from Over 30 Years of Buy versus Rent Decisions: Is the American Dream Always Wise?”

Short answer: no.

I just came across the article “Lessons from 30 Years of Buy Versus Rent Decisions”” by Beracha and Johnson (2012). Using data from 1978 to 2009 the authors conclude:

“…there seems to be an almost national obsession with homeownership, resulting in a paradigm that favors homeownership.

This work challenges this homeownership paradigm. Consistent with the hypothesis that Americans’ mania to own results in a crowding toward homeownership, the results of this article show that renting was preferred to buying, from a monetary perspective, during most of the 1978–2009 time period. This result is conditional on an individual taking any residual money from renting and reinvesting at a rate equal to, or greater than, the risk-free rate.”

However, the authors show evidence that buying was preferred to renting at the end of 2009. Separately, my research also shows the 2009-2012ish time frame was a good time to buy. Today is a different day. The Beracha, Hardin, & Johnson Buy Vs. Rent Index right now reflects renting is preferable to buying. Again, my own separate research reaches the same conclusion.

Beware of evidence-free emotional claims like “you are throwing your money away” or “buying is always better than renting.” So, the next time someone tells you “you are throwing away your money renting,” you can say the evidence reflects renting is preferred today and the majority of the time since at least 1978.

-Dr. Moore

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One thought on ““Lessons from Over 30 Years of Buy versus Rent Decisions: Is the American Dream Always Wise?”

  1. Personally, this is a timely blog post. I recently went to a mortgage broker to see what I could qualify for. I did my homework to know how much a mortgage would be for $300k at 4.5%. A conservative PITI payment would be $2,100! I was hoping the mortgage broker could tell me otherwise, yet she confirmed what the math had already told me. I rent almost exactly the same house I would buy. It would be $22k down (5% + extra money for some middleman or something) and $2,100/mo mortgage to buy. I currently pay $1,450 in rent. I actually do invest a portion of my pay into the Vanguard REIT VNQ. The dividend yield is currently north of 4%. Not a bad deal to have renters pay me 4% instead of me paying 4.5% to someone else.
    I’ve told a few people that renting is financially better for me right now. Some of the responses I received where actually hostile. It’s true home ownership is legitimately ingrained in the American psyche.
    I would argue that buying a house is almost never a good investment when it comes with a mortgage for the average person. Let assume someone buys a house for $400k and in ten years it’s worth $800k. Seems good, but my HP-12c says that’s only a 7.18% return. But subtract property tax, buying/selling costs, insurance, interest, maintenance, and repairs, and a welcome mat then you are looking at much less than 7.18% If VNQ yields 4%, it only need to appreciate 3% for me to get 7%. VNQ costs for me are next to nothing. So I actually keep close to 7%.
    An interesting thought experiment at http://jlcollinsnh.com/2013/05/29/why-your-house-is-a-terrible-investment/ explains why housing is a terrible investment. It’s short on math, long on principle.
    I’m not saying never buy a house. But people should understand both the numbers and the psychological aspect before getting a mortgage.

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