According to Trulia, when the purchase includes 20 percent down and a fixed 30-year mortgage, buying is 38 percent cheaper than renting. This is true in general across the United States and is true in all of the 100 largest metros except Honolulu.
A fixed 15-year mortgage with 20 percent down is even more affordable—43 percent, according to Trulia's calculations. All-cash purchases are 36 percent cheaper than renting. Deals featuring 10 percent down and including private mortgage insurance are 35 percent cheaper; and buying a property with a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan at 3.5 percent down is 25 percent cheaper. (These numbers are all national averages, all assume a 25 percent tax bracket, and all assume the homeowner stays put for at least seven years.)
One year ago, Trulia's Rent vs. Buy report found that homeownership was 35 percent cheaper than renting.
Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist, said the reason for the upswing is twofold. For one thing, in the past year, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate has fallen from 4.8 to 4.3 percent.
On top of that, rents have risen faster than home prices in almost every measurable market. For example, Trulia's September Price Monitor showed that asking prices for condos is up more than 7 percent, while home values are increasing on average by 6 percent from last year.
Not all markets are so exaggeratedly in favor of buyers, however. In California and the New York/New Jersey region in particular, buying is a closer call relative to renting. While buying for the ideal buyer is still cheaper in these areas, the margins are often down below 10 percent.
On the other side of the coin, buying in much of the Midwest is decidedly cheaper than renting. Buying Detroit or Gary, Indiana, in fact, is above 60 percent more affordable than renting, according to Trulia.
Will the trend hold?
"It's not hard to come up with realistic scenarios where buying costs more than renting," Kolko said. "For a millennial with little savings and no 'Bank of Mom and Dad,' an FHA loan might be the only option."
Remember the criteria of the 25 percent tax bracket and staying in-home for at least seven years? Well, Kolko said, if you take a 20-something who's not in that 25 percent bracket and only stays put for, say, five years, "buying ends up costing more than renting in 27 of the 100 largest metros."
And not just in the pricey coastal markets (which wouldn't even be close). Buying becomes more expensive in markets like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Colorado Springs as well.
"An FHA loan might be within reach for many first-timers," Kolko said, "but there are still plenty of people for whom renting would cost less than buying, even if low down payment loans give them the option to buy."